Thursday, February 06, 2014

Al-Hashemi comments on Anbar

Interviewed by Reuters fugitive Iraqi former Vice President Tarek Al-Hashemi accused Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, a Shiite, of conducting a political witch-hunt against Sunni politicians and persecuting Iraq’s Sunni population. Al-Hashemi fears that the current conflict in Anbar, which borders Syria, could spread to other regions, and blames the Prime Minister’s treatment of Sunnis. In his own words:

“I’m not optimistic about the future… I think this spark in Anbar will spread to other provinces… Al-Maliki is targeting Arab Sunnis (in Iraq) in different provinces, with the use of army forces, or handing them death sentences in a way that has never been seen in Iraq’s modern history, and therefore it’s the right of these individuals to defend themselves in every way possible.”

Hashemi, who has not lived in Iraq since a warrant was issued for his arrest, for running death squads, in 2011, said that it would be ‘disastrous’ if Maliki won a third term in Parliamentary elections set for April 30th. Hashemi’s comments come in the wake of violent conflict in Anbar, notably Fallujah, and the arrest of prominent lawmaker and anti-Maliki Sunni Ahmed Al-Alwani, taken from his home in the same province. This is the latest high profile Sunni arrest. In 2012 it was former finance minister Raffi el-Essawi. Many Sunnis believe Maliki is marginalizing the Sunni population. They complain that federal forces have been disproportionally deployed in Sunni neighbourhoods, random arrests have increased, and Sunnis feel left out of the decision making process.

Many Sunnis, some of whom fought with the US and government forces against al-Qaeda insurgents in 2008, are finding themselves caught up in a three-way conflict between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the government, and tribal militias. The solution to the problem, as many see it, is for Maliki to radically alter his approach to Sunni opposition. Up until now he has responded to Sunni protest and dissatisfaction with military force. Maliki must start to include Sunnis in the political process and reach out to the community to heal the wounds of the last few years.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Exclusive NCF Interview with Dr. Akram Al-Obaidy

In an interview with the Next Century Foundation, Dr. Akram Al-Obaidy, Spokesman of the Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, outlined his future hopes for Kirkuk and its position within Iraq at this present time. With a round of parliamentary elections due in April 2014, Dr. Al-Obaidy was keen to present them as a crucial moment for the future development and prosperity of Kirkuk.

After 10 years of what he described as an “unsuitable” situation in Kirkuk with “very little communication between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen”, Dr. Al-Obaidy has called for a strengthening of links between the three groups.

Indeed, he cites Mosul as an example of how communication between the various ethnic groups “free from any interference from Baghdad” has provided the foundations for rising levels of peace and promising infrastructural development. Moreover, Dr. Al-Obaidy states that, “any desire for Baghdad to involve themselves in Kirkuk would be unwise due to the problems surrounding the Central Government at the moment, particularly with the recent dramatic rise in sectarian violence and bloodshed across Iraq”. Additionally, he fears that, “any interference could see Kirkuk being drawn into this wider Iraqi sectarian agenda, losing sight and focus of what needs to be done in Kirkuk alone”.

Once effective communication is established between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen in Kirkuk, Dr. Al-Obaidy notes that discussions must be had on the following issues: power-sharing, security, a fair and equal distribution of wealth, revenue and supplies and above all, more representation and attention towards the under-developed Arab areas of Kirkuk.

Therefore, the forthcoming Parliamentary Elections are being highlighted by Dr. Akram Al-Obaidy as an important opportunity for potentially the next decade in Kirkuk. Dr. Al-Obaidy believes his Motahadon party, which acts in coalition with other Arabic parties under the umbrella of the Arabic Kirkuk Alliance (a group of 12 parties and 24 candidates), represents a new breed of politicians that can “finally bring true and fair Arab representation to politics in Kirkuk”. He claims that Arab representation has often lagged in contrast to Kurd and Turkman in the region.

Dr. Al-Obaidy is optimistic that the contingent of the 875,000 voting population in Kirkuk can produce as many as four winning MPs in the upcoming elections. Al-Obaidy’s parties will also be putting forward a number of female candidates, with the hope of at least one being successful. The elections see a total of 12 seats available in Kirkuk with one additional seat exclusively given to a Christian candidate.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

America is heading for the hills

Fighting is escalating between Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda linked militants in the Sunni dominated Anbar province of Iraq. According to the news reports, on 17th of January, a suicide bomber attacked a gathering of anti Al Qaeda militia, which resulted in death of at least five people. The attack took place on the second week of sporadic clashes erupted between Iraqi forces and al Qaeda backed militants to recapture the key two cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, which have been under the control of militants.
The UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon urged both parties to act with constraint and pursue a political solution. Yet, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ruled out any dialogue with the militants. According to the UN, since the beginning of the conflict, more than 11,000 families have fled their houses.
The US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed allegations that the US has turned its back on Iraq following its withdrawal from the war-torn country in 2011 and suggested that even though at the end of the day, they could help the Iraqi forces in fighting the `terrorists`, they would also want to enhance the capacity of Iraqi security forces to do it themselves.  America is heading for the hills.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Siege in Fallujah

The jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have claimed they control the city of Fallujah in the volatile province of Anbar. Residents are leaving the city, avoiding the air strikes that have already begun to fall in some areas. Fallujah is known in the West as the sight of the deadliest battle of the Iraq War in 2004. Currently ISIL, tribal leaders, and government forces wrestle for control. Anbar, in the West of Iraq, has a largely Sunni population that feels marginalised and under threat from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government. Iraq’s Sunni population see Maliki’s administration as authoritarian and discriminatory, and they are worried by the examples of violent response to protests. This most recent surge in violence seems to have begun when government troops forcibly broke up a yearlong peaceful protest in Ramadi.

The first five days of 2014 have seen 250 deaths in Anbar province, more than the death toll for the entire month of January last year. This is a continuation of the violence that resulted, according to the UN, in at least 7,818 civilian deaths, and 1,050 deaths amongst the security forces in 2013, the highest in five years. Despite Maliki’s calls for locals to expel the fundamentalists; this death toll is likely to continue to rise as the government prepares to retake Fallujah, Ramadi and Tarmiya from ISIL with military support from both the US and Iran.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Old evils re-emerge

The disgusting habit of policemen and soldiers kidnapping and killing innocent civilians has re-emerged in Baghdad. It is the worst sort of violence because it undermines all confidence and is the action of truly venomously evil men. In the days of Anglo-American rule we used to euphemistically say that people "dressed in police / army uniforms" had conducted the kidnapping and killing and the Western press would swallow the PR lie and print the lie as the truth. The real truth being that these were soldiers, these were policemen, conducting these evil acts. All credit to Malaki, he does not descend to the PR gutter that the Western administration of Iraq used. He calls a spade a spade. None the less, it is profoundly sad to see this evil back again.

39 dead in throwback to Iraq's sectarian bloodshed    
Khaleej Times - 30 November, 2013
The killings come amid a surge in violence that has seen victims snatched from their homes, only for their corpses to be found later.

Authorities found the bodies of 28 people on Friday, most of them kidnapped by men in army uniforms, and attacks killed 11 more in Iraq.

The killings come amid a surge in violence that has seen victims snatched from their homes, only for their corpses to be found later, fuelling fears Iraq is slipping back into the worst of the bloodshed that plagued it from 2005 to 2007.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bombings claim 21 lives in Baghdad's suburbs

Sunni on Shiite violence - in response to Shiite on Sunni violence - engenders more Sunni on Shiite violence. Brutal tit for tat killings are taking place on an ongoing basis in Iraq. What evil men are funding and supporting this? To what end? How will they ever face God? 

Kuwait News Agency - 18 November, 2013
Up to 21 Iraqis died and 65 others were wounded in a wave of blasts in Baghdad and several surrounding regions of the capital on Sunday, security sources said.

The sources said cars packed with explosives blew up in Al-Radwaniah, Al-Husainiah, Al-Sadr City, New Baghdad, Al-Ghadir district, Maysaloun square, Al-Dora and Al-Karradeh neighborhoods.


Saturday, November 09, 2013

Double bombing, shooting kill 7 people in Iraq

Sectarian violence is on the increase in Iraq. Up until the last few months it was always one sided. The Sunnis attacked the Shiites and the Shiites behaved. Now the Shiites are hitting back. It's a dangerous scene.

Double bombing, shooting kill 7 people in Iraq:

Gulf Today - 09 November, 2013

A double bombing of a Sunni mosque in Baghdad and a shooting west of the Iraqi capital killed seven people on Friday, officials said, the latest attacks in a wave of violence roiling the country.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Are the increasing anti-Sunni attacks indicative of a new twist to Iraq's sectarian conflict?

Levels of sectarian violence are increasing exponentially in Syria and are likely to continue to grow whether or not we see the fall of Bashar al Assad. Meanwhile the increasing intensity of sectarian bloodshed in Iraq has almost gone under the radar. On Monday 30th September, a wave of bombings hit Baghdad which according to the BBC, took the death toll to more than 5,000 people for this year. More than 800 of that number lost their lives in the month of August alone. The attacks on the 17th are the latest in a string of attacks across Iraq. 

Unrest has been building between the Shia majority and the minority Sunni community. Much of the blame for Sunni discontent lies with the Shia-government led by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, which remains crippled by a stalemate that has led to no significant legislation being passed since March 2010. The Sunnis also cite what they believe to be deliberate exclusion from the decision-making process as well as abuses from government security forces. Indeed, Prime Minister Maliki has also been accused of not devoting enough attention to increasing anti-Sunni attacks, such as the 13 September attack on a Sunni mosque near Baquba.

Divides in Iraq are not solely centered on the Sunnis and the Shias. The larger Kurdish community in the North of the country currently enjoys a degree of autonomy from a central government lacking firm control. However, Sunday saw Irbil, usually a stable Kurdish city, hit by a series of bombings on Sunday 29th September. The attacks have been linked to fighting between jihadist groups and Kurds in neighbouring Syria. Jabhat Al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sharm (ISIS) have clashed in recent weeks with the Kurdish People’s Popular Protection Units (YPG) on secular grounds. The fear is that a cycle emerges in which ongoing events in Syria will further fuel Iraqi sectarianism, which in turn will only worsen the issue across the border. Indeed, increasingly influential armed groups in Syria actually have direct links to Iraq, such as Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sharm (ISIS).

Perhaps the most indicative sign of the rising tensions in Iraq is that the Shias are now attacking the Sunnis. Ali al-Sistani has spoken out many times in the past against sectarian conflict, instead pledging for unity amongst all Muslims. Has Al-Sistani hardened his stance in the wake of the increasing anti-Shia attacks (which continued on 21 September in three attacks that killed over 70 people)? Alternatively, the changing trend towards anti-Sunni strikes could indicate that the Shia community is now beginning to operate out of Al-Sistani’s control as it looks to defend itself in the continuing Iraqi sectarian war.

Adam Mazrani

Thursday, October 03, 2013


The results of the Iraq elections are in. Alas however, Talabani's PUK is so unpopular and did so badly that the Kurdish Regional Government has now decided to abandon the local government elections which were slated to go ahead and are way overdue.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani, secured 38 seats in September’s vote for the 111-seat regional parliament, Independent High Electoral Commission spokesman Safaa al-Moussawi told a news conference in the regional capital, Irbil. The KDP previously held 30 seats.

The main opposition party Gorran, or Change, won 24 seats. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which ran in coalition in with the KDP in the last election but on its own this time around, won only 18 seats.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Iraq governments persecutes Iranian opposition to please Tehran

The government of Iraq has continued its brutal and unwarranted persecution of the refugees in Camp Ashraf. Why the international community permits this incredible behavior without a murmur is hard to credit:

Iraq has ordered Iranian exiles to move from a camp where 52 of their members were killed a week ago "without delay", a government official and UN said.

Baghdad opened a probe into the events surrounding the deaths of the members of the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran, which occurred on Sunday at Camp Ashraf in Diyala province, but accounts of the unrest still differ markedly.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Will Kurdish nationalism be affected by the Syrian refugee crisis?

Massoud Barzani’s recent statement of firm support for all Syrian Kurdish refugees and those facing ‘’death and terrorism’’ in Syria clearly signals his commitment to his fellow Kurds, or at least a policy of giving that impression. 

It’s possible that with this move to play a more active role in managing the fallout from Syria, the KRG may just have brought on itself a responsibility it cannot handle. The pressure placed on the administrative and economic capacity of the region will cause significant problems for the government, and the numbers of refugees will just keep growing. Complaints have been made by the KRG that they have received little or no help from the central government in Baghdad or the international community in trying to support the refugees. Their efforts are not sustainable without this outside help. Amongst the population of Iraqi Kurdistan, moreover, there is already a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the KRG itself, which is seen as stultifying and corrupt.
It would though be a mistake to expect the problems that the Syrian Kurd refugees will cause to translate into a sense of resentment towards them from the wider Iraqi Kurd population.  
There is a hugely strong sense of duty to help those Syrian Kurds fleeing the conflict and to protect those still there. In the past, the enormous numbers of Iraqi Kurds fleeing Saddam’s al-Anfal campaign were received by their Kurdish brothers in Syria and Turkey. The numbers involved in the current situation are large but nothing yet near the numbers of Iraqi Kurds involved then, and the Iraqi Kurds will continue to do as much as they can to ensure the support and safety of their Syrian counterparts. Such is the strength of the Kurdish national movement (the idea of ‘Greater Kurdistan’) and the deeply rooted desire for some degree of Kurdish unification. In fact, the lack of outside help being given to KRG efforts to support the Syrian Kurdish refugees will likely further this perception of unity, solidarity and brotherhood for the Kurdish people in the face of a hostile, uncaring region and wider world.

A three day Kurdish conference is to be held in Erbil this month. Roughly 600 diplomats will be attending, representing political parties of ‘Greater Kurdistan’ – Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. One of the hopes of the conference is to establish some sort of Kurdish League (similar to the Arab League) and to spread Kurdish political unity.  It is not likely that much will actually come of the meeting due to ethnicity being the only real thing they all currently have in common. Divisions exist between the PYD and PKK and Barzani’s KNC. Political disunity is also apparent in Iranian Kurdish parties and in Turkey, where the PKK control Kurdish affairs without reference to most any other group. The opposition Change party in Iraqi Kurdistan is increasingly strong, and claim that the ruling coalition in Erbil will use the meeting’s timing to engender goodwill for their own advantage before the elections in Iraqi Kurdistan on September 21st this year. The conference will though set a significant precedent.

Even if these practical divisions remain and nothing comes directly of the conference (and it probably will not), ideals of Kurdish unity and nationalism are so strongly held and deeply attached in the hearts of the wider Kurdish population that they shall continue to be pursued regardless of the problems caused by the mounting pressure of the weight of the Syrian Kurdish refugees.  

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Kurds choose November date for local elections

This comes in today from the UN:

In a letter addressed to the IHEC (Iraq High Electoral Commission) Chairman, the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) Prime Minister officially informed IHEC of the decision to hold the region’s governorate council elections on 21 November 2013. The decision confirms IHEC’s suggestion on the election schedule as contained in its 17 July letter to the region’s authorities. The region’s Parliamentary elections remain as scheduled on 21 September 2013.

The vetting process for candidates for the Kurdistan Region’s parliamentary elections has been completed. The number of candidates now stands at 1133, of which 367 or more than 32% are women candidates. The political campaign period has started albeit in a muted tone with no major public campaign activity held so far in the region.

AND with regard to controversial proposals to amend the national elections law:

UNAMI continues to monitor developments in the Iraqi Council of Representatives on proposals to amend the electoral law for the 2014 Iraq parliamentary elections. The most contentious point remains to be the seat allocation formula – with political blocs diverging on their views regarding the D’Hondt, St. Lague or modified St. Lague formula.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Iraq's elections

The following is an edited version of the latest UN report on Iraq's elections:

 On 20 June, governorate council elections took place in Anbar and Ninewa. Voter turnout reached 50% in Anbar and 38% in Ninewa, with figures likely to increase further once special voting data is incorporated.

 On 19 June, the Kurdistan Regional Parliament passed amendments adopting the semi-open list voting for the region’s parliamentary elections and removing the provision on both the parliamentary electoral law and the governorate council electoral law requiring that each component candidate be elected by voters from the same component.

 On 23 June, the Legal Committee of the Council of Representatives also forwarded to the Presidency the proposed law for holding the governorate council elections in Kirkuk.

For further information please consult IHEC and UNAMI websites: www.ihec.iq  www.unami.unmissions.org

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Spreading Conflict: Challenges to Iraq

These personal notes represent the views of the NCF’s Secretary General. They should not be taken as an NCF position but have been compiled using the resources of the NCF team.

The spreading conflict: Challenges to Iraq

The Syrian conflict has always threatened to engulf the neighbouring countries. Its impact on Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan has been considerable. Now Iraq is being affected. It begs the question: how stable is Iraq and can it withstand the turmoil across its border? But the thing is you can’t just look at Iraq to get a good overview of the situation. You need to examine the whole region. So we’ll start with the big boy:


The Turks are negotiating with the Kurdish PKK. Now why? You know how bad relationships have been between the Turkish government and the PKK[1] – or like me do you forget things? There have been so very many terrorist attacks in Turkey. And if you take the long view over a thirty year period then 40,000 have died in the conflict between the Turkish government and the Kurdish militants (mostly during that huge operation to restore government control of South East Turkey in the late 80s and early 90s).

So I’ll answer my own question. Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has messed up on Syria. His Syrian policy has already prompted some Turks to express concern. But the Syria issue is not at the heart of the “what is the Turkish motive” question.

In the 2011 elections, Erdoğan’s AK party (which has links with the Muslim Brotherhood[2]) won power again but the problem is that Erdoğan, Turkey’s most successful politician since Ataturk, wants to retain power. Now Turkey has a powerful Premier and less powerful President. But it wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time the President was powerful[3]. Erdoğan’s plan is to restore the power of the Presidency and to take the post himself.

Erdoğan is not worried that AKP will lose popularity as a result of Syria – it might have an effect in the provinces adjacent to the Syrian frontier, but we doubt whether it would have a serious electoral impact elsewhere.  There is no serious alternative party around to challenge AKP. 

Erdoğan’s problem is a personal one:  the AKP has a couple of party rules which are unique to it – the other parties do not have them.  One states that an individual cannot be adopted by the party as a parliamentary candidate more than three consecutive times.  The other says you cannot run for party leader more than three consecutive times.  Erdoğan is thus now in his last parliamentary term and stint as party leader.  Rules of course can be changed, but he has made a big thing about AKP being different from other parties, and he has repeatedly stated that he will not be standing again.  Thus the only serious option for him to have a political future is to become President.  

The election will be next year – and for the first time (as a result of a 2007 constitutional change) the President will be directly elected by the people.  Erdoğan is most unlikely to face any serious competitor unless the political elements underpinning the ruling party fragment in some way.  There is general agreement between the parties about the need for a new constitution – but not about what that constitution should contain.  The AKP wants to introduce a presidential system (thus of course reducing the competence of parliament) – the other parties don’t.  However, Erdoğan might get the support of the Kurdish BDP[4] (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi = Peace and Democracy Party) for a new draft constitution which could be submitted to referendum.  That is the motive (for the ruling party) in pushing the PKK agreement.  Of course, if the Kurdish question is “solved”, he would reap a considerable reward, both domestically in terms of votes and internationally in terms of prestige, which is perhaps another motive.

Oh and by the way – that being the case there is little or no prospect of any Turkish invasion of Syria.

As we move deeper into this winter of discontent, civilian casualty figures finally show signs of decreasing, while government and rebel figures have stabilized (the NCF carefully compiles and assesses death tolls from all available sources – we regard our figures as closer to an approximation of the real position than those of any other single source – especially if used to indicate trends). The steady emptying of the cities and countryside as the people flee the fighting to take refuge in neighbouring states accounts, in part, for the lower civilian death toll. Those displaced have expressed great anger at the negligence of the Arab world and the international community for not acting. Over 700,000 refugees continue to live in dire conditions in refugee camps. If, as seems likely, present trends continue, these numbers will reach over 1.1 million before the summer. 

Meanwhile  Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Western backed National Coalition faction of the Syrian Opposition, stated he was willing to hold direct talks with the Syrian Government. This came following talks with Russian and Iranian foreign ministers on 2 February 2013. However, some of his supporters from the Syrian National Council reacted negatively, rejecting any negotiations with the Syrian government whilst other more secular groups not in the National Coalition said they favoured talks which, in common with Moaz al-Khatib, they argued could halt the killings and destruction.

The US has remained staunch in its stand regarding the situation in Syria. Although the Obama administration has called for President Assad to step down, they claim a direct military intervention would trigger more violence and this could lead to greater chaos and carnage. According to UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Syria is being destroyed “bit by bit” and “unprecedented levels of horror have been reached”. He urged the UN Security Council to overcome their differences and “grapple with this problem now”.  

Russia remains in the lead on Syria and everyone is heading for Moscow in droves. The opposition is having a hard time and has started the usual rumour mill. They’re spreading around the rumour that Maher, the President’s brother, is dead. According to them he died in Moscow having been flown there for treatment after being severely wounded in the legs. This is quite untrue – Maher is alive. Then they have also been saying the President’s mother and sister fled to Abu Dhabi. They certainly went there to visit and it is unclear whether they are back home yet.

The main point is that Syria is on the road to an interim salvation government prior to Bashar stepping down in May 2014 and everyone is invited to the ‘negotiate the future’ party. Even the Iranians have agreed. Therefore it is important to watch what Sayed Jalili has to say. He is Iran’s National Security boss and says that, “On Syria we support national dialogue and say no to violence but yes to democracy”.

Everyone’s focus now is on who will replace Bashar as the new ruler of Syria. They need and will have a non-Salafist. That’s an absolute red line for the USA, Russia and Iran. Beyond that they don’t care too much.

Names in the frame include some of the old guard. An older person is viewed as acceptable because at least he or she is a known quantity. By way of example: The communist Turkman, Abdulrazak Eid, is a name that has cropped up. He’s a 62 year old writer and reformer. Another possibility is Michelle Kilo, the 72 year old Christian intellectual and human rights activist. But it’s anybody’s guess really and there are a number of possibilities. There is a danger too that naming people too soon ‘burns their credibility’, so we will not try to compile an accurate list of frontrunners.

Saudi Arabia

The Saudis have generally dug their heels in. Their conflict with Qatar has reached new heights since they stomped on the Qatar-Bahrain causeway plan. We can but hope that they are stepping back from their policy of backing the Salafists.

At least there is a new team at the top of the Saudi Government which seems like it could potentially be much more progressive in responding to some of the critical issues facing the region, including Syria and Bahrain.

Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz al Saud, next in line to the Saudi throne, died in Switzerland following an illness on the 16th of June 2012. He had been Deputy Prime Minister and was the long-standing (since 1975) and hardline Interior Minister. Nayef was the most conservative of the leading Saudi princes, and with his son, Muhammad bin Nayef at his side as his deputy,  spearheaded the country's post-September 11 crackdown on al-Qaeda.

Nayef’s younger brother, Prince Salman, became Crown Prince after being the Minister of Defence since the death of his full brother Sultan and the governor of Riyadh for nearly five decades.

Now, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, former head of the Saudi intelligence and Governor of Madina and Hail and the youngest son of the kingdom's founder Abd al-Aziz bin Abd al-Rahman Al Saud, has been recently named the country's second deputy prime minister by King Abdullah. The announcement places Muqrin third in line to the throne and at the top of the kingdom's power structure.

Michael Stephens, an analyst at the Doha-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think-tank, described the move as “buying time for the next generation" -- especially as the first Deputy Prime Minister and second in line to the throne, 77-year-old Prince Salman, is reported to be in ill health.

Stephens further noted that it is anticipated that Muqrin will “continue Abdullah's policy of slow and cautious change and ensure that his legacy as a moderniser is secure”.

With Prince Muqrin ascending to third-in-line to the throne and with competent second generation princes, Muhammad bin Nayef and Khalid bin Bandar, now in key decision-making positions as the Minister of Interior and Governor of Riyadh respectively, it is hoped that the wise King Abdullah has put into place a government strong enough to withstand the serious challenges which are currently buffeting both the region and the kingdom itself.


Iraq is really the worry. The Syrian uprising has been spreading. There has been trouble in the provinces of Anbar, Salaheddine, and Nineveh.  Largely this has been in the nature of demonstrations, very well organised demonstrations, promoted by the Baathist / Islamist alliance. And they are getting out of hand. This in an Iraq which is already riven with tensions.

Many Iraqis used to blame Saudi Arabia and Qatar for their problems. Not so today. Today the Saudis are sending positive signals to the Iraq government and vice versa (an Iraqi delegation paid its respects in Riyadh on 16 February on the occasion of the death of Prince Sattam bin Abd al-Aziz.

Today, rightly or wrongly, Turkey and Qatar are viewed as the problem nations, though of course the suicide bombers are still largely young Saudis. “The Qataris are paying money for the Saudis to kill themselves,” one Iraqi told me.

But the demonstrations keep coming. The grievances are expressed clearly. They want less “debaathification”  by which they mean the policy by which people are kept out of politics, even out of employment in certain circumstances if they were ever senior members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, for instance as university professors. The trouble is that some people (around about 4,000 Iraqis) were senior members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. When the liberation of Iraq was on the cards the American State Department had an idea of starting a Truth and Reconciliation committee for Iraq as was done in South Africa, but the US Defense Department stomped on the notion. Such a shame.

Less debaathification is one demand. Another is the release of prisoners. Another is the rescinding of article four on the anti-terrorist legislation which is one of the more widely used articles in the judicial system and says, basically, that life imprisonment is the punishment for “anyone who intentionally covers up any terrorist act or harbors a terrorist with the purpose of concealment.” Sunnis see this law as disproportionately targeting them and the controversial Speaker of Iraq’s parliament, Osama Najefi, has said it would be rescinded.

Iraq’s Deputy Premier Hussein al-Sharistani is negotiating with the demonstrators. But the problem is that some of them are very radical, wanting the removal of all debaathification laws and the release of all prisoners (whatever their crime), indeed some of the demands border on the ridiculous and perhaps are deliberately couched in terms that can never be satisfied.

The view in Iraq is sanguine. Many members of the government think that the West is promoting Salafism in unrelenting fashion. Meanwhile Iraq has to face provincial elections on April 20th of this year. Well let me re-phrase that. Most of Iraq will face elections. The Kurdish region will not as they refuse to have them. They are frightened that the traditional parties (Barzani’s KDP and Talabani’s PUK) will do less well. Indeed there is a danger that Talabani’s PUK have grown so unpopular they will be wiped out. The thing about these elections is that they are an indication of what may happen in the January 2014 parliamentary elections. They need to go well and against a backdrop of increasingly aggressive sectarian demonstrations that will not be easy.

In other respects things are better in Iraq with one big caveat. The infrastructure law has not been passed which would allow major projects, like port building, to get moved forward. This is because parliament is not functioning. If they meet, the MPs just fight, by which I mean they thump each other. Malaki’s Dawa could force it through with the cooperation of the Kurdish bloc but the Kurds are demanding 17% of the money and the money is $70 billion. Seems reasonable but the difficulty is they are double-counting because they, in theory but not necessarily in practice, already get 17% of the national budget. You’d think this issue could be resolved in negotiation. It is ridiculous that Iraq’s development is being held back because of childish petty infighting. This is one reason we need free and fair parliamentary elections swiftly. January 2014 is just not soon enough. And we do not need the streets in chaos to do it. This spill over of Syria into Iraq bodes ill.


Elsewhere things bode well. Another country facing elections in 2014, though fortunately perhaps towards the end of the year, is Bahrain. Their ‘national dialogue’ has just got underway and the opposition would like to see it lead to powersharing with a constitutional monarchy. At least there is something going on to try and find a way forward. The key issue is to strengthen those calling for moderation like Sheikh Isa Qasim, Bahrain’s most influential Shi’a cleric. The difficulty from the government’s perspective is that more and more Bahrainis are rejecting parliamentary democracy in favour of street protest. If we see the mainstream opposition fail to participate in the 2014 elections, it bodes ill for Bahrain’s future and indeed for the future of the moderate opposition.
The deaths of both a protester and a policeman at Friday's demonstrations might complicate the national dialogue process which had been helped by the government agreeing to become a "party" to the talks, instead of just a "convening" entity between the "loyalist" and "opposition" political societies.
Ultimately however, political reform will probably only succeed if the Government of Bahrain is permitted by the Saudis to sacrifice the long-standing Prime Minister (Bahrain has the longest serving premier in the world and his removal is a key opposition demand).

On Iran
The forthcoming elections in Iran bode well for the future too, largely because they mark the end of President Ahmadinejad. Key contenders are Valiyati and Qalibaf. Qalibaf (Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf) is the one to watch. He is a pilot and he’s good with media. He was a General in the IRGC and is Mayor of Tehran. He knows Europe. He did many positive things whilst in charge of Tehran. His emphasis is on the economy. He is not radical, not narrow minded. He is middle-aged. Valiyati could win and has his own network, but he’s an old man now.
The reformists will also put forward a candidate of course. It will be either Mohammad-Ali Najafi or Hassan Rohani or Mohammad-Reza Aref – just one of them.
Perhaps 20 candidates will stand in all. But there are four principal groups:
  1. The Ahmajinedati
  2. The Principalists
  3. The Reformists
  4. The Independents
These groups will all watch each other hopefully ensuring that the elections are reasonably fair this time. The Principalists and the Reformists are pragmatic. The election will be in June.
Better times ahead then? Maybe. But if the Syrian civil war spills into Iraq all bets are on hold. Here at the NCF we will be focussing on Iraq a little more in the coming months. Do not expect us to pull our punches.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Will Barzani's initiative resolve the Iraqi crisis?

Following months of speculation there appears to be hope for reconciliation among the Iraqi factions. President of Kurdistan Region Masood Barzani has proposed holding a National Conference in Erbil at the end of the month inviting the various Iraqi political groups to discuss the deteriorating political situation in the country. Some say this move was initiated by US Ambassador to Iraq who has been in talks with Barzani to make a move towards National Dialogue.  

The proposal was met by overwhelming approval from representatives of the different political groups. State of Law Coalition (SLC) led by Nuri al-Maliki expressed their support for President Barzani's initiative which is set to take place at the end of the month. Samira al-Moussawi, representative of SLC told “Shafaq News” that the party welcomed any plans to resolve the current situation provided that it is “within the framework of the Constitution and the Law”. Al-Moussawi stressed the importance of this meeting in bringing together the different political blocs to the table of dialogue and reaching a sustainable solution to solve the crisis.

Speaking to al-Hayat newspaper, Shakir al-Daraji of SLC expressed his party's willingness to participate in any initiative that would assist in taking Iraq out of its current crisis provided that there are no pre-proposed conditions by any one party. The agreement to dialogue between SLC and Barzani may be seen as a step forward towards peace and reconciliation following months of on-going battle and escalating dispute which almost led to military confrontation between the two most dominating powers in Iraq.

In a public statement, Adnan al-Mufti, representative of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party (PUK) announced that Barzani has been holding talks with delegates from the different political groups including representatives of Iraqqiya, State of Law Coalition and Sadr bloc. Evidently the meetings held in Kurdistan have led to general consensus on the importance of organizing an extended meeting for all the Iraqi groups to reach some level of agreement on the outstanding issues and conflicts through national dialogue.

In a statement posted on the Kurdistan Presidency website Barzani re-affirmed that Iraq was going through a rough period of political instability and the meeting due to be held in Erbil must result in long-term radical solutions and all political factions must demonstrate “commitment to the Constitution”. Finally, Barzani stated that “the Kurds are always part of the political solution, working full capacity to resolve outstanding problems.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Special Report on Iraq

As the Syrian war continues to affect the region, we are broadening the remit of our reports
This report is in three sections:
1.      Comment from a senior public figure from Iraq
2.      Background on Iraq / Syria relations
3.      Background on Iraq’s internal politics
There have been dramatic developments in Iraq in recent weeks that affect both Iraq and the region as a whole. One of Iraq’s more prominent public figures, whose name we shall withhold, recently briefed the NCF on developments in that country. He started by talking about Kurdish ambitions for Syria: “the Kurds want to see a greater Kurdistan that includes Syria’s Kurdish region. Obviously that is a problem for the Turks who have their own Kurds with political ambitions. Indeed the issue is all the more sensitive for the Turks because the PKK controls the mountainous country in Northern Syria near the Kurdish border.
“However, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, has other things on his mind apart from greater Kurdistan. Massoud is concerned that there might be a deal between President Talibani of Iraq, who heads the PUK faction, and the new political faction on the Kurdish scene, which goes by the name of Goran. Because of this fear, Barzani has had no choice but to make a deal with Premier Malaki of Iraq. Now this is a new deal. You may have it in your head that Barzani and Malaki are bitter rivals. That was then, this is now.
“Everything in the Middle East is becoming more sectarian. Prime Minister Malaki of Iraq will be the last Iraqi premier to preside over a united Iraq. This is because the Sunnis want to see a federal Iraq, in which the regions get many of the privileges at present reserved for the Kurds. People like Osama Najaifi, the speaker of Iraq’s parliament and Saad el Bazz, one of Iraq’s more prominent businessmen, are promoting a federal Iraq in which Mosul, Anbar and Salahaddin and some parts of Diyala get autonomous status. Rafa al Asawe, the Minister of Finance, has been working hard to bring this about. Meanwhile, (Iraqi businessman – name withheld) continues to support the secular Iraqia Party. He is the man who has always funded them but his future funding is said to be predicated on getting Alawi (the founder and head of Iraqia and a man of Shi’ite extraction with secular beliefs) shifted from his post.
“What all this means is that when we see a new national election for Iraq in 2014, the political parties will appeal either to Kurds or to Sunnis or to Shia. Those few remaining old party lists and coalitions that appealed across ethnic divides will largely cease to exist. The beginning of the end for non-sectarian politics in Iraq was the last elections, when small local governorate based constituencies were introduced. What this meant was that politics became much more sectarian. But why should we worry? Iraq is not a natural nation state, the British drew this map.”
We asked why Talibani had decided to withdraw the vote of no confidence in Premier Malaki a couple of months back:
“Remember the context:
1.       “Talibani made that deal with Goran against Massoud Barzani because both Jalal Talibani and the Goran group were weak politically so they needed to unite to compete with Massoud.
2.       “There are other factors as well. Former US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Kahlilzad, who is a close friend of Massoud’s, persuaded Massoud that the Kurdish region should attempt a big oil deal with Exxon Mobile. Exxon went to work in the north and Talibani stopped the vote of no confidence in Maliki.
“Do you understand? Talibani could not allow Massoud Barzani to become too powerful, to become the ‘great one’ in the north because Talibani and his own the PUK would lose everything.
“And now, there is no possibility of a vote of no confidence in Malaki because Massoud has switched his position and now he wants to be close to Maliki. There are other things you should understand here that President Obama has failed to grasp. Massoud is the man of the Turkish, Jalal Talabani is the man of Iran. There have been spats between Maliki and Massoud Barzani but these are issue specific and are not current. For instance, the temporary bridge between Syria and Iraq, built many years ago by British engineers, which still continues to carry traffic, was being used for weapons. Massoud did not want the Iraq Army coming anywhere near the bridge and seeing what was going on, so he stopped them with his Peshmerga fighters. This made Malaki extremely angry and might have derailed everything in Iraq. But the USA, who obviously have colossal influence over Massoud, told both Massoud and Maliki to cool it. Massoud had no choice. The Kurds want a big Kurdish state, but if the Turks grasp the full extent of Kurdish political ambitions, it will be a problem for Massoud, so he decided to keep his head down. None the less, Massoud will do everything he can to create a Kurdish state at the time of Iraq’s elections in 2014.
“Meanwhile there are other geopolitical issues. Iran and the Turks want to find a way to create some sort of alliance despite their differences over Syria and the Arab Gulf states are frightened by this idea. They are also frightened by the prospect of the Syrian civil war spreading to Jordan. The war in Jordan will begin after the Syria war has settled down and will happen because Jordan has big economic problems. After Jordan it will be Saudi Arabia’s turn.
“The whole Middle East is in a state of transition. There is a generational conflict in Saudi Arabia, whilst everybody regards Qatar as a disposable state. These are interesting times.”
Iraq claims that a Syrian jet entered Iraqi airspace. During the past week the Syrian army has been launching air strikes against the border town of Albu Kamal and the number of refugees trying to get into Iraq is rising.
The sectarian divisions in the region are also causing Iraq problems. The Iraqi government has not bowed to pressure from the Sunni Gulf States to condemn Assad outright. Iraq would be very worried should a Sunni hard-line government take power in Syria.
Iraqi Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki was to submit a plan at the conference in Tehran to end the conflict in Syria. The plan was for a Syrian government figure to negotiate with the opposition groups and then for elections to be held under Arab league and International supervision. The plan includes a demand that "foreign players to stop interfering in Syrian affairs".
On 15 December 2011, the American military formally ended its mission in Iraq. The elections in March 2010 led to the creation of a government of national unity, however, the unity has proved more notional than real. The day after the Americans’ departure, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, broke decisively with the Sunnis the Americans had persuaded him to accept in his government. The government ordered the arrest of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the nation’s highest-ranking Sunni, on charges of murder and terrorism. Mr. Hashimi fled to sanctuary in Iraq’s Kurdish region before moving to Turkey.
But most importantly, after the American military withdrawal, insurgent attacks have steadily increased. Assaults against Iraqi civilians and government officials swelled in late December 2011 and January 2012, as the country was gripped by a political crisis rooted in imbalances of power and festering conflicts between the Shiite prime minister and his largely Sunni and secular political opposition.
Many of the attacks of late 2011 and early 2012 are attributed to the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq. The terrorist group, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in Baghdad on 22 December 2011. The explosions killed more than 63 people
June 2012, there was one of the deadliest months with about 200 people, mostly civilian pilgrims killed.
In July, in a coordinated display intended to show they remain a viable force, Iraqi insurgents launched at least 37 separate attacks throughout the country, setting off car bombs, storming a military base, attacking policemen in their homes and ambushing checkpoints. More than 190 people were killed in violence across Iraq since the start of August 2012, showing that insurgents remain a lethal force eight months after the last US troops left the country. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Co-ordinated bombings are a favourite tactic of the al-Qaida-type-offshoot known as the Islamic State of Iraq.
On 24 August 2012, twin blasts, one exploding beside a pulpit during prayers, killed at least three people and wounded six.  It had become the latest in a wave of violence that punctuates Iraq's struggle to overcome insurgency. Heightened tension between Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds in the coalition government since U.S. withdrawal has raised fears of a return to sectarian violence of the kind that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war a few years ago.
Iraq’s Kurdish Minority
Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region of Iraq governed by the Kurdish Regional Government. It borders Iran to the east, Turkey to the north, Syria to the west and the rest of Iraq to the south. The establishment of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq came after years of heavy fighting, including the Anfal, and 1991 uprising of the Iraqi people against Saddam Hussain, when many Kurds were forced to flee the country to become refugees in Iran and Turkey. The US liberation of Iraq in 2003 followed by subsequent political changes led to the ratification of a new Iraqi Constitution in 2005, which defined Iraqi Kurdistan as a federal entity within Iraq.
However tension between the central Iraqi Government and the Kurdish Regional Government increased. Iraq's central government has a long-standing disagreement with autonomous Kurdistan in the north over control of oil and territory along their internal border. Baghdad maintains it alone has the right to export Iraqi crude. But Kurdistan has moved ahead with signing exploration deals with oil majors such as Exxon and Chevron, which the central government rejects as illegal.
Crude produced in Kurdistan is fed into Iraq's Kirkuk export stream and sold onto world markets via the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. In an interim agreement in January 2011, Baghdad approved payments to companies in Kurdistan for exploration and extraction costs. That agreement called for Kurdish authorities to supply 175,000 barrels per day of oil exports and Baghdad to route 50 percent of the KRG's export earnings to Kurdistan to cover producing companies' costs.
In April 2012, Kurdistan halted exports, saying Baghdad had not made payments to companies working there, but it restarted shipments on August 7 (following improvements in the relationship between Barzani and Malaki) with a warning they could be halted again in a month if there were no payments. Iraq says Kurdistan's oil shipments have fluctuated around 100,000 to 120,000 barrels per day since they restarted, below the 175,000 bpd that Baghdad says was agreed with Kurdistan. Kurdish authorities still needed to present receipts showing company expenses and more auditing is needed before any payments are approved. Iraq approved a payment of close to $560 million to oil producers operating in the north in return for their investment costs to develop oilfields in the Kurdish region. But officials are still waiting for the go-ahead to transfer the money.
Nevertheless, Iraq's Kurdistan announced its willingness to restart negotiations with Baghdad to end the political crisis, focusing on a long-delayed oil law to hand regional authorities more say in managing energy resources, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Rosh Nuri al-Shawish, a Kurd, said. Shawish added that Kurdish officials had met with the head of the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite National Alliance, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, for preliminary talks, and the atmosphere had improved enough for them to see room for progress.
How does Syrian conflict affect Iraq?
Spillover from Syria worries an Iraqi government struggling to overcome its own insurgency and legacy of sectarian violence. Baghdad acknowledges that Sunni Islamist fighters are crossing the porous border to fight against President Bashar al-Assad.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was re-elected in 2010, thanks in part to Iran's support for Iraqi Shi'ite political parties. Among Iraq's Shi'ite leadership, however, there may be little love for Assad, whose government Iraq had blamed for allowing Sunni insurgents and suicide bombers to cross over from Syria to attack U.S. and Iraqi troops at the height of the war.