Thursday, July 31, 2008

Special Sunday Session of Parliament For Election Law

Iraq’s parliament ended its session Wednesday July 30 without resolving the disputes over the provincial election law. Lawmakers are suppose to be on summer break, but the Speaker of Parliament Mahmoud Mashhadani said there will be a special session Sunday August 3 to try to get the bill passed, but signs are not good for a compromise.

The major impediment is the immediate future of Kirkuk. The law that was passed earlier, and then vetoed by the President Council said that elections in Kirkuk’s Tamim province should be delayed six months. In the meantime, the provincial council would be equally divided between Kurds, Arabs, and Turkoman, with the Christians receiving one seat. The Kurds support the election delay, but object to the council provision because they currently control it, and are probably a majority in the province as well. Ultimately, the Kurds hope to annex Kirkuk to Kurdistan, but that process has been put on hold as well because of the same divisions that are delaying passage of the election law.

Iraqi politicians and the public remain deeply divided over the issue. Thousands of Kurds have been protesting in Kirkuk and Kurdistan against the law. Before parliament adjourned, Turkman politicians walked out of the election committee. Al Hayat newspaper also reported that the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) had split with its militia, the Badr Brigade, when the law first came up. The SIIC voted against the law, while Badr was angered when the Kurds walked out, and voted for it as a protest. The Kurds, the SIIC, and the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front would also benefit from the bill not passing on Sunday, and the provincial balloting being delayed because they will be challenged in the elections and would like more time to consolidate their power. The United Nations is also trying to mediate the crisis. It will be interesting to see whether the dominant coalition of the Kurds and the SIIC, will be able to keep their hold over parliament and either pass a law they agree with or block one that they don’t. It was said that the original law getting through was the first time the Kurds had been defeated in the legislature.

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “Kirkuk security escalation has repercussions on Parliament’s session,” 7/29/08

Missings Links Blog, “A reported split within Hakim’s Supreme Council bloc,” 7/28/08b

Parker, Ned, “Iraq parliament plans emergency session on local elections,” Los Angeles Times, 7/31/08

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Dozens Kill in Iraq Suicide Bombings,” Washington Post, 7/28/08

Voices of Iraq, “Protestors in Sulaimaniya present warrant of protest against elections law,” 7/31/08

Recent Government And Sons of Iraq Relations

The future of the 103,000, largely Sunni, Sons of Iraq (SOI) local security units is a major question. The U.S. has said that they will only fund the program to the end of 2008, while the government has repeatedly promised that they will integrate the fighters into the security forces or give them other government jobs. At the same time, Baghdad deeply distrusts the Sunni SOI, and has only integrated 17,000 of them by the end of May 2008, roughly 15%. Two recent events in Diyala and Wasit provinces could provide some insights into what the government plans on doing with these fighters.

On July 29 the government launched its latest military operation in troubled Diyala province. Elements of the largely Shiite National Police entered the well off Sunni neighborhood of New Baquba. The district had a Sons of Iraq unit that was the victim of an insurgent female suicide bomber that killed the SOI’s leader on July 24. The police commander said that some of the SOI were wanted for crimes, and they would be arrested. The others would eventually be given government jobs.

Today, July 31, police raided the offices of an SOI unit in Kut, Wassit province. They arrested three members, gathered up documents, and shut down the office. No explanation was given. The Kut SOI had formed its own political party two months ago to run in the upcoming provincial elections.

As reported earlier, in April and June the government issued three arrest warrants for SOI leaders. In April, the leader of the Amiriya Knights in Baghdad fled to Jordan when he heard the government wanted him for several murders. That same month, a checkpoint leader of the Lions of Adhamiya, also in the capitol, was arrested for murder and working with the insurgency. In June, the government jailed the commander of the Lions for kidnapping.

These incidents are not enough to tell whether they are the result of a government policy, or just individual events. What is known is that as security improves, the Sons of Iraq, will be needed less and less. These units have made deals with the United States military, not with Baghdad. Many of the Sunni ones are made up of former insurgents and tribes, which is a constant source of tension and mistrust with the government. The U.S. wants to integrate 25% of them into the security forces, while the remainder would get government jobs. There is little existing capacity to train the fighters for work, and many do not want to do that after they’ve had guns and secured their communities. The greatest fear is that some of these fighters will go back to the insurgency, which is definitely possible. The majority however, will probably be left to their own devices, and be unemployed as the government is unable and unwilling to find them work. That’s not as bad as going back to fighting, but it will be a destabilizing force to have so many unemployed men in a country with so many already lacking jobs.

SOURCES

Peter, Tom, “Sons of Iraq made Iraq safer. What’s their mission now?” Christian Science Monitor, 7/30/08

Voices of Iraq, “Sahwa office in Wassit closed,” 7/31/08

Zavis, Alexandra, “Residents wary as Iraq police blanket Baqubah,” Los Angeles Times, 7/31/08

Anthony Cordesman, CSIS Report on Iraqi Forces

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is one of the top military analysts on Iraq. The defense expert authors around one to four in depth reports a month on the conflict. This month he released his latest paper, “Iraqi Force Development July 2008.” As the title would suggest it is an evaluation of the Iraqi security forces (ISF), especially in light of the government offensives in Basra, Sadr City, and Mosul. His major point is that while the Iraqi army and police have made some great strides, there are still major structural problems that will take years to work out.

Cordesman starts off by saying that the U.S. government has consistently misrepresented the capabilities of the ISF. He writes, “To date, the Department of Defense reporting on the progress in Iraqi forces development has been fundamentally misleading and lacking in integrity, and has done a major disservice in leading the Congress and others to have unrealistic expectations of what can be accomplished within a given timeframe.” He gives many examples to support this. One was that the March 2008 quarterly Pentagon report to Congress claimed that Iraqi forces were successfully maintaining security in Basra after it had been turned over to their control by the British. That month Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched an offensive there to assert government control over a city he claimed had become lawless under various Shiite militias and criminals. There are other examples such as consistently relying upon aggregate statictics like the number of Iraqis trained by the U.S., while never stating how many of those actually still serve. The fact is, the Americans have no idea what that number is. He also cites the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction who found that the Defense Department often changes it methodologies to determine Iraqi readiness from report to report as well.

The problems with American reporting don’t mean the Iraqi forces have not made actual gains. For the first time, Iraqi forces carried out large-scale operations in Basra, Sadr City, and Mosul by the time the report was written. They were able to move large numbers of soldiers and police in short order from place to place, and used the Iraqi Air Force for re-supply missions and troop movement. Beforehand the ISF were mostly doing checkpoint work. Cordesman however, questions how effective they were in each operation.

In Basra, Sadr City, and Mosul he sees mixed results. In Basra, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rushed the operation, leading to a lack of planning, training, and logistics for Iraqi forces. The Mahdi Army was able to hold its ground, while the ISF ran into supply problems that were solved with U.S. and British help, and hundreds ended up deserting. As one British officer on the scene reported:

“There were literally thousands of troops arriving in Basra from all over Iraq. But they had no idea why they were there or what they were supposed to do. It was madness and to cap it all they had insufficient supplies of food, water and ammunition. …. One of the newly formed brigades was ordered into battle and suffered around 1,200 desertions within the first couple of hours – it was painful to watch. … They had to be pulled out because they were a busted flush. The Iraqi police were next to useless. There were supposed to be 1,300 ready to deploy into the city, but they refused to do so. The situation deteriorated to the extent where we [the British Army] were forced to stage a major resupply operation in order to stave off disaster.”


In the end, the fighting was inconclusive, and after five days Moqtada al-Sadr issued a cease-fire. It was only then that the Iraqi forces were able to sweep into Sadrist strongholds and clear them. In Sadr City, the ISF also had a mixed performance with the Americans doing most of the heavy fighting. Again, Sadr called a cease-fire and that allowed Iraqi forces to secure the area. In Mosul, Cordesman believes the government did a much better job, arrested a large number of insurgents and reducing attacks by 85%. Even then, Maliki announced the offensive so far in advance, that many top insurgents fled the city before the crackdown.

The larger problems Cordesman sees are institutional to the ISF. First, the forces have had a massive expansion over a very short period of time. When General Petraeus reported to Congress in April 2008 for example, he said that 133,000 soldiers and police had been added to the security forces in the last 16 months. That process is not finished, as Maliki wants to add 50,000 new soldiers and 23,000 police. This has created a shortage of non-commissioned and regular officers, supplies, and training. The Army is doing better with these problems, while the police appear to still be a mess. Local police are under municipal and provincial control with little coordination with Baghdad. Many of these officers receive no training as a result. The Facilities Protection Services that use to be under the command of individual ministries, are now suppose to be part of the Interior Ministry, but it will take years to integrate them. The Army is becoming much more of a national force in comparison. The one exception is the paramilitary National Police. The force was once known for Shiite death squads, but it has been extensively reformed. The entire ISF still has problems with manning. To fix this, many Iraqi army units are going over their required troop levels, but even then Cordesman estimates that any given battalion only has 50% of its soldiers on duty at any given time. Only 2 Iraqi Army divisions consistently have their full compliment of troops. Baghdad has also taken over more responsibility for funding Iraqi forces, but is still not up to the task. The government is good at paying salaries, but the Defense Ministry only spent 11.8% of its capital budget, the Interior Ministry 11.1%. Iraq is also looking for other sources of weapons besides the Americans, but many of these deals have been wracked with corruption.

The overall picture Cordesman paints is of an Iraqi security force that is still a work in progress. The ISF made huge gains in being able to operate in three different cities in different parts of the country in short order. They were also able to impose security after two cease-fires by the Sadrists. The Army is more advanced than the police, although the National Police have improved. More and more Iraqis are signing up, and the government is responsible for more than half of the expenses of the Defense and Interior Ministries. The tasks ahead are still large. Most army and police units are not fully manned, there are still logistics and supply problems, the police are local in nature, leaving control to tribes and parties rather than the central government, and many are untrained. Corruption and sectarianism are still issues in the ministries, and they can’t spend the majority of their budgets. Cordesman’s greatest worry appears to be that Iraqi and U.S. politicians will feel that the Iraqi forces are better than they actual are. For example, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is demanding a timetable for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, partly because of his belief that the ISF is ready to take over security in Iraq. Baghdad has claimed that it can take control of all of Iraq’s eighteen provinces by December 2008. Iraq however, has never met any of its deadlines for security handovers. On the American side, Congress is demanding that the Iraqis pay for more and more of their security. As pointed out earlier, while they have the money, they are currently incapable of spending much of it at all beyond paying for salaries. That means they will continue to rely upon American forces to support them, but Congress may cut that off because of the false expectations Cordesman writes about. Iraq is heading towards a new period in its post-invasion history, but how it will turn out is still up in the air. Cordesman provides some important points on military issues that need to be considered as Iraq moves forward.

SOURCES

Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraqi Force Development,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 2008

Government Refugee Policy At Work In Najaf and Diyala

This summer the Iraqi government announced a new refugee policy. The main goal is to return families to their homes through offering cash. There has been some early reporting on how it is being implemented in the southern province of Najaf and in Diyala in the east. In Diyala, only a few displaced families have returned because the security situation is too unstable, while in Najaf the government is cracking down on two refugee camps. Together they do not paint a positive picture of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s repatriation program.

Diyala province is one of the few places in Iraq that still has high levels of violence, which is negatively affecting refugees. The province has approximately 25,000 displaced families. That equals about 150,000 people. 600 families have come back, but only to Baquba, the provincial capitol. Lack of security is the main reason that more have not returned. In the capitol’s suburbs and rural areas there are still militants preventing people from going back to their homes. One non-governmental organization said that families had been threatened and one killed after returning. Agence France Presse reported on a Shiite family that returned to their mostly Sunni neighborhood in western Baquba, only to have their house bombed and another device found outside. Most families were forced to flee originally because of Kurdish designs to annex northern sections of the province, and the sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis that lasted from 2006-2007. Diyala’s provincial government is trying to help the displaced by offering money for damaged houses, 10 million dinars ($8,500) in the central urban region and seven million dinars ($6,000) in the country. Baghdad has also just launched a security operation there to try to secure the province.

In Najaf the provincial council is trying to make the displaced leave. They have begun at two of the few refugee camps in the country. At the al-Manathira camp the province’s Displacement and Migration Ministry said that it will provide aid to those families that want to return to their homes, while it will also be checking people’s papers to make sure they are not taking advantage of government services posing as displaced. The camp holds 231 families, approximately 1,400 people. When the camp heard of the government’s plans there was a protest because people were afraid they would be forced to return to their homes. The provincial council said they would only help people whose homes were in secure areas. The ministry is taking the opposite approach at the al-Manazra camp, which they are closing, telling all the occupants they need to go back to their home provinces. In total, Najaf has 6112 displaced families, roughly 42,784 individuals.

These two provinces highlight the problems the government will face with its refugee policy. In Diyala few have returned because the security situation is still unstable, while in Najaf they are trying to move people out of refugee camps, sometimes against their will. Currently there are 2.1 million internally displaced Iraqis. Many want to go back to their homes, but are unsure of what they will find when they go back such as in Diyala. Others have occupied their homes, and many areas have been ethnically cleansed, meaning if people leave the refugee camps in Najaf they might not have a place to go back to. The government wants to assist these people, but offering money and closing down refugee camps doesn’t seem to be the right approach. Other than getting people back to their areas, there doesn’t seem to be much else to Maliki’s plan. Iraq has the second worst refugee problem in the world, and it will take a much more comprehensive and long-term plan to solve it than what the government is now offering.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Ex-insurgents Want More Money, or Else,” 7/25/08

Alsumaria, “Najaf displaced families protest decision of closing refugees’ camp,” 7/30/08

International Crisis Group, “Failed Responsibility: Iraqi Refugees In Syria, Jordan and Lebanon,” 7/10/08

IRIN, “IRAQ: IDPs fear returning to their homes in Diyala Province,” 7/14/08
- “IRAQ: Najaf authorities to weed out bogus IDPs, official says,” 7/27/08

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rough Numbers On The Sons of Iraq Program

Finding specific breakdowns of the Sons of Iraq (SOI) program are hard to come by. The SOI are U.S.-funded local security units that have been instrumental in turning the tide against Al Qaeda in Iraq and the insurgency. By May 2008 there were approximately 103,000 SOI fighters. 70% of them were Sunnis. They were mostly former insurgents and tribesmen. The remaining 30% were Shiite. The SOIs operate in ten of Iraq’s eighteen provinces. The following numbers come from reports by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Center for American Progress. They are still incomplete, but give a general idea of the number of SOI groups and their distribution across Iraq.

Provinces and Sons of Iraq Groups and Fighters

Anbar 7 SOI groups all Sunni 8000 fighters

Babil 23 SOI groups, 10 Sunni 12 Shiite 1 mixed Sunni-Shiite over 6000 fighters

Baghdad 43 SOI groups 20 mixed Sunni-Shiite over 43,000 fighters

Dhi Qar 2 SOI groups both Shiite over 2000 fighters

Diwaniya 6 SOI groups all Shiite over 1500 fighters

Diyala 10 SOI groups all Sunni 4000 fighters

Ninewa unknown number of groups unknown number of fighters

Salahaddin 54 SOI groups all Sunni over 4000 fighters

Tamim 11 SOI groups all Sunni over 8000 fighters

Wasit unknown number of groups 1500-3000 fighters

SOURCES

Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraqi Force Development,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 2008

Katulis, Brian, Juul, Peter, and Moss, Ian, “Awakening to New Dangers in Iraq,” Center for American Progress, February 2008

Ucko, David, “Upcoming Iraqi Elections Must Consolidate Security Gains of ‘Sons of Iraq,’” World Politics Review, 5/20/08

Going After Iran’s Supply Lines In Iraq

When the insurgency and Al Qaeda in Iraq were largely tamed during 2007, the Iranian backed Special Groups became the main security concern. Many of these were part of or operated alongside members of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. At the end of 2006, the U.S. began going after the Special Groups, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s 2008 crackdowns have also targeted them. With security improved, that has freed up U.S. and Iraqi forces to now disrupt the Iranian supply lines that deliver weapons to these militants by increasing security along the Iran-Iraq border.

The U.S. is working with Iraq to secure the Iranian border along four provices Basra, Maysan, Wasit and Diyala

The U.S. is working to secure the border with Iran in three southern provinces, Basra, Maysan, and Wasit, and in Diyala in the east. These governorates contain the four main routes arms smugglers use to supply Iranian weapons to the Special Groups. The U.S. is trying to create a unified border control system in the process. The American forces are setting up outposts across from Iran at major points to interdict smugglers in the south. They are also reaching out to local tribes and training the Iraqi border guards to monitor the trade and travel of Iranians going to and from. Yesterday, July 29, the government launched its latest offensive in Diyala. The U.S. and Iraqi forces are planning on operating along the Iranian border to interdict arms flows.

While the U.S. military believes that Iraqis smuggle most of the weapons, they originate from the Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards led by General Qassem Suleimani. He is in charge of Iraq policy, including arming and training the Special Groups. The Qods Force has a special group for Iraq called the Ramazan Corps. In turn, the Ramazan Corps created three commands for Iraq. They operate out of the Iranian cities of Mehran, Ahaz, and Marivan. From these bases, Iranian supplies flow into major cities such as Amara in Maysan, Basra, and Diyala province, and then into the interior. One such route goes from Basra up Highway 8 through the provinces of Dhi Qar, Diwaniyah, Babil, and then the southern districts of Amil, Bayaa and Abu Disheer in the capitol where Special Group units are based.

The hope is with the changed security environment, both the U.S. and Iraqis can have the forces to concentrate not only on breaking up the Special Groups, but also their lines of supply that lead back to Iran. Military operations are on going throughout central and southern Iraq to do that first job. The new border policy is a move towards accomplishing the second. Iran has already lost many assets in Iraq in the recent fighting. This new policy could be aimed at limiting their influence within Iraq even more without attacking Iran itself, something the U.S. military is not hot on since it has its hands full with Iraq and Afghanistan. Ultimately, the goal should be to convince Iran that it can’t support the Iraqi government, while also sowing chaos behind the scenes with the Special Groups. Iran needs to be more constructive in Iraq rather than trying to have it both ways.

SOURCES

Ahmed, Farook and Cochrane, Marisa, “Recent Operations against Special Groups and JAM in Central and Southern Iraq,” Institute for the Study of War, 4/7/08

Burns, Robert, “Crackdown focuses on arms smuggling from Iran,” Associated Press, 7/18/08

Paley, Amit, “U.S. Deploys a Purpose-Driven Distinction,” Washington Post, 5/21/08

Roggio, Bill, “Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq,” Long War Journal.org, 12/5/07

Strobel, Warren and Fadel, Leila, “Iranian who brokered Iraqi peace is on U.S. terrorist watch list,” McClatchy Newspaper, 3/31/08

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Conservative Ideology Behind The Iraq Invasion

Today, July 29 National Public Radio’s Fresh Air interviewed J. Peter Scoblib about his new book, U.S. Versus Them. Scoblib is the executive editor of the New Republic, and former editor of Arms Control Today. He wrote the book while he was a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a visiting researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies. The goal of his book was to look at his area of expertise, arms control, to ascertain the main strands of thought that led to President Bush’s invasion of Iraq. He came away with the thesis that the Bush administration’s foreign policy was largely shaped by the new conservatism of William Buckley’s National Review and Barry Goldwater.

The first term of George W. Bush had a moralist foreign policy that according to Scoblib came from the new conservatism that emerged during the Cold War. Before World War II, conservatives were mostly isolationist and divided. They did not want America to be involved in Europe’s problems, and were divided between social conservatives that were upset with the direction of the country’s culture that they believed was abandoning Christianity, and anti-government economic conservatives. William Buckley and his National Review magazine were largely credited with uniting these two factions in their opposition to communism to form the new conservatism. Russia threatened to spread godless communism where the government would control all aspects of the economy, which brought together the two strains of conservative thought. This new ideology believed that the Cold War was a moral battle between good and evil. They did not believe that Russia could be negotiated with, and that only a massive American military and a large nuclear stockpile could stop them from taking over. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona became the public symbol for this new breed of thought.

Ronald Reagan was the first to bring these new ideas about conservatism to the White House, but his presidency turned out to be a paradox. Members of his administration believed that the U.S. needed to confront Russia and thought it could win the Cold War, even win a nuclear confrontation. Following these beliefs Reagan rejected arms control negotiations, wanted to deploy Pershing nuclear missiles to Europe, announced the Star Wars missile defense system, and civil defense plans to be carried out in case of a nuclear attack. A funny thing happened though in his second term. In the last four years of Reagan’s presidency he turned 180 degrees and began doing all the things that he opposed. He opened negotiations with Russia, cut mid-range missiles, and had a friendly relationship with Russian premier Mikhail Gorbachev. The conservatives were beside themselves, attacking Reagan for selling out America’s ideals and even claiming that the communists had duped him. When the Soviet Union fell apart the new conservatives rationalized it by saying that it was Reagan’s strong opposition to communism that made it collapse. They said it was an example of the triumph of peace through strength, forgetting that the president had abandoned most of those policies in the last half of his term in office.

The new conservatives and another group calling themselves neoconservatives took up the Buckley-Goldwater-Reagan mantle in the Bush administration. In the White House’s stance towards Iraq you saw the vision of a moral battle between good and evil, and the belief that only force should be used to protect America not negotiations. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton, who is often labeled a neoconservatives but isn’t, represented the new conservative stance that military power is what should be used to protect America. They saw Saddam Hussein as a threat to the U.S’s interests in the Middle East who couldn’t be left in power after 9/11. They wanted to go in fast, overthrow the government, and get out just as quickly. The neoconservatives were mostly former liberals who abandoned the Democratic Party because it opposed the Vietnam War, which was seen as a cop out to communism. They brought to the Republicans the belief in a moral foreign policy based upon confronting evil regimes such as Iraq. They wanted to spread good by bringing democracy to the Middle East by overthrowing Saddam. Neither faction believed that talking with Iraq would do anything but maintain the regime. Like the Cold War united the social and economic conservatives, Iraq proved to be the bridge that connected the new conservatives and neoconservatives in the Bush White House. The result was the invasion of Iraq.

In the end, Scoblib believes that a moral foreign policy is dangerous. He said that the new conservative stance during the Cold War escalated tensions with the Soviet Union more than they had to be, and blocked constructive engagement over issues such as nuclear weapons that could have stabilized things more. Taking a moral view of the world leads to absolutes where there is nothing acceptable but a victory over evil. It also leads to a reliance upon force to protect the nation. The conservatives and neoconservatives thought they had proof of their beliefs when Reagan was elected to office and the Soviet Union collapsed. Scoblib believes that Russia was going to fall apart whether Reagan was president or not because communism was not a sustainable system. Reagan ended up abandoning most of his confrontational policies anyways and began talking with Russia, something that both conservative groups expunged from their histories to justify their own worldview. All of these ideas played out in Iraq where you had two conservative groups in the White House that had different ideas about the world, but united in their opposition to Saddam. They decided on war, and sidelined countries like France and Germany that wanted to negotiate, and used the United Nations only to provide an excuse for an invasion. The fact that the new conservatives and neoconservatives had different visions of what to do after the war was never really discussed. Although Scoblib didn’t mention it in his interview, this division is what led to the predicament the U.S. now finds itself in Iraq. The conservative ideologies led to a war that had no united post-invasion vision. Scoblib does bring up the example of Libya where forces within the administration were able to oppose the conservatives and negotiate Muammar Qaddafi’s unilateral destruction of his weapons of mass destruction and nuclear programs. Qaddafi was just as much of a rogue leader and terrorist supporter as Saddam Hussein in the Middle East. In fact, it turned out that Libya had a much more advanced weapons program. This could have been an alternative outcome to the invasion of Iraq.

SOURCES

Fresh Air, “’U.S. Versus Them’: The Cost Of Hawkishness,” National Public Radio, 7/29/08

Diyala Offensive Begins

Today, July 29, U.S. and Iraqi forces began a new major offensive in Diyala province east of Baghdad. Up to 30,000 soldiers and police are participating, a number similar to other recent operations in Basra and Mosul. Diyala is one of the few remaining areas that still has widespread instability. Operations began in the provincial capitol of Baquba where vehicles were banned. In Mid-June, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that the crackdown was being planned. Originally, Iraqi forces said they would begin on August 1.

The head of Iraqi forces in the province said their main target will be Al Qaeda in Iraq. Many of their fighters have fled to Diyala in 2008, looking to re-establish bases to carry out operations after crackdowns in areas such as Mosul. In May for example, 300 Al Qaeda fighters held a parade in the village of al-Asiwa. The province has also seen the largest number of female suicide bombers in 2008, a new tactic being used by the Islamist organization.

Diyala has also been used as a supply route for Iranian weapons to Baghdad. Arms smugglers and Shiite Special Groups would ferry weapons from Iran through Diyala to the eastern Baghdad neighborhoods of Sadr City, Shaab, and Urb. This will also be a target of the offensive.

As reported earlier, Diyala has been the site of Arab-Kurdish tensions, inter-Shiite battles, and contentious Sons of Iraq units. The Kurds have designs on annexing northern sections of the province, the Mahdi Army and Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council have battled over control of the local security forces, and Sons of Iraq (SOI) units have been formed that have also clashed with Iraqi forces. SOIs have actually asked to participate in the government’s crackdown, but the security forces have said that only they will be able to operate during the offensive.

If previous crackdowns are any indication, Iraqi forces will be able to provide a modicum of security in the province. Since the operation was announced so far in advance, many militants will probably have fled beforehand, leaving lower level fighters to be swept up in round-ups or lie low. The next stage will be searches for weapons stashes. These will probably go smoothly. The real issue will be whether the government will be able to mediate between the Arabs and Kurds, and Sunnis and Shiites in the province. That is a much bigger challenge for not only Diyala, but the rest of Iraq as security continues to improve.

SOURCES

Ahmed, Farook and Cochrane, Marisa, “Recent Operations against Special Groups and JAM in Central and Southern Iraq,” Institute for the Study of War, 4/7/08

Adas, Basil, “Al Qaida ‘will put up fierce fight to keep last Iraqi stronghold,’” Gulf News, 5/16/08

Associated Press, “U.S.-backed operation begins in Diyala province of Iraq,” USA Today, 7/29/08

Dagher, Sam, “In Iraq, Sunni insurgents still aim to oust U.S., Shiites,” Christian Science Monitor, 4/10/08

IraqSlogger.com, “A Role for Tribal Forces in Diyala Crackdown?” 7/29/08

Multi-National Force-Iraq, “Operational Update: Rear Adm. Driscoll, Maj. Gen. Atta,” 6/22/08

Spangler, Nicholas, “Iraq, U.S. forces start operation in restive Diyala province,” McClatchy Newspapers, 7/29/08

Voices of Iraq, “300 al-Qaeda fighters hold military parade in Diala,” 5/3/08

Monday, July 28, 2008

Kurdish Frustrations Over Provincial Elections Boil Over After Suicide Bombing

Today, July 28 a suicide bomber attacked a crowd of thousands of Kurds who were protesting the provincial election law in the northern city of Kirkuk. The bombing killed 24 people. The protestors turned angry afterwards and charged the headquarters of the Iraqi Turkoman Front, burning it to the ground. A Kurdish politician claimed that shots were fired from the offices into the crowd. An Arab member of the Tamim provincial council said that his house was destroyed as well by the mob. He threatened to call in Sunni Sons of Iraq units to protect the Arab population of Kirkuk, while the Turkoman Front said that Baghdad needed to send in troops to secure the city’s Arab and Turkoman population from the Kurdish Pershmerga security forces. A Kurdish member of parliament said that the political blocs that passed the election law bore responsibility for the bombing and casualties.

It was unclear whether the bomber was a woman or not. An Iraqi police general said that he had found a woman’s remains, while the U.S. said they had no evidence to support that. A car bomb was also found nearby and it was destroyed. In total 170 people were injured. The police imposed a curfew on Kirkuk to restore order after the disturbances. No group has claimed responsibility for the act, but the U.S. believes that it is Al Qaeda in Iraq that has been using woman bombers more and more this year. If it was a woman, this would be the 27th such attack this year.

The ethnic tensions that exploded afterwards were probably just the response the masterminds behind the bombing wanted. The disputed city of Kirkuk is the major reason why the Presidential Council vetoed the election law that was passed by parliament just a few days ago. The law called for a six-month delay in voting in Kirkuk’s Tamim province, and in the meantime seats on the provincial council were to be divided evenly between Kurds, Arabs, and Turkoman, with one seat going to Christians. The Kurds opposed this clause because they currently control the governorship, head of the council, and a majority of its seats, plus they are most likely a majority in the province. The Kurdish bloc in parliament stormed out during the vote, and the Kurdish President Jalal Talabni along with the Shiite Vice President Adel Abdel-Mahdi of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council ended up vetoing it.

SOURCES

BBC News, “Iraq suicide blasts cause carnage,” 7/28/08

Gamel, Kim, “Female suicide attackers kill 57 in Iraq,” Associated Press, 7/28/08

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Dozens Kill in Iraq Suicide Bombings,” Washington Post, 7/28/08

Spangler, Nicholas and Kadhim, Hussein, “Iraqi bombings kill dozens, wound more than 200,” McClatchy Newspapers, 7/28/08

Voices of Iraq, “Blocs that drafted provincial election bill responsible for Kirkuk incidents – Kurdish lawmaker,” 7/28/08

26th Female Suicide Attack In Iraq Takes Dozens Of Lives In Baghdad

Today, July 28 three female suicide bombers attacked a crowd of Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad’s Karrada district on their way to the Kadhimiya shrine of the 8th Century Imam Musa al-Kadhim. The latest report had the death toll at 32 with 100 wounded. It was the deadliest attack in the capitol since the June 13 attack in Hurriya by a Shiite Special Groups unit that killed 63. It was also the third deadliest female bombing this year. On March 17 a women attacked a crowd of Shiites in Karbala killing 40 and wounding 65. The most lethal was on February 1 when a women killed 45 and wounded 82 in a pet market in Baghdad, followed by a second female bomber who killed 27 and wounded 67 in another market. The last female suicide attack only a few days ago in Diyala province’s capitol Baquba on July 24.

The bombing was a coordinated one with the first blast occurring at around 7:45 am as pilgrims were taking a rest at Fardos Square where the famous footage of Saddam’s statue being taken down was filmed. As people fled the scene another woman detonated her bomb on a side street around five minutes later. The third woman set off her explosives 15 minutes later, perhaps aimed at rescue workers and concerned citizens looking to help the survivors. Each year, Shiite pilgrimages such as this one have been targeted by militants. More than one million people are expected to attend this year’s Kadhimiya ceremony, providing a tempting target for Sunni insurgents. The Iraqi government has deployed 100,000 security personnel to protect the event, including 200 women volunteers to search women visitors.

No group has claimed responsibility for the act, but female suicide bombers are becoming an increasing tactic used by Al Qaeda in Iraq. As documented earlier, the Islamist group has been running out of fighters and foreigners to carry out such attacks, and their overall ability to carry organized campaigns as they did in the past has been greatly degraded. The use of women bombers, while effective and headline grabbing, is actually a sign of the desperation of the organization.

SOURCES

Ahmed, Caesar and Parker, Ned, “Female suicide bombers in Baghdad and Kirkuk kill 57, injure 280,” Los Angeles times, 7/28/08

BBC News, “Iraq suicide blasts cause carnage,” 7/28/08
- “Two bombs kill scores in Baghdad,” 2/1/08

CNN, “Female suicide bomber kills 40 in Iraq, official says,” 3/17/08

Gamel, Kim, “Female suicde attackers kill 57 in Iraq,” Associated Press, 7/28/08

Hacaoglu, Selcan, “Female suicide bombers kill at least 57 in Iraq,” Associated Press, 7/28/08

Spanger, Nicholas and Kadhim, Hussein, “Iraqi bombings kill dozens, wound more than 200,” McClatchy Newspapers, 7/28/08

The Sunni Accordance Front Returns To Maliki’s Government Amidst Recriminations and Challenges

On July 20 the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF) officially returned to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s cabinet. The Accordance Front is a coalition of three Sunni parties, the Iraqi Islamic Party led by Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the Iraq People’s Congress headed by Adnan al-Dulaimi, and the National Dialogue Council of Khalaf al-Ilyan, that holds 44 seats in Iraq’s 275 member parliament. The IAF withdrew their six ministers almost a year ago on August 1, 2007, claiming that they were not included in Maliki’s decision making process, that the government was sectarian, and not moving towards reconciliation. By boycotting the cabinet, the IAF hoped to undermine the “national unity” image of the government, and gain greater concessions. Their return took months of internal disputes and bickering with Maliki, and they came back not from a position of strength, but from one of weakness.

The eleven-month boycott of the cabinet gained the Accordance Front little, and increased the divisions within the bloc. The IAF was given its six original ministries (planning, higher education, culture, communication, women’s affairs, and foreign affairs) plus one deputy premier, giving them no more say in the government than they had before. Four of the ministers and the deputy premier came from Vice President Hashemi’s Islamic Party, which led to recriminations within the bloc. The National Dialogue Council, that received two ministries, claimed that they were never consulted about the nominees, and even threatened to withdraw from the IAF back in April. The IAF’s boycott did undermine Prime Minister Maliki’s standing not only with the Iraqi public, but neighboring Arab countries as well that are all ruled by Sunnis. In the end, the Front had little to show for it however, and the Islamic Party’s dominance of the ministries threatened to break the coalition apart.

The reason why the IAF was so anxious to return to the cabinet is the impending provincial elections. During the first such polling in January 2005, the Islamic Party was the only Sunni group to participate, and gained control of Anbar province. Since then, local tribes formed the Awakening movement, which was instrumental in forcing out Al Qaeda in Iraq from most of Western Iraq. The tribes are now forming political parties that are expected to sweep the Islamic Party out of power in Anbar, and probably gain seats in central Iraq as well. Feeling threatened, the Accordance Front wanted to return to the cabinet as swiftly as possible so that they could shore up their positions, gain back their ministries, which they can use to dole out patronage in return for votes, and try to shape conditions on the ground so that they can beat back the challenge of the Awakening movement.

Conclusion

After almost a year, the Sunni Accordance Front finally returned to Prime Minister Maliki’s cabinet. Rather than being a sign of reconciliation, it was actually out of desperation by the Sunni bloc. They wanted their ministries back so that they could fend off the challenge of the Anbar Awakening and other tribal groups that are going to run in the upcoming provincial elections. The move also threatened to break up the coalition as the majority of the ministers came from the Islamic Party, which caused dissension and jealousy amongst others. All of these are bad signs for the Front. They are losing legitimacy amongst Sunnis and within their own bloc, which is not a good way to be heading into elections.


SOURCES

Ahmed, Farook, “The Iraqi Accord Front’s Return to Government,” Institute for the Study of War, 5/16/08

Alsumaria, “Iraqi governmental crisis to further snag,” 5/5/08

BBC News, “Iraqi Kurdish Alliance says most blocs agree to Kirkuk poll delay,” 7/22/08

CNN, “Iraqi Sunni bloc’s ministers withdrawing from coalition Cabinet,” 8/2/07

Gamel, Kim, “US Commanders Welcome Fallujah Revival,” Associated Press, 2/9/08

Katzman, Kenneth, “Iraq: Government Formation and Benchmarks,” Congressional Research Service, 8/10/07

Katulis, Brian, Juul, Peter, and Moss, Ian, “Awakening to New Dangers in Iraq,” Center for American Progress, February 2008

Mohammed, Wisam, “Iraq’s main Sunni bloc suspends government talks,” Reuters, 5/27/08

Partlow, Joshua, “Top Iraqis Pull Back From Key U.S. Goal,” Washington Post, 10/8/07

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Sunni Bloc Rejoins Iraqi Government, Amid Reconciliation Hopes,” Washington Post, 7/20/08

Tarabay, Jamie, “Sunni Tribal Leaders Demand Government Support,” All Things Considered NPR, 11/13/07

Voices of Iraq, “Govt. spokesman says deal reached to name IAF ministers,” 6/30/08
- “Head of NDC will not withdraw from IAF, says al-Dulaimi,” 5/10/08
- “IAF accuses government of hindering its return,” 5/29/08
- “IAF: Leniency on Mosul operation would strengthen gunmen cells,” 5/13/08
- “IAF member foresees ‘collapse’ in negotiations with govt.,” 5/26/08
- “NDC objects IAF deputy PM candidate – MP,” 7/17/08

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Iraq’s Amnesty Law

In February 2008 Iraq’s parliament passed an Amnesty Law, which was part of the reconciliation process. On March 27, the Presidential Council ratified it, making it official. The Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front and the Sadrists were the main supporters of the act because up to 80% of those detained are Sunnis, and the Sadrists have faced a wave of arrests by government forces. At the time, most reports said that Iraq held 26,000 prisoners. In fact, the true number was two to three times that. It turns out the government was holding thousands of Iraqis that were never officially arrested or were just waiting for a court date, while others had been found guilty but never given a sentence.

On July 22 Baghdad announced that 109,087 people had been pardoned under the Amnesty Law. There was no breakdown given, but some specifics were publicized in June and May. On June 29, the Voices of Iraq reported that the courts had released 13,199 people that had been found guilty but not sentenced, and 46,371 had been given bail. An additional 33,273 had been pardoned that were wanted, but had never been captured. In May, Iraq had pardoned a total of 55,053 people. 5,636 were convicted criminals, 24,472 were given bail, 11,476 were being held awaiting trial, and13,469 were wanted persons that had not been arrested. The government said they wanted to provide job training for those released to keep them out of trouble.

The huge number of those released, far past the official number of 26,000, shows the dysfunctional nature of the Iraqi justice system. While the U.S. has worked to improve the top court in the country, the rest of the legal system barely works. The United Nations has said that many times Iraqi forces arbitrarily arrest anyone suspicious in an area after an incident. Suspects are then suppose to be assured of due process, where the government can only hold suspects for 48 hours, and then they need to be brought before an investigative judge. The system is so overwhelmed by the number of cases however, that rarely happens. Police often hold people even after their cases have been dropped. Even those that actually go to court and are found guilty rarely get sentenced as the numbers above point out. A U.S. adviser on a Provincial Reconstruction Team told the New York Times that Iraqi courts lack basic necessities and the government doesn’t care about them. Baghdad now has the money to pay for basic services because of the oil boom, but the legal system is not one of its priorities. It will probably take years for this to be fixed, and until then the Amnesty Law will continue to release tens of thousands that should have never been held in the first place, and some that are probably guilty, but the system simply can’t process.

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraqi Lawmakers Pass 3 Key New Laws,” Associated Press, 2/13/08

Alsumaria, “Iraq Amnesty Law forging ahead,” 2/19/08

BBC News, “Iraq government backs amnesty law,” 12/26/07

Colvin, Ross, “Iraqi police raid Mehdi Army strongholds,” Reuters, 3/12/08

Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraqi Force Development,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 2008

Gluck, Jason, “From Gridlock to Compromise: How Three Laws Could Begin to Transform Iraqi Politics,” United States Institute of Peace, March 2008

Moore, Solomon, “Thousands of New Prisoners Overwhelm Iraqi System,” New York Times, 2/14/08

Stone, Andrea, “Iraq frees, pardons detainees,” USA Today, 4/22/08

Voices of Iraq, “3245 prisoners released under pardon law – source,” 3/17/08
- “8229 detainees released – judicial source,” 3/20/08
- “55,000 wanted encompassed by amnesty law – Supreme Judicial Council,” 5/6/08
- “More than 100,000 detainees released under pardon law,” 7/22/08
- “MP unleashes details of agreement to pass key laws,” 2/13/08
- “Two opposition parliamentary blocs slam implementation of Amnesty Law,” 6/29/08

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Al Jazeera Report on Squatters

Enticing Iraqi Refugees To Return

In the past, Iraq has been widely criticized for not trying to help its displaced citizens. Currently, the country has one of the worst refugee problems in the world. The United Nations claims that 4.2 million Iraqis have left their homes since the U.S. invasion. 2.2 million live in other countries, while the other 2 million are internally displaced. With Iraq’s coffers overflowing with oil money, it is finally trying to entice these people to return to their homes. This will not be an easy job, and it’s still an open question whether Iraq can actually come through with its promises.

In the summer of 2008, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government announced that the return of Iraq’s refugees was an integral part of its Baghdad security plan. At the beginning of June, it was announced that the cabinet had agreed to spend $195 million to help refugees return home from other countries. That same month, Iraq gave $8 million to the United Nations to help with the education and health of Iraqis in other nations. It was also announced that displaced families that were squatting in government buildings and other people’s homes were going to be asked to leave their residences, and if they didn’t, they would be forcibly removed. On July 16 for example, squatters in two Baghdad neighborhoods, Al Jamia and Al Adel, were told they had three days to vacate. Also in July, Baghdad announced that it had set up a $83 million program to help the internally displaced. Finally, the government came out with a detailed plan on July 23. The basic idea is to offer cash rewards to families that either leave homes they’re squatting in, or that return to their original domiciles. Baghdad is offering 1.8 million dinars (approximately $1,500) for squatters to leave, one million dinars (around $840) to refugees to return home, 150,000 dinars ($145) for three months to the internally displaced, and free airplane tickets and shipping for refugees to come back from foreign countries.

Offering aid is the first step in any serious plan, but taking care of the refugees once they come back is the next problematic issue. Millions of Iraqis have been forced to leave. Many of the 2 million internal refugees do not live in camps, but rather rented new places, moved in with relatives, or squatted in homes vacated by other people displaced. Taking care of squatters is one of the most explosives issues. Some may have to be actually forced out. That could lead to trouble. Even if they take the government’s money to leave, they may not be able to find a new place, and become refugees all over again. Most of Iraq’s displaced also came from Baghdad, and were ethnically cleansed during the sectarian war period. While some neighborhoods will accept families back, others may not. In late June for example, a group of Shiites protested in central Baghdad claiming that a local Sons of Iraq unit in Adil had prevented them from returning to their homes. Another major issue is whether the government can fulfill its promises. Iraq definitely has the money now, but actually distributing it effectively will be a major challenge. During the summer the head of parliament’s Displacement and Migration Committee complained that the government hadn’t come through with any money and wasn’t listening to their pleas. At the same time, there are signs of hope. The Immigration Ministry announced that 6,293 families had returned to Baghdad on June 18. 5,252 of them had received the government’s promise of money, while 1,041 were still waiting. The International Organization for Migration also reported that the number of displaced has slowed in 2008. With security improving, it’s a priority of the government to begin taking care of its people and solving the other problems created by the years of fighting. Taking care of the country’s refugees is one of these.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Iraq gives UN $8 mln to help refugees in Jordan,” 6/15/08

Alsumaria, “150 Iraqi families return to Al Dora region,” 7/11/08
- “Iraq gives 3 day deadline to evacuate displaced houses,” 7/16/08
- “Iraq Government to improve displaced status,” 7/10/08

Associated Press, “Group says displacement of Iraqis has slowed,” 7/18/08

Buzbee, Sally and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraq handing out cash to people on the streets,” Associated Press, 7/12/08

Hendawi, Hamza, “Program in Iraq against al-Qaida faces uncertainty,” Associated Press, 6/29/08

IRIN, “Internally displaced Iraqis demand government return them home,” 6/16/08
- “Iraq announces incentives to encourage return of IDPs, refugees,” 7/23/08

Multi-National Force-Iraq, “Operational Update: Rear Adm. Driscoll, Maj. Gen. Atta,” 6/22/08

Rubin, Alissa, “Iraqi Shiies Reclaim a Village Razed by Sunnis,” New York Times, 7/12/08

Al-Sabaah, “Over 6000 Families Return Back Homes,” 6/18/08

Voices of Iraq, “$195 millino allocated for refugees’ return – MP,” 6/3/08
- “MP criticizes govt. on displaced measures,” 6/1/08

Friday, July 25, 2008

Demise of Al Qaeda In Iraq Update

Al Qaeda in Iraq continues its steady decline. General David Petraeus told the Associated Press on July 19 that Al Qaeda central was changing its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan. On July 8, the Gulf News reported that Al Qaeda fighters were being diverted away from Iraq to places like Sudan and Somalia. These statements, follower earlier ones at the end of May when U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Charles Crocker and CIA chief Admiral Michael Hayden said that Al Qaeda in Iraq was near defeat.

The group's undoing began in 2005 when Sunni tribes and other insurgents turned against its harsh tactics, strict interpretation of Islam, attempts to move in on domestic businesses, and assert themselves as the leaders of the insurgency. Al Qaeda in Iraq was largely able to carry out these policies under the harsh and ruthless leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi also kept his distance from Al Qaeda central in Afghanistan/Pakistan, attempting to create his own independent organization. Zaraqawi’s successor, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, is much closer to Al Qaeda central, and has been widely criticized for not being able to keep the organization together. Masri is an Egyptian and a disciple of Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s number two. While Zarqawi tended to ignore bin Laden’s and Zawahiri’s suggestions, Masri has aligned his groups message and tactics with Al Qaeda central.

Today, Al Qaeda in Iraq is on the run. Its funding sources within Iraq are drying up, the number of foreign fighters joining the group are dwindling, and it has been pushed out of its last urban center in Mosul. While the group is not finished, and is still a threat, it has become less of a factor within Iraq. Ambassador Crocker told the Associated Press yesterday, July 24, that the insurgency overall has lost much of its relevancy. Political conflicts and the inter-Shiite power struggle are much more pressing issues in the country today. When a nation moves on to other issues is always a good sign that a terrorist group such as Al Qaeda in Iraq is fading from the scene.

SOURCES

Adas, Basil, “Al Qaida groups ‘leaving Iraq for Sudan, Somalia,’” Gulf News, 7/8/08

Agence France Presse, “Al-Qaeda near defeat in Iraq, on defensive globally: CIA chief,” 5/30/08

Bergen, Peter & Cruickshank, Paul, “Al Qaeda in Iraq: Self-Fulfilling Prophecy,” Mother Jones, 10/18/07

Black, Ian and Norton-Taylor, Richard, “Experts fear new front with al-Qaida as terror group switches focus from Iraq,” Guardian, 6/11/08

Burns, Robert, “Commander: Al-Qaida in Iraq is at its weakest,” Associated Press, 5/21/08
- “US general: al-Qaida may be easing effort in Iraq,” Associated Press, 7/19/08

International Crisis Group, “Iraq After The Surge I: The New Sunni Landscape,” 4/30/08

Levinson, Charles, “U.S. troop deaths in May near lowest level of war,” USA Today, 5/29/08

Michaels, Jim, “Foreign fighters leaving Iraq, military says,” USA Today, 3/20/08

O’Hanlon, Michael and Pollack, Kenneth, “Iraq: One Year Later,” Brookings Institution, 6/13/08

Roggio, Bill, “al Qaeda’s Grand Coalition in Anbar,” Long War Journal.org, 10/12/06
- “Divisions in al Qaeda in Iraq,” Long War Journal.org, 10/13/06

Samuels, Lennox, “Al Qaeda Nostra,” Newsweek, 5/21/08

Scheuer, Michael, “Al-Qaeda in Iraq: Still Striving to Undo al-Zarqawi’s Damage to Mujahideen Unity,” Terrorism Focus, Jamestown Foundation, 4/30/08

Ware, Michael, “Papers give peek inside al Qaeda in Iraq,” CNN, 6/11/08

25th Female Suicide Bomber of 2008

Another woman suicide bomber detonated her explosives in Baquba, the provincial capitol of Diyala on July 24. This is the 25th such incident in 2008. 14 of these attacks have been in troubled Diyala province that Iraqi security forces are targeting for a new offensive at the beginning of August.

As has been the pattern, this bombing was aimed at a Sunni Sons of Iraq (SOI) unit. The attack killed 8 SOI fighters, and wounded 24 others. The target was Shiekh Naaim al-Duliami, the head of SOIs in western Baquba, who was killed along with seven bodyguards. Originally security forces thought that it was a car bombing, but then a woman’s pair of legs were found.

As reported earlier, female suicide bombers is a growing tactic employed by Al Qaeda in Iraq as it runs out of foreign fighters to carry such attacks, and their overall number of operations decline dramatically.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Woman suicide bomber kills eight in Iraq: police,” 7/24/08

Gamel, Kim, “Suicide bomber kills 8 US-allied Sunnis in Iraq,” Associated Press, 7/24/08

Oppel, Richard, “8 Die in Iraq in Suicide Bombing, Apparently by Woman,” New York Times, 7/25/08

Reuters, “Female bomber kills seven in northeast Iraq,” 7/24/08

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Conspiracy Theories Abound On Election Law Veto

On July 22 Iraq’s parliament passed the much-anticipated provincial election law. The next day, the Presidential Council rejected it. That was expected because President Jalal Talabani, who is a Kurd and heads the Council, said that he would veto the bill. The law now goes back to parliament to be revised. Conspiracy theories are flying about why the bill was passed and later rejected, and whether elections will be held in 2008.

The Passage and Eventual Veto of the Election Law

The major issue of dispute is the future of Kirkuk’s Tamim province. The bill said that elections in the province will be delayed six months, but until then the provincial council will be divided evenly between Kurds, Arabs, and Turkoman. Currently the Kurds control 21 of the 41 seats on the council, the council head, and the governorship. Another provision in the law said that security for Tamim would be under Baghdad. Kurdish Peshmerga militias largely control the city today.

When the law came up for vote on July 22 the parliament went through each clause of the bill. First the parliament rejected delaying the vote in Tamim. Next, the power-sharing provision was objected to as well. A secret vote was finally put forward and the bill was passed. Most of the Dawa party voted for it, but 60 Kurds and 15 Shiites, mostly from the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council (SIIC), walked out. An independent Shiite politician said this was the first time the Kurds were defeated in parliament. The next day, both President Jalal Talabani and Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi from the SIIC vetoed the law.

Conspiracies and Complications Surrounding Kirkuk

This is where the conspiracy theories come in. The BBC reported that the Kurds, the SIIC, and the Dawa party agreed to block the power-sharing clause in the law. Opposition groups say the law was passed knowing that it would be vetoed in the Presidential Council to delay elections. One of the leading Kurdish parliamentary members Mahmoud Othman said that the secret vote was also meant to anger politicians, and increase disputes over the bill.

There is no easy answer to the future of Kirkuk and Tamim province. The Kurds and the SIIC have both said voting in Kirkuk should be delayed 6 months. The problem is they have no plans on what will happen during that time to resolve the outstanding issues. It will allow the Kurdish parties to expand their influence over the area however, as they are intent on annexing it to the Kurdistan autonomous region. The other two main groups in the province, the Arabs and Turkoman support the power-sharing clause. They believe this is a way to maintain their power in the city that is coming under increasing Kurdish control. The problem is the Kurds are probably a majority, so this compromise would be a political loss for them. The State Department’s Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) believes that 60% of Tamim is Kurdish, but under the power-sharing idea, they would only get 31% of the provincial council seats. The Iraq constitution says there should have been a census and a vote on the future of Kirkuk by December 31, 2007, but that never happened. These two measures were postponed until June 2008, but that deadline passed by as well. The United Nations is now trying to handle the situation. A State Department official with Kirkuk’s PRT suggested that the major groups should come up with a percentage for seating on the provincial council without actually counting, and divide up power that way. The same person said that at best, Kirkuk could take three years to solve.

Conclusion

Since the Presidential Council vetoed the election law, it will now be sent back to parliament to be amended. Mahmoud Mashadani, the speaker of parliament, said there was little chance that this cold be done before the legislature goes on its summer recess on August 1. Others say that it can happen. The President of Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, is traveling to Baghdad to try to work out a deal. If none can be made in the next few weeks that will most likely mean the elections will be delayed until 2009. The Election Commission said that it needs three months after the law is passed to prepare for the vote. Iraqi politics has always been known for its Byzantine style, and the events surrounding the election law are no exception. The Kurds and SIIC have a long-standing alliance dating back to the Saddam days. They have had their way in parliament since it was established in 2005. It is to be seen whether the passage and subsequent veto was part of their scheme to delay the vote so they can shore up their support in the country because they expect to be challenged, or if their plans were actually derailed by opposition politicians who want to have the elections as soon as possible to unseat the powers that be.

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraqi politicians squabble over election law,” Associated Press, 5/26/08

BBC News, “Iraqi Kurdish Alliance says most blocs agree to Kirkuk poll delay,” 7/22/08

Jam, Kawa, “Delay of provincial council elections sought,” Kurdish Globe, 5/23/08

Al Jazeera, “Iraq president rejects election law,” 7/23/08

Morgan, Benjamin, “Iraq elections risk delay after presidency council rejects bill,” Agence France Presse, 7/23/08

Rubin, Alissa, “Kurds Object to Iraqi Provincial Election Law,” New York Times, 7/23/08

Steele, Jonathan, “Iraqi MPs stall deals on Bush benchmarks,” Guardian, 6/28/08

Voices of Iraq, “UIC proposes postponing Kirkuk elections for 6 months – MP,” 7/15/08

Warden, James, “Disagreements over Kirkuk’s status could sideline voters,” Stars and Stripes, 7/14/08

Youssef, Nancy, “Kurds storm out as Iraqi parliament OKs Oct. 1 elections,” McClatchy Newspapers, 7/22/08

Drought Update

Iraq’s drought has had far ranging affects. Not only is it greatly reducing the country’s agricultural output, it is also cutting hydroelectric production for Iraq’s notoriously bad power grid. Lower water levels mean Iraq’s dams are producing less power. The Los Angeles Times reports that the drought has cut hydroelectric power by 30%.

SOURCES
Negus, Steve, “Black-outs sap public’s faith in Baghdad,” Financial Times, 6/16/08

Zavis, Alexandra, “Iraq’s electricity-starved capital goes solar,” Los Angeles Times, 7/14/08

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Iraq’s Drought

Iraqi sheep farmer in Kurdistan. Farmers have been forced to sell such livestock because of lack of feed and water for their heards

After oil, Iraq’s other major business is farming. It is the country’s largest employer, accounting for between 25-40% of the workforce. Unfortunately, the country is in the middle of one of the worst droughts in years. The lack of water has destroyed much of Iraq’s crops this year, and will force it to increase food imports just as prices for those products are skyrocketing, and inflation is going up. This will be another test for the government, to see whether it can actually serve its people or not.

Farming has been a traditional business for thousands of years in Iraq. The U.S. has hoped that agriculture could provide jobs, a steady income for the rural sections of the country, and stability, but since the U.S. invasion agriculture has been stagnant. In 2006 for example, production dropped. One major cause was that under the Coalition Provisional Authority Law no. 80, farm subsidies were ended. This was an attempt to cut government intervention in the economy, and move Iraq more towards a free market, capitalist system. This put many farmers out of business, and led to hundreds leaving their villages for the cities looking for work.

Since the beginning of 2008 farming is again on the decline because of the drought. This was caused by a 30% drop in rain during the winter. In some regions, during the planting season of October to December 2007, they got little to no rain. Iraq has also blamed neighboring countries such as Turkey, Syria, and Iran, which have dams that control rivers that flow into Iraq of hoarding water, but they too are suffering from the drought. As a result, the U.S. believes that that wheat and barley will be down by 51% compared to last year. The northern provinces of Tamim, Ninewa, and Irbil have been hit the hardest. There the U.S. estimates that production will be down 80%. Iraq’s Planning Ministry said that it expects the country to grow 590,000 tons of wheat and 483,000 tons of barley, when it needs 4 million tons of the former and 2 million tons of the latter. The lack of barley means that farmers don’t have enough feed for their animals, which has caused a huge sell off of livestock as well.

The Iraqi government is being looked upon to solve this problem, but it may not be up to the task. Baghdad will have to import hundreds of thousands of tons of grain to meet Iraq’s needs. Food prices are at a record high level right now, so importing foreign agricultural products will push up prices. Already, in May 2008 the cost of food was up almost 14%, and was the largest cause of a spike in inflation in the country from 11% at the beginning of 2008, to 16% in April. In the meantime, the government has tried to provide aid to farmers, help with wells, and cut a deal with Turkey to increase the water flow down the Tigris River. The major problem is that the government has not been able to effectively spend its money in the past, and therefore may not be able to provide enough assistance, and buy the necessary foods stuffs. U.S. officials blame the slow bureaucracy, corruption, and government officials’ reluctance to travel around the country because of security fears as the causes. This could turn into another point of contention between the public that expects the government to provide basic necessities, and institutions that have failed to do that in the past. As violence is down to the lowest levels in years, Prime Minister Maliki’s ability to govern is coming more into focus, and is one of the most pressing issues to ensure that the security gains made can last.

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “Agriculture production decreases in Iraq,” 1/22/08

Buzbee, Sally, “Drought threatens Iraq’s crops and water supply,” Associated Press, 7/10/08

Burns, Robert, “The story of Mosul: Few jobs, lots of trouble,” Associated Press, 7/9/08

Davis, Eric, “Rebuilding a Non-Sectarianism in Iraq,” Strategic Insights, December 2007

Glanz, James, “In Report to Congress, Oversight Officials Say Iraqi Rebuilding Falls Short of Goals,” New York Times, 10/31/07

Looney, Robert, “Half Full of Half Empty? An Assessment of the Crocker Report on Iraqi Economic Conditions,” Strategic Insights, December 2007

Shatab, Ali, “Iraq to increase grain imports due to drop in local produce,” Azzaman, 5/16/08

Trade Arabia, “Iraq inflation up 16pc on food prices,” 5/26/08

Zavis, Alexandra, “First violence, now drought threatens Iraq farmers,” Los Angeles Times, 6/26/08

Diyala Offensive Planned For August, Iraqi Forces Now Clearing Babil

Iraq plans to launch its next major offensive aimed at Diyala province on August 1. 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and police have massed in the area since in early July. The operation was announced back in June. This will be the fifth offensive launched by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki since the March 2008 Basra operation. Diyala is one of Iraq’s most divided provinces having Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. There are still insurgents active in the region, there are numerous Sons of Iraq units that have clashed with the government, rival Shiite groups the Mahdi Army and Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) have struggled for control of the security forces, and the provincial government is weak. Having announced the offensive so long ago however, could let many of the militants flee the province before the operation even begins, similar to what happened in Mosul earlier this year.

Currently Iraqi forces are carrying out a clearing operation in Babil province called Knight’s Leap. Babil has been a battleground between the SIIC and Sadrists. It is also a base for Iranian backed Special Groups. During the Basr operation in March, Iraqi forces tried to clear the province, but to mixed results.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “30,000 Iraqi troops poised for assault on Qaeda bastion,” 7/23/08

Aswat Aliraq, “Hilla placed under curfew,” 7/23/08

NPR Interview with Ret. Lt. Col. John Nagl

The Iraq War created a deep division within America’s military. When the U.S. went into Iraq it was prepared to fight a conventional war against an opposing military. After Saddam’s forces were defeated however, the U.S. was faced with terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgency, and Shiite militias. Some U.S. officers recognized the new environment and began pushing for a counterinsurgency campaign. It took years, but the U.S. military eventually turned around their thinking.

A counterinsurgency campaign is completely different from a traditional war. Force is not as important, the population is. The main goal is to separate the population form the insurgents so that they not longer have a base of support.

Retired Lt. Col. John Nagl was one of those early American officers to see the different situation the U.S. faced in Iraq and urged a change in tactics. Nagl served in Iraq from 2003-2004 in Anbar province, and then went on to train U.S. advisers headed to the Middle East. He also helped edit the military’s counterinsurgency field manual. He was interviewed yesterday, July 22 on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air. He talks about a wide ranging number of issues from whether the military gave an honest evaluation of the difficulties the U.S. would face in Iraq after the invasion, to how he employed counterinsurgency methods during his tour, to what to do with prisoners, etc.

Here’s the link to the interview:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92750254

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

U.S.-Iraq Negotiations Update

The Associated Press and USA Today covered some important background information to the negotiations for a security and diplomatic deal between Iraq and the U.S. on July 20.

USA Today pointed out that calls for a withdrawal by Iraq are for U.S. combat troops to leave. U.S. advisers that are embedded with most Iraqi battalions and some police units would stay for years afterwards. These advisers would also need their own American support and logistics troops as well. In total, that could be tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and Marines remaining in Iraq.

The Associated Press noted that Iraq is playing politics with its demands for a withdrawal by the U.S. Baghdad believes that President Bush is desperate for an agreement before he leaves office at the beginning of 2009. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s recent comments about supporting Obama are part of this strategy to play Bush off of the Democratic candidate. Maliki was reported to have said, “Let’s squeeze them [the U.S.,]” to one of his advisers. The plan seems to be working. Since July 7 when Maliki made the first announcement for a withdrawal, Bush, who has said he is against any withdrawal timetable, has agreed to “aspirational goals” and a “general time horizon” for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. The U.S. has also gone from calling for two long-term agreements that would allow American forces broad freedom in Iraq, to probably signing a one-year memorandum of understanding that includes limits.

As noted earlier, calls for withdrawal increase Maliki’s nationalist standing in an Iraqi election year. Negotiations between the two sides are continuing and there will probably be more twists and turns before anything is signed.

SOURCES

Dagher, Sam, “U.S. and Iraq near a ‘bridge’ deal on status of U.S. troops,” Christian Science Monitor, 7/14/08

Hunt, Terence, “US, Iraq seek ‘general time horizon’ on troop cuts,” Associated Press, 7/18/08

Levinson, Charles, “Analysis: U.S. advisers could stay long after troops leave Iraq,” USA Today, 7/20/08

Reid, Robert, “Analysis: Iraq playing US politics for best deal,” Associated Press, 7/20/08

Election Law Update IV

Iraq’s parliament finally passed the provincial election law. The vote was 127 out of 140. The Kurdish bloc walked out in protest beforehand. The reason is the bill calls for a vote in Kirkuk on whether the region should share power between the major groups Kurds, Arabs, Turkoman, and other minorities. The Iraqi constitution calls for a census and then vote on whether the area will join the Kurdistan region. These two measures have been delayed several times, to the consternation of the Kurdish bloc.

The future of the law remains cloudy. The vote was held in secret without following parliamentary rules, which happens to be unconstitutional. The law now goes to the Presidential Council for final ratification. Because the Kurds walked out there is a concern that President Jala Talabani, a Kurd as well, will veto the bill in the Council. Deputy speaker of parliament Khalid al-Attiyah told a news conference that it was bad policy to pass the bill when an entire bloc objected to it. He said, “Regrettably after doing this, I do not see any chance for the election to be held in this year if this process continues.” The bill extends the deadline for elections from October 1 to December 31.

The provincial elections are expected to reconfigure the political map in Iraq. The election could allow a whole new group of political parties such as ones based upon the Sons of Iraq and tribes, to challenge the ruling political parties, the Kurds, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Dawa Party, and the Iraqi Accordance Front. That could also cause problems down the road as the Sunni and Shiite communities are fragmenting rather than coalescing. With the potential for so many parties getting elected, provincial councils could become deadlocked with too many different opinions. Of course, the bill needs to be ratified by the Presidential Council before any of this potential for change can happen.

SOURCES

Associated Press, “Iraqi parliament passes election law,” 7/22/08

Aswat Aliraq, “Endorsing provincial councils’ law flouts Iraqi constitution rules – expert,” 7/22/08
- “Parliament approves provincial councils elections law,” 7/22/08

Monday, July 21, 2008

Security Crackdown In Anbar? False Alarm

The Iraqi newspaper Azzaman had three articles recently about a security crackdown in Anbar province in western Iraq that proved to be a false alarm. The first article from July 15, reported that a curfew had been imposed on all of the province’s major cities including Ramadi, Fallujah, Haditha, and others. It said the cause was a wave of attacks on tribal leaders that make up parts of the Anbar Awakening movement that is responsible for wrestling control of the area from insurgents and Al Qaeda in Iraq. The second piece from July 17, said troops and police had been sent to Fallujah, and that a major operation might be in the works for the entire province. It said that security forces were worried about a comeback by Al Qaeda.

A cursory review of press reports however, showed no real increase in attacks in the province. Since the beginning of July there have only been approximately twelve attacks in Anbar, including an assassination attempt on the head of the Islamic Party in Fallujah on July 5, and various bombings of local police and Awakening fighters that resulted in 20 civilians, police, Awakening members, and insurgents killed, and 66 wounded. In June there were only about seven attacks that killed 32, including three Marines, and wounded more than 15. Twenty-two of those deaths occurred when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a meeting in Karmah between U.S. Marines, local officials, and tribal leaders of the Awakening movement. The attack happened two days before the U.S. was planning on handing over control of the province to Iraqi authorities. Since then the handover has been delayed. The headquarters of the Islamic Party was also destroyed in a bombing on June 12. Other areas such as Baghdad and Mosul have been much more violent in recent weeks than Anbar, so calls for a major security operation there seemed uncalled for.

On July 20, Azzaman reported that there would be no crackdown because Iraqi forces were busy dealing with operations in southern Iraq.

SOURCES

DPA, “Bomb kills two, wounds 11 in western Iraq,” Eath Times, 7/9/08

Iraq Today blog, “War News for Wednesday, July 09, 2008,” 7/9/08

Issa, Sahar, “Round-up of Daily Violence in Iraq, Thursday 26 June 2008,” 6/26/08

Londono, Ernesto and White, Josh, “Bomb Kills Marines, Iraqi Tribal Leaders,” Washington Post, 6/27/08

al-Mansouri, Omar, “no assault on Falluja, says general,” Azzaman, 7/20/08
- “Violence returns to Anbar following months of relative quiet,” Azzaman, 7/15/08
- “U.S. and Iraqi forces mulling new offensive on Fallujah,” Azzaman, 7/17/08

McClatchy Newspapers, “Round-up of Daily Violence in Iraq – Monday 21 July 2008,” 7/21/08

The Peninsula, “Roadside bombs kill at least five in Iraqi city,” 7/14/08

Reuters, “FACTBOX – Security developments in Iraq, July 5,” 7/5/08
- FACTBOX – Security developments in Iraq, July 21,” 7/21/08
- “FACTBOX – Security developments in Iraq, July 9,” 7/9/08
- “FACTBOX – Security developments in Iraq, June 4,” 6/4/08
- “FACTBOX – Security developments in Iraq, June 11,” 6/11/08
- “FACTBOX – Security developments in Iraq, June 12,” 6/12/08

Voices of Iraq, “4 cops killed, wounded in Falluja blast,” 7/13/08
- “9 Sahwa fighters wounded in suicide explosion in Rawa,” 7/7/08
- “10 cops killed, wounded in attack in Falluja,” 6/4/08
- “Female suicide attacker wound six near Ramadi,” 6/7/08
- “Gunmen blow up Islamic party’s headquarters in Falluja,” 6/12/08
- “Suicide bomber gunned down before attack,” 7/20/08

Xinhua, “Sunni Arab politician survives bomb attack west of Baghdad,” 7/5/08

Yacoub, Sameer, “US: Arrest made following attack in Karmah, Iraq,” Associated Press, 6/27/08

Youssef, Nanc, “As violence drops, some ponder faster Iraq troop withdrawals,” McClatchy Newspapers, 5/30/08

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Elections Update

A member of Iraq’s Election Commission said that Iraq’s vote for provincial councils will be postponed until December 22. Originally the elections were scheduled for October. A delay in the vote has been widely expected. The Commission is carrying on with its preparations for the election, having set up registration centers for voters that have one month to sign up.

The delay will happen whether the parliament votes on the election law next week or not. The main sticking point on the bill is how to deal with Kirkuk. The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance has suggested postponing voting there while allowing the rest of the election law to be passed. This would benefit the Kurds because it would allow them to consolidate power

SOURCES

Garcia-Navarro, Lourdes, “Iraqis Fear Delays of Critical Provincial Elections,” Morning Edition, NPR, 6/27/08

Voices of Iraq, “IHEC opens 563 voter registration update centers – UNAMI,” 7/15/08
- “IHEC puts off provincial elections to year’s end,” 7/20/08
- “UIC proposes postponing Kirkuk elections for 6 months – MP,” 7/15/08