Monday, August 31, 2009

Baghdad Can’t Get Its Story Straight On Aug. 18 Bombings

On August 18, 2009 two truck bombs struck the Finance and Foreign Ministries in central Baghdad. The blasts killed at least 101 and wounded 1203. In the aftermath, Iraqi officials and newspapers blamed any and everyone. Azzaman newspaper reported that Iranian backed Special Groups were responsible. A source in the Iraqi National Intelligence Service told columnist David Ignatius of the Washington Post that the explosives used were similar to those made in Iran. The mayor of Baghdad said that the government had photos and evidence implicating Sunni members of parliament, and that Baathists and Al Qaeda in Iraq, funded by Saudi Arabia, had carried it out. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the Iraqi security forces must have collaborated for such an attack to be so successful, and 11 officers were arrested immediately afterward.

Beginning on August 22, the Iraqi government began announcing the arrests of suspects connected to the Baath Party. On that day, the Baghdad Operations Command reported that it had arrested a man involved in the bombings who admitted that he was a Baathist. Later that day Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that more suspects had been picked up as well. On August 23 the Baghdad Operations Command aired a taped confession of one of the arrestees who said that he was a former policeman from the Muqdadiya district of Diyala and a Baathist. He claimed that the truck bomb on the Finance Ministry was put together in Muqdadiya, and that he paid $10,000 in bribes to get it through security checkpoints. Two Baathist officials in Syria were said to have ordered the attack. Other confessions were supposed to be coming, and a military spokesman said guards at three checkpoints in Diyala had been arrested. On August 25 the Iraqi cabinet demanded that Damascus turn over the two Baathists to Baghdad, followed by Maliki’s spokesman calling on Syria to expel or turnover all terrorists in the country. This began a war of words between the two countries with Iraq withdrawing its ambassador to Syria and then Syria doing the same. The timing of these accusations were odd as well as Maliki had just gone to Damascus and promoted closer ties between the two the day before the bombing. Not only that but the Baathists in Syria denied involvement.

Then the government began promoting a completely different story. On August 25 Al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for the attacks on a website. On August 29 the Interior Ministry reported that it had arrested 14 suspects from a terrorist cell that were behind the bombings. The men led authorities to a bomb factory in the Ghazaliyah district of Baghdad and were allegedly members of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Both of the suicide bombers involved in the attack were supposedly released from the American prison Camp Bucca a few months ago. This of course, contradicts the video taped confession aired on the 23rd that said Baathists from Diyala, taking orders from others in Syria, were responsible.

The Iraqi government has announced questionable arrests and deaths, and aired suspicious confessions before. In April 2009 for example, they claimed to have captured the prince of the Islamic State of Iraq Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. In May the government aired a taped confession by their prisoner, but that was quickly contradicted by new speeches by Baghdadi that experts said matched the voice used in previous releases. Iraqi officials also could not get their story straight on Baghdadi’s background. Even earlier in May 2007 the Interior Ministry claimed they had killed Baghdadi in a shootout in Salahaddin. Coincidentally, the supposed arrest of Baghdadi in April coincided with a new wave of bombings in Baghdad by insurgents.

The August 19 bombings were obviously a shock to the Iraqi government and public. They were the largest blasts since 2008, and came after Prime Minister Maliki had been bragging that he had secured the country. In its rush to show that it had the situation under control and could provide security once again, Baghdad blamed everyone from Al Qaeda in Iraq to Baathists to Sunni politicians to Saudi Arabia to Iran to Syria. The fact that they came up with two completely different stories didn’t seem to bother the authorities because either one was easily believable by the Iraqi public as Baathists and Al Qaeda in Iraq get blamed for almost every terrorist act in the country. Baghdad has also not been beyond airing questionable confessions by insurgents after attacks in the past. The point was to protect the government’s image as much as finding the suspects. Whether the real parties responsible will or have been found is unknown since Baghdad has played with the story so much. Finding the truth then, has been another casualty in these bombings.

SOURCES

Arraf, Janes, “Baghdad governor: Sunni MPs may be arrested for bombing,” Christian Science Monitor, 8/23/09

Aswat al-Iraq, “11 officers arrested after Baghdad bombings – Qassem Atta,” 8/20/09
- “Al-Maliki asserts Iraq’s keenness to boost ties with Syria,” 8/18/09
- “Al-Maliki urges neighboring countries not to shelter criminals,” 8/25/09
- “Cabinet urges Syria to hand over suspected bombers,” 8/25/09
- “Final toll from Baghdad explosions 82 dead, 1203 injured,” 8/20/09
- “Footage of “confessions” by Wednesday bombings’ prime suspect broadcast,” 8/23/09
- “PM: Persons involved in Wednesday bombings captured,” 8/22/09
- “URGENT/Syria rejects Iraq’s remarks, recalls ambassador,” 8/25/09
- “Wednesday attackers Baathists – BOC,” 8/22/09

BBC, “Baghdad blasts ‘were inside job,’” 8/22/09

Chulov, Martin, “Wave of bombings kills up to 70 as al-Qaida chief is caught,” Guardian, 4/23/09

Dawn Media Group, “Iraq ministry bombers had been ‘recently freed’ by US,” 8/30/09

Fordam, Alice and Latif, Nizar, “Bombed back to a state of fear,” The National, 8/22/09

Ignatius, David, “Behind the Carnage in Baghdad,” Washington Post, 8/25/09

Iraq The Model, “Azzaman: Special Groups Responsible for Wednesday’s Rocket and Mortar Attacks,” 8/20/09
- “Baghdad: Cell involved in Wednesday’s attacks captured” 8/29/09
- “Maliki blames Syria for last week’s attacks,” 8/25/09

Kazimi, Nibras, “’Al-Baghdad’ on TV,” Talisman Gate Blog, 5/18/09
- “Al-Baghdadi’s Sixteenth Speech,” Talisman Gate Blog, 5/12/09
- “Al-Waili on al-Baghdadi (Updated),” Talisman Gate Blog, 5/10/09
- “More Twists in the ‘al-Baghdadi’ Sage,” Talisman Gate Blog, 5/22/09
Myers, Steven Lee, “Iraq Military Broadcasts Confession on Bombing,” New York Times, 8/23/09

Roggio, Bill, “Islamic State of Iraq leader reported captured,” Long War Journal, 4/23/09

Sabah, Zaid, “Iraqi Official Says Security Forces May Have Colluded in Bombings,” Washington Post, 8/23/09

Sands, Phil, “A safe haven in Damascus,” The National, 8/29/09

Santora, Marc, “Iraqis Demand Syria Turn Over Suspects,” New York Times, 8/25/09

Santora, Marc and Mohammed, Abeer, “After Blasts, Iraqi Officials Point Fingers,” New York Times, 8/21/09

Sly, Liz, “Al Qaeda-linked group claims two recent Baghdad bombings that killed 95,” Los Angeles Times, 8/26/09

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why Didn’t Bush Strike Zarqawi And Ansar al-Islam In 2002?

The August 2009 issue of the Journal of Strategic Studies contains an article by Micah Zenko entitled, “Foregoing Limited Force: The George W. Bush Administration’s Decision Not to Attack Ansar Al-Islam.” Before 2003, the Bush White House singled out Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish Islamist group, and its camp in Kurdistan as a reason to invade Iraq. The U.S. claimed hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters had fled there after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. One of these was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who the administration said was an Al Qaeda terrorist leader. Finally, they said that Ansar was producing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and was supported by Saddam’s government. The base appeared to fit all of the criteria of President Bush’s new war on terror because it was an intersection of a dictator that supported terrorists working with Al Qaeda on WMD. In 2002 the U.S. drew up several plans to destroy Ansar’s base, but Bush vetoed the idea with no explanation. Zenko argues that the President made this decision because he thought that military action could derail the invasion of Iraq.

9/11 forever changed the Bush administration’s foreign policy. In the president’s first speech after the attack he said that the U.S. would not only go after terrorists, but the states that supported them. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz went even farther on September 13, 2001 when he said that the U.S. would end states that sponsored terrorism. This new stance was solidified in the President’s January 2002 Axis of Evil State of the Union where he said that preventing countries from possessing weapons of mass destruction and providing them to terrorists would be America’s new top priority. How this was going to be achieved was outlined in an address the President gave at West Point in June 2002 where he said the U.S. had the right to conduct pre-emptive wars to deal with threats in the newpost-9/11 world. This idea was incorporated into the White House’s September 2002 National Security Strategy that was very similar to a Defense Policy Guidance paper written by Wolfowitz in 1992, who was then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy under the 1st President Bush that called for unilateralism in foreign policy and pre-emptive war.

In a March 2002 issue of the New Yorker Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a piece about a Kurdish terrorist group called Ansar Al-Islam entitled “A Reporter at Large: The Great Terror.” While on a trip to Kurdistan he was taken to a jail controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) where he interviewed three prisoners who claimed, amongst other things, that Ansar was secretly controlled by Iraqi intelligence. This article caught the eye of the Bush administration.

Ansar was a breakaway group from the Islamic Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan, formed at the beginning of September 2001. They operated in a small camp near the town of Khurmal along the Iranian border. They declared war on the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and invited Islamist militants to join their fight. They received support from Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. They had about 600-1,000 fighters, who were quickly joined by thousands of militants, including Al Qaeda members, fleeing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Jund al-Sham group, Soldiers of the Levant, were one such group who arrived in the Ansar camp in December 2001.

Beginning in March 2002 the Bush administration began discussing what to do about Ansar, its growing camp of militants, and Zarqawi. In May the Joint Chiefs of Staff received its first intelligence briefing that said Ansar was a separate group from Al Qaeda, and that it was working on poisons. The Pentagon also began working on military plans against the camp. In the meantime officials were split over what to do, some were for taking action, and others were not. By June the White House was presented with a recommendation for a joint air-ground strike against the Khurmal base. The President vetoed the plan, but with no explanation even though it seemed like a perfect case to apply the new Bush doctrine to fight terrorism, the spread of WMD, and their state sponsors.

Zenko goes over four theories for why Bush might have made this decision. The first was that the threat was not great enough. The problem with this was that the reports about Zarqawi’s presence in the Ansar camp and the group’s production of WMD was believed to be real and a growing danger. Administration officials, beginning in May 2002 also began mentioning the importance of Ansar as an example of Iraq’s alleged support for Al Qaeda. Second was that there was no actionable intelligence to base the attack upon, but that was countered by the National Security Council’s Director for Combating Terrorism, Kurdish intelligence, and others who all said that Zarqawi was at the camp at that time. Third was that the White House was afraid of any possible negative repercussions of an attack such as dead American soldiers or civilian casualties. Zenko refutes this by going through a series of limited strikes by other presidents that failed, but had no real repercussions. Bush himself was also not against limited strikes as he okayed several missile attacks against Al Qaeda operatives in western and central Asia. The last possible reason was that Bush did not want to derail the drive to overthrow Saddam by a sideshow like attacking the Ansar camp. Sometime in the first half of 2002 the President decided to remove Saddam by force. In April 2002 Bush told the BBC that, “I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go.” In a July 23, 2002 memo from the British cabinet, Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, said that after a recent trip to Washington he came away with the impression that the U.S. was now committed to using force to remove Saddam. Geoffrey Hoon, the Defense Minister said that the Americans had come to no specific decision yet, but he expected the invasion to begin by January 2003. Douglas Feith, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy told Zenko in 2006 that a strike on the Ansar camp that turned up nothing would’ve been problematic for the push to remove Saddam. General Jack Keane, who was the Army Chief of Staff at the time, said that he kept asking about striking Ansar in the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2003 and was told that it was too close to the invasion date. To Zenko this was the most convincing reason for Bush’s decision.

During the 2003 invasion, U.S. and Kurdish forces took the Ansar camp after four days of fighting. There they found that Ansar was working on poisons and WMD. They did not find evidence that the group was supported by Baghdad however. The group did receive foreign aid, and was considering launching attacks in other countries. Zarqawi was no longer at the camp though, having left when plans for a military strike against Ansar began leaking out to the press in 2002. Khurmal turned out to be the only place in Iraq that the U.S. actually found WMD being produced, which was the major justification for the war in the first place.

Bush’s decision not to attack the Ansar camp and Zarqawi was not only a tactical error, but showed that removing Saddam was the centerpiece of the Bush administration by 2002. Zenko writes that this was a mistake because Zarqawi became a leader of the insurgency in Iraq, was also responsible for terrorist attacks in Jordan, and organized a network that reached into France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Turkey. In late 2004 he also joined Al Qaeda, and gave them a new base of operations outside of their strongholds in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His reign of terror could’ve been ended before the war. Bush’s decision not to attack the Ansar base also showed that by the summer of 2002 the President was focused upon planning and preparing for the invasion of Iraq, and apparently did not want other operations in the country that could detract from the ultimate goal of removing Saddam from power. This was seen in the fact that the Ansar camp and Zarqawi increasingly became talking points in speeches by the president and other administration officials advocating for war, while people like General Jack Keane were told that the U.S. would do nothing about them.

SOURCES

Eisenberg, Daniel, “’We’re Taking Him Out,’” Time, 5/5/02

Goldberg, Jeffrey, “A Reporter at Large: The Great Terror,” New Yorker, 3/25/02

Karon, Tony, “Why Saddam Remains a Tough Target,” Time, 1/30/02

PBS Frontline, “Chronology: The Evolution of the Bush Doctrine,” War Behind Closed Doors, 2/20/03
- “Interview Richard Perle,” Truth, War and Consequences, 10/9/03
- “The War Behind Closed Doors – Transcript,” War Behind Closed Doors, 2/20/03

Zenko, Micah, “Foregoing Limited Force: The George W. Bush Administration’s Decision Not to Attack Ansar Al-Islam,” Journal of Strategic Studies, August 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

Kirkuk Looks To Be Voting In The 2010 Elections

There was some controversy as to whether Tamim province, home to the disputed city of Kirkuk, would be allowed to participate in the 2010 parliamentary elections. Tamim has still not voted for a new provincial government even though the balloting was held in January 2009 in fourteen of Iraq’s eighteen governorates. One of the big hold ups was over the voter rolls. The four major groups in Kirkuk, the Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and Christians can not agree on who should be able to register. The Kurds asked that displaced families that had been kicked out by Saddam and since returned should be allowed to vote, while Arabs and Turkmen call them squatters who have been moved in by the Kurdish authorities to gerrymander the demographics of the city in their favor. The dispute has been not resolved. A proposed national census was also supposed to help with the voting lists, but that was indefinitely postponed in mid-August 2009 out of fear that it would create more divisions. Tamim has not held provincial elections as a result.

The Iraqi Election Commission is moving forward with preparations for the parliamentary vote in the province anyway. The Commission said that anyone that had a food ration card by July 15, 2009 would be eligible to register to vote. The centers to do this will be open until September 20, and the election is scheduled for January 16, 2010. The national vote is less controversial in Tamim than the local one, because it will not disturb the delicate and disputed balance of power within the province.

SOURCES

Aswat al-Iraq, “IHEC in Kirkuk stipulates ration card before mid July,” 8/27/09

International Crisis Group, “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line,” 7/8/09

Reuters, “Citing Tensions, Iraq Abandons Census Plans,” 8/16/09

Kurds Might Have Scored Small Victory In Oil Dispute With Baghdad

The Chinese are claiming that Iraq’s Oil Ministry has okayed a deal for the state-run Sinopec company to buy Switzerland’s Addax, which is now exporting oil from the Taq Taq field near the city of Irbil in Kurdistan. For the past several years the Kurdish authorities and Baghdad have argued over who has the right to sign oil deals, and conduct exploration and exports. The Oil Ministry claims all contracts must go through them, while the Kurds claim they have the constitutional right to follow their own independent petroleum policy. In May 2009 there seemed to be a small break through when Kurdistan announced that it was to begin exporting oil from the Taq Taq and Tawke fields for the first time with the okay of the central government. While the Kurds held this up as a victory, Baghdad may have come out with the upper hand because the profits from the oil exports are going into their coffers, but the Oil Ministry has refused to pay the companies. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has not paid them either. This may derail the entire process, as many experts do not think the Kurds can afford to pay the exporting companies for a long time out of their own budget.

If Sinopec is allowed to buy Addax it may be another small boost for the KRG’s plans however. Its new strategy is to try to get big oil companies to buy up the small independent ones now doing exploration and exporting in Kurdistan. Baghdad could not say no to this because many of those same major petroleum corporations are bidding on Iraq’s large fields. If they said their deals were illegal in Kurdistan, they may not invest in the rest of Iraq. At the same time, if Sinopec takes over work at Taq Taq, they would still not be paid for their work, furthering the deadlock between Kurdistan and Baghdad. This conflict could drag on for years because no one is really mediating between the two sides.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Iraq approves controversial Sinopec oil rights deal,” 8/26/09

Ciszuk, Samuel, “No clarity on Iraq-KRG oil export flap,” Iraq Oil Report, 5/13/09

International Crisis Group, “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line,” 7/8/09

Reuters, “Iraq Kurds to start Tawke crude exports June 1,” 5/8/09

Webb, Tim, “Oil giants find scramble for Iraq is a game with complex rules,” Observer, 10/19/08

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Latest Return Statistics For Iraqi Refugees/Displaced

The latest report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the number of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced that have returned is now available. Like the last report, 2009 has continued to see a number of Iraqis come back, but varying by month. In June, 2009 14,750 displaced and 3,490 refugees for a total of 18,410 Iraqis made the trip back. That compared to a total of 15,330 in May. March saw the largest number of returns this year with 26,540. Since 2005 displaced returns, 61% of the total, have far outweighed the refugees coming back, 39%. In the first six months of 2009 roughly 101,490 Iraqis have returned. That would put this year roughly on track to match last year's total of 221,260. 2004 has seen the most returns since the U.S. invasion with 291,997 making the trip. That year 193,997 were refugees coming back to see the new Iraq. In total, the UNHCR estimates that approximately 3,195,899 lost their homes, and about 1,075,986, 33.6%, have returned so far. The number of displaced and the percent that have returned is definitely incomplete because the UNHCR counts no refugees before 2006 when there were tens of thousands of them under Saddam.

Total displaced

Time

Displaced

Refugees

Total

Pre-2006

1,212,108


1,212,108

After 2006

1,695,899

1,500,000

3,195,899

Number of Returns 2003-June 2009

Time

Displaced

Refugees

Total

2003

0

55,429

55,429

2004

98,000

193,997

291,997

2005

98,000

56,155

154,155

2006

150,000

20.235

170,235

2008

195,890

25,370

221,260

Jan. 09

6,390

1,130

7,520

Feb. 09

15,810

2,970

18,780

Mar. 09

20,690

4,860

26,540

Apr. 09

11,020

3,890

14,910

May 09

10,540

2,990

15,330

Jun. 09

14,750

3,490

18,410

2009

79,200

18,970

101,490

Total

657,090

183,727

1,075,986


61%

39%

100%

The vast majority of Iraqis are going back to six of Iraq's eighteen provinces, Baghdad, Diyala, Najaf, Karbala, and Babil. Baghdad has been at the center of the fighting since the U.S. invasion, so it should be no surprise then that the capital has seen the most displaced, and the most returns. 54% of the displaced and 52% of refugees have gone back to that province. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the premier aid group working with Iraq's displaced, has extensively surveyed this community and found that 26.6% were forced from their property in Baghdad, 20.6% did so because of the fighting, 20.1% because of direct threats to their life, 15.8% fled the general violence, and 15.7% left out of fear. Those figures are signs of the death and destruction that were wrought in the capital, especially after the 2006 Amarra bombing when the Shiites began ethnically cleansing Sunnis. Overall, the major reason why the displaced have come back is the improved security according to the IOM, followed by a mix of better security and difficulties in their current locals. Those are probably the same reasons for refugees, although far fewer of them, 12.2% of the total, have come back so far.

Returns by Province Jan.-June 2009

Sulaymaniya

140

0%

Muthanna

180

0%

Irbil

190

0%

Salahaddin

440

0%

Dhi Qar

440

0%

Dohuk

510

1%

Qadisiyah

510

1%

Maysan

510

1%

Anbar

520

1%

Tamim

740

1%

Basra

1,250

1%

Wasit

1,130

1%

Karbala

1,350

1%

Babil

1,680

2%

Najaf

2,170

2%

Ninewa

2,920

3%

Diyala

31,770

31%

Baghdad

55,040

54%

TOTAL

101,490

100%

Refugee Returns by Province Jan.-June 2009

Ninewa

20

0%

Anbar

60

0%

Sulaymaniya

140

1%

Irbil

160

1%

Salahaddin

160

1%

Muthanna

180

1%

Dhi Qar

430

2%

Maysan

440

2%

Wasit

450

2%

Dohuk

510

2%

Qadisiyah

510

2%

Basra

680

3%

Tamim

690

3%

Babil

1,030

5%

Karbala

1,320

6%

Diyala

1,660

7%

Najaf

2,170

10%

Baghdad

11,680

52%

TOTAL

22,290

100%

Displaced Returns by Province Jan.-June 2009

Dohuk

0

0%

Qadisiyah

0

0%

Muthanna

0

0%

Najaf

0

0%

Sulaymaniya

0

0%

Dhi Qar

10

0%

Irbil

30

0%

Karbala

30

0%

Tamim

50

0%

Maysan

70

0%

Salahaddin

280

0%

Anbar

460

1%

Basra

570

1%

Babil

650

1%

Wasit

680

1%

Ninewa

2,900

4%

Diyala

30,110

38%

Baghdad

43,360

55%

TOTAL

79,200

100%

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is still encouraging the return of Iraq's displaced. The UNHCR does not think it's time, and the latest Pentagon report to Congress on Iraq said Baghdad has no serious plan to assist the process. The new plan is to try to get them to come back to violent areas in Abu Ghraib outside of Baghdad and Diyala. The authorities have plans to move in 3,000 mostly Shiite families into Abu Ghraib, and to begin evictions of squatters in Diyala. The governor of that province also hopes that families will come back, and has set up six committees in various regions of Diyala to look into damages and pay compensation to returning families. The displaced are worried about insurgent attacks.

Baghdad is trying to close the refugee file this year in an attempt to improve the image of the country, and to help Maliki in the 2010 parliamentary elections. Already, in February 2009 the Ministry of Displacement and Migration ordered a stop to registering new displaced claiming that most families have gone back to their homes. This is an important development because not only is the claim not true, but no Iraqis can receive government aid without registering. The authorities have also promised rewards for those that go back to Baghdad, but very few have received any payments.

The process of return has begun, but the majority of Iraq's refugees are still without their homes. The displaced are coming back in much larger numbers than refugees, mostly because of the improved security situation in the country. The major concern is what they will find when they come home. The government has promised help, but it has not come through in many cases. Prime Minister Maliki seems more concerned about the reports on returns to improve his standing, than actually bettering conditions for when families come back. International organizations have only been able to assist a small fraction of this community, which means many are likely to have to fend for themselves whether they decide to go back or stay where they are.

SOURCES


Abdullah, Muhammed, “displaced fear new al-qaeda violence,” Niqash, 6/24/09

Alsumaria, “UNHCR: Iraq not prepared for refugees return,” 6/3/09

Dagher, Sam, “Iraq’s Government Orders Barriers Removed,” New York Times, 8/6/09

Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2009

International Organization for Migration, “Baghdad Governorate Profile July 2009 IOM IDP and Returnee Assessment,” July 2009
- “IOM Monitoring And Needs Assessments Assessment of Iraqi Return, May 2009,” May 2009

Reilly, Corinne, “Prospects are dismal for returning Iraqi refugees,” McClatchy Nespapers, 5/22/09

UNHCR, “Monthly Statistical Update on Return – June 2009,” 8/3/09

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Passing Of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim

Today, August 26, 2009 saw the passing of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC). Hakim was a symbol of Iraqi politics immediately after the 2003-invasion. He was an opportunist and pragmatist who was willing to align himself with various groups to gain power. He was widely successful in the early years following the overthrow of Saddam, but then his star began to fade in 2007.

The SIIC has its roots in the Dawa Party and Tehran. In the 1950s, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr and Ayatollah Mohsen al-Hakim created the Dawa Party rallying Shiites to the cause of an Islamic state. Hakim eventually left Dawa, and in the 1980s fled to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War with his two sons, Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. In 1982 Tehran formed the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq to counter the Dawa Party, and assert more influence over the Iraqi opposition. The Hakims in turn, pledged allegiance to Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian Revolution. In 1983 Iran created the Badr Brigade, which was an official arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force. It fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq War, and recruited amongst Iraqi prisoners of war. After the Gulf War, Badr moved into southern Iraq and tried to unsuccessfully take over the Shiite uprising. These origins were always a major problem for the SIIC as many Iraqis resented the Hakims fleeing to Iran, their role in the Iran-Iraq War and the 1991 uprisings, and their pro-Khomeini stance.

Despite their Iranian origins, the Hakims were always pragmatic opportunists who would ally with any group that would give them a better chance at gaining power in Iraq. Beginning in the late-1980s they started quiet relations with the United States. In 1992 they joined the Iraqi National Congress, and its leader Ahmad Chalabi, was able to garner Washington’s support for the SIIC as the major Shiite party they would work with after the invasion. They also worked closely with the ruling Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), to plan for a post-Saddam Iraq. The three had forged ties when they all fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq War.

When the 2003 invasion of Iraq occurred, the SIIC was able to sweep into power and assume a larger position than they had support. First, they took over a series of cities like Kut, Khanaqin, Baquba, Basra, Najaf, and Karbala because of the vacuum left from Saddam’s overthrow. They also sank early attempts to include internal Iraqi leaders in any new government put together by the U.S. They quickly aligned themselves with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as well to gain legitimacy and standing, and supported his call for elections to determine a new government and constitution, knowing that would benefit themselves since Iraq had a Shiite majority. Abdul al-Aziz al-Hakim ended up joining the Iraqi Governing Council, and assumed the leadership of the SIIC, when his brother Ayatollah Mohammed al-Hakim was killed in a car bombing in August 2003.

Beginning in 2005 Hakim and the SIIC were able to put together a string of ringing victories after the U.S. handed back sovereignty to Iraq. The SIIC was the driving force behind the United Iraqi Alliance in the 2005 elections, which came away with the most votes. It also joined with the Kurds to push through a new constitution, and together the SIIC, PUK, and KDP were the ruling coalitions behind the Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Nouri al-Maliki governments. The SIIC also took over the Interior Ministry under Jaafari, got their Badr Brigade integrated into the security forces, and set up death squads to begin the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Baghdad. In August 2005 they began promoting federalism, and a nine-province southern Shiite autonomous region. In 2006, the U.S. came to rely upon the SIIC to counter the Sadrists, who were their greatest rivals. The two had been having a long-running battle across southern Iraq. The SIIC was able to gain these victories because they were better organized than their rivals, the Sunnis and Sadrists boycotted the first two elections in 2005, and both Washington and Tehran supported them.

In 2007, the SIIC’s fortunes began to change. First, their call for an autonomous region proved to create more problems than good since many Shiites rejected the idea. The SIIC also controlled most of the southern provinces, and did a poor job governing and providing services. Third, the Hakim’s base was the middle class and merchants, who began to flee the country during the sectarian war. Fourth, the SIIC was never able to shake their image as tools of Tehran. To counter this the party tried to remake itself, dropping “Revolutionary” from their name becoming the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, claimed that they supported Ayatollah Sistani rather than Ayatollah Ali Khamanei in Iran, and said they had disbanded their militia the Badr Brigade, which they then called a social and political group. They also tried to provide social services to gain support amongst the poor, a move led by Abdul Hakim’s son, Ammar al-Hakim, who was being groomed as the successor to his father.

In 2008 and 2009 things got worse. Prime Minister Maliki began distancing himself from the SIIC by creating his own popular base with the Tribal Support Councils. Maliki also came out against federalism in both northern and southern Iraq, and called for a strong central government. In turn, the SIIC, KDP, and PUK talked about having a no confidence vote against the Prime Minister in December 2008, but they couldn’t decide upon a successor and were hoping that Maliki would trip up, and ruin his image. In the 2009 provincial elections, Maliki ran his own State of Law List against the SIIC, who was soundly beaten across the south and Baghdad. Despite these setbacks, Hakim tried to mend fences with Maliki by lobbying him to join a new version of the United Iraqi Alliance to run in the 2010 parliamentary balloting. This failed to materialize, as the Prime Minister wanted to lead the new list, something Hakim and the other parties refused to agree upon.

By the time of Hakim’s death, the SIIC was a shell of its former self. After the sweeping victories in 2005, the Supreme Council is now fading, and desperately trying to remake itself once again to return to power. They now talk about national unity, but they are remembered for their Iranian roots and pro-federalist stance. The death of Hakim could also lead to a power struggle within the organization. While Hakim’s son, Ammar, was the anointed successor, there are a number of possible rivals in the old guard like the head of the Badr Organization Hadi al-Ameri, Finance Minister Bayan Jabr, and Vice President Adel Abd al-Mahdi. The SIIC may be at a crossroads, lacking popular support and strong leadership with Hakim’s passing.

SOURCES

Abedin, Mahan, “The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI),” Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, October 2003

Dagher, Sam, “Rising player with a vision for Shiite Iraq,” Christian Science Monitor, 11/20/07

Elkhamri, Mounir, “Iran’s Contribution to the Civil War in Iraq,” Jamestown Foundation, January 2007

Felter, Joseph and Fishman, Brian, “Iranian Strategy in Iraq, Politics and ‘Other Means,’” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 10/13/08

Kemp, Geoffrey, “Iran and Iraq The Shia Connection, Soft Power, and the Nuclear Factor,” United States Institute of Peace, November 2005

International Crisis Group, “Shiite Politics In Iraq: The Role Of The Supreme Council,” 11/15/07

Packer, George, “War After The War,” New Yorker, 11/24/03

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Shiite Clerics’ Rivalry Deepens In Fragile Iraq,” Washington Post, 12/21/06
- “Shiite Contest Sharpens In Iraq,” Washington Post, 12/26/07

Ramzi, Kholoud, “daawa-siic conflict splits Shiite unity,” Niqash,” 11/27/08

Santora, Marc, “Shiite Power Broker Dies, in Blow to Iraqi Party,” New York Times, 8/26/09

Semple, Kirk, “Heavy battle between shiite militias reveals deep split in ruling coalition,” San Francisco Chronicle, 10/22/06

Serwer, Daniel and Parker, Sam, “Maliki’s Iraq between Two Elections,” United States Institute of Peace, May 2009

Visser, Reidar, “Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim Dies in Tehran,” Historiae.org, 8/26/09

Walt, Vivienne, “U.S. Ally: Shiite leader preached unity before attack,” San Francisco Chronicle, 8/30/03

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Life In Iraq Before and After The Invasion

One of the major points of contention over Iraq is whether the war has improved the standard of living for the average citizen. Obviously there is much more freedom now than under the previous dictatorial regime of Saddam, and Iraq is a fledgling democracy. Being able to vote however does not provide people with food, jobs or services. A comparison of aggregate statistics from before and after the 2003 invasion actually shows a mixed bag of results for Iraq.

In the 1970s Iraq was a developing country with an increasing standard of living. Health and education were both up. Iraq instituted a mandatory primary education system, and worked on adult literacy. People from around the Arab world went to Iraq to get a college education. Infant mortality and diseases also declined. This expansion was fueled by the growth in oil prices in the 1970s. In the 1980s Saddam decided to go to war with Iran, the first of many poor foreign policy decisions, which placed a tremendous burden upon Iraq's economy, and began a steady decline in the country. The invasion of Kuwait, the Gulf War, and the international sanctions in the 1990s had an even more devastating affect upon daily life. One U.N. study found that living standards dropped 2/3 from 1988 to 1995 as a result. By the time of the U.S. invasion in 2003 Iraq was in a sorry state. The looting that took place immediately after the overthrow of Saddam along with a slow reconstruction effort appeared to make things worse. In the last couple years however, parts of Iraq's economy and services have begun to recover and grow.

Per Capita Gross Domestic Product

The rising oil prices in the 1970s boosted Iraq's per capital Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By 1980 it had risen to $3,812. The Iran-Iraq led to a dramatic drop to around $250. The Gulf War and sanctions brought per capita GDP down to its lowest level at $180 by 1994, after which it steadily improved. By 2002 on the eve of the war per capita GDP was up to $770. The invasion brought it down again to $570, but then it started increasing again. By 2007 it was at $2,848, and in 2008 it was approximately $3,100. The numbers show that Iraq's economy was slowly improving even before 2003, and that in recent years it has gotten much better. The 2008 per capita GDP however, is still not at the level that it was in 1980, one of the high points in Iraq's development.

Per Capita GDP

1980

$3,812

1988

approx. $3,700

1989

approx $250

1994

$180

2002

$770

2003

$570

2007

$2,848

2008

approx $3,100

Even with the improvements in the economy however, Iraq is nearly at the bottom compared to other countries in the region. When looking at purchasing power parity numbers for example, Iraq is second to last amongst 16 neighboring countries. Qatar was at the top with $58,004, Iraq was at $3,880, with only Yemen lower with $2,290.

Comparison Of Iraq's Purchasing Power Parity Figures With Other Countries In The Region

Qatar

$58,004

Kuwait

$40,826

United Arab Emirates

$29,063

Saudi Arabia

$23,928

Bahrain

$23,702

Oman

$23,654

Libya

$16,431

Iran

$11,748

Lebanon

$10,742

Algeria

$8,344

Tunisia

$7,894

Egypt

$5,689

Jordan

$5,051

Syria

$4,763

Morocco

$4,405

Iraq

$3,880

Yemen

$2,290

Life Expectancy

Life expectancy in Iraq has declined since the U.S. invasion. In 1987 it was an average of 65 years. By 2006 it was down to 58.2 years. The violence in Iraq may have played a role in that, but the general poor quality of services was another major factor in this change. Again, when compared to other countries in the region, Iraq is at the bottom in this category. Iraq is also the 3rd least healthy country in the Arab world. Iraqis have a 19.4% chance of not surviving past 40 years old. Only Sudan at 26.1% and Djibouti at 28.6% were worse off.

Life Expectance In Iraq Compared To Region 2006-2008

Country

Life Expectancy

United Arab Emirates

78.3 years

Kuwait

77.3 years

Syria

73.6 years

Saudi Arabia

72.2 years

Jordan

71.9 years

Turkey

71.4 years

Iran

70.2 years

Yemen

61.5 years

Iraq

58.2 years

Infant Deaths

Care for young children was another area that improved during the 1970s and 1980s, and has since recovered to those levels. In the 1970s there were 80 deaths per 1,000 live births. That dropped to an average of 40 deaths per 1,000 births by the 1980s. In 1984 for example, there were 30 deaths per 1,000 births. Deaths of children under five also declined during this period going from 120 deaths per 1,000 children in the late 1970s to 50 deaths per 1,000 children in 1984. The sanctions imposed in the 1990s however led to Iraq's health system falling apart. In 1990, the year of the Kuwait invasion, there were 50 deaths per 1,000 live births, which then doubled to 101 deaths per 1,000 live births by 1999. Fatalities for young children also increased from 62 deaths for children under 5 per 1,000 to 122 per 1,000 in 1999. These two areas have improved since 2003 up to what they were during the 1980s. In 2006 there were 35 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 41 deaths of children under 5 per 1,000. Again, despite the better numbers, Iraq is still worse off compared to other Arab countries. In Kuwait there are 11 deaths per 1,000 live births and 26 deaths per 1,000 live births in Saudi Arabia and Jordan in 2006.

Infant Mortality Rate/Under 5 Mortality Rate In Iraq per 1,000


Infant Mortality Rate

Under 5 Mortality Rate

1984-1989

30

50

1990-1994

50

62

1999

101

122

2004

32

40

2006

35

41

2006 Infant Mortality Rates Iraq Compared to Arab Countries

Country

Infant Mortality Rate

Kuwait

11 per 1,000

Syria

15 per 1,000

Saudi Arabia

26 per 1,000

Jordan

26 per 1,000

Iraq

35 per 1,000

Child Malnutrition

Other statistics for children have only slightly improved since the invasion. Child malnutrition for example is only marginally better. The rate for stunting children under five declined from 22.1% in 2000 to 21.4% in 2006. That meant 1 in every 5 Iraqi children was under nourished. Iran, Syria and Jordan did better in this category, with only Yemen at 53% doing worse. Iraqis in general largely rely upon the government's food ration system, the largest in the world. This was set up during the 1990s sanctions under the Oil For Food Program. Before the war 60% of Iraqis relied upon the rations, the same amount today.

Education
One area that has seen a big improvement since the war is education. Iraq already had a reputation for a great higher education system before its series of wars. That was largely devastated beginning in the 1980s, but schooling overall has improved since 2003. A 2006 United Nations survey found 78% of Iraqis were literate, 86% for men and 70% for women. Access to education varies across the provinces from a high of 89% in Diyala to a low of 57% in Dohuk. Overall however, this is one category where Iraq is comparable to its neighbors like Jordan where 86% have access to education, and 75% in Syria. Students in Iraq's primary, secondary, prep, colleges, and post-graduate schools have all seen increases, with only those in kindergarten going slightly down since the invasion.

Education

School Level

1995/1996

2005/2006

Kindergarten

88,000

82,000

Primary (1st-6th)

2,900,000

4,100,000

Secondary (7th-12th)

861,000

1,019,000

Prep (10th-12th)

293,000

472,000

University

233,000

353,000

Post-Graduate

8,000

15,500

Inflation

Until recently inflation was a major cause for the decline in living standards in Iraq. The inflation rate for fuel and electricity from 1996 to 2002 was 18%. After the invasion in 2005 the government ended subsidies for these two products causing the inflation rate for them to skyrocket to 71.6%. Fuel and energy expenses grew 590% from 2002 to 2005 as a result. They continued to go up 129% from 2005 to 2006. In the 1980s and 1990s an average Iraqi family spent 11% of their money on fuel and energy. That went up to 35% by 2006. In the last few years Iraq's Central Bank has gotten control of the problem, and greatly decreased inflation overall. That has improved the spending power of Iraqis.

Economy Overall
Iraq's overall economy is in some ways worse off than before the invasion. It is much more dependent upon oil now than ever before because of the decline in other sectors. Oil now accounts for roughly 70% of Iraq's GDP, while services are 22%. Industry went from 9% of GDP before the war to less than 1.5% afterward. Farming went from 35% of the GDP in the 1970s to 6.5% after 2003. Oil is also not a labor-intensive industry, and only employs about 2% of the work force. That means 98% of Iraqis are employed in businesses that only contribute around 30% of the GDP. This is the reason why the government is the largest employer in the country, because not only is it safe and steady work, but it provides one of the few opportunities in Iraq since the private sector is so small. In turn, the labor market is distorted as the government starves businesses of workers.

U.S. attempts to improve the economy have only made the situation worse. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) tried to implement free market and free trade reforms. This led to the lifting of tariffs that opened up the country to a flood of cheap imports, which caused major problems for many small businesses and farms. The CPA also cut support for Iraq's state-owned industries that accounted for 90% of industrial capacity and employed around 500,000. Eventually the CPA decided to help some of these businesses, but by then 2/3 of them had closed. Since 2007 the U.S. has tried to bring back many of these companies to very mixed results.

Conclusion

This is only a review of a few factors in the lives of average Iraqis. They can only tell so much as there are large variations from province to province, between rural and urban areas, and between classes. What the numbers provided do show is mixed living standards before and after the invasion. Per capita GDP is better now than before 2003, but not up to the level it reached in 1980. Life expectancy and child malnutrition have declined, but infant mortality is back to what it was in the 1980s. Education and inflation have both gotten better, but the economy overall is in a worse state for those looking for work. In most of those categories, Iraq also ranks at near the bottom compared to its neighbors. Those who want to argue that the U.S. intervention has improved Iraq or not can find numbers to argue both sides. What everyone can hopefully agree upon is that Iraqis deserve much better.

SOURCES

Collier, Robert, “Imports inundate Iraq under new U.S. policy,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7/10/03

Cordesman, Anthony, “The Changing Situation in Iraq: A Progress Report,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 4/4/09

Fairweather, Jack, “Iraqi state enterprises warily reopen,” Financial Times, 6/16/08

Government of Iraq, “Iraq National Report on the Status of Human Development 2008,” 12/31/08

Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, “Iraq Labour Force Analysis 2003-2008,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, January 2009

McGeary, Johanna, “Looking Beyond Saddam,” Time, 3/10/03

Reuters, “Iraq must cut food rations in 2008-trade minister,” 12/6/2007

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/09
- “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/09

Whitelaw, Kevin, “After The Fall,” U.S. News & World Report, 12/2/02