Friday, April 30, 2010

Iraq Attempts To Meet Its Housing Shortage

As noted before, in 2010 the Iraqi government set about a massive building campaign. On April 4, the Housing Ministry announced that it wanted to solve the country’s housing crisis by 2014 through a mix of foreign and public investment. The Minister said that April and May would see 16 new projects start for housing, and an increase in the Housing Fund that was created in May 2009 that will assist with financing the construction. The Ministry has plans to start 27 housing complexes throughout Iraq with more than 504 units per compound. On April 16, the Iraqi National Investment Committee said that it plans to build 1 million housing units within the next five years relying upon Italian and French companies. If both of these projects were completed it would go a long way to meet all of the housing demand in the country, which is said to stand around 1.5 million houses, according to a 2009 study by the United Nations Human Settlements Program.

Just this month for example, four new projects were announced in four separate provinces to add an additional 8,200 units. On April 5, the Muthanna provincial council’s Investment Commission gave two permits to local investors for a residential and market complex that will include 2,000 units at a cost of 2.934 million Iraqi dinars that is to be finished in three years. On April 12, Basra’s Investment Commission announced a project to build 552 houses in the Faw district in the southern half of the governorate that will include stores and a theme park. Two days later, an Iraqi investor was given a license to build 700 houses and 350 stores in southern Qadisiyah at a cost of $21.24 million in the next 36 months. Finally, on April 19 a Canadian firm invested $299 million into a 5,000 unit apartment complex in Baghdad that will house up to 20,000 people. 

Iraq witnessed massive internal and external displacement in the last several decades before and after the fall of Saddam. Millions lost their homes and were forced to move. The housing shortage also led to an unregulated subdivision of homes that has greatly increased overcrowding in Iraq’s cities. The government is finally attempting to address this long standing issue with its housing plan that started at the beginning of this year. If it’s able to build all one million units, it may just address all the needs of the public. A keen eye will have to be kept on the threat of corruption, quality of work, and whether projects are completed however, to determine whether this is a success or just words from the authorities.

SOURCES

AK News, “Housing crisis in Iraq expected to end by 2014,” 4/4/10
- “International investment companies to build one million housing units in Iraq,” 4/16/10

Aswat al-Iraq, “2 investment permits to build residential city, markets in Muthanna,” 4/5/10
- “$21 million residential compound in Diwaniya,” 4/14/10
- “552 housing units to be built in Basra’s Faw,” 4/12/10
- “Canadian firm to invest in 5,000 housing units in Baghdad,” 4/19/10

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Human Rights Watch Interviews Former Prisoners At Secret Baghdad Prison

On April 19, 2010 the Los Angeles Times broke the story on a secret prison in western Baghdad at the Muthanna airfield. The facility held 431 prisoners, all of which were Sunnis were who rounded up in Ninewa province in 2009. Human Rights Watch was able to interview 42 former prisoners who were held there. They detailed a series of beatings and abuses that they went through, leading Human Rights Watch to call on the Iraqi government to set up an independent commission to investigate and punish those responsible.

The detainees who were interviewed all had consistent stories and fresh wounds that they said were from their torture. All of them were arrested between September to December 2009 in and around Mosul, the capital of Ninewa, which is the last urban stronghold of the insurgency. They said that the abuse was worse when they were first brought to Muthanna. The interrogations would begin with the prisoners being suspended upside down, and then they would be beat, kicked, whipped, had their nails pulled out, and were burned with either acid or cigarettes. Prisoners that passed out as a result were usually shocked awake with electrodes. The detainees said that the point of the abuse was to get them to sign confessions, but some said the process would continue even after they complied. There were also cases of sodomy using brooms and pistols, younger prisoners being raped, forced oral sex, and having prisoners molest each other.

The next step is to see how the government deals with the issue. Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry has already investigated the Muthanna prison, which led to it being shut down. More than 100 prisoners have been released since then, and the rest have been transferred to jails run by the Ministry of Justice. Three Iraqi army officers have also been detained. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made two responses since then. On the one hand he has denied knowing anything about the facility, while on the other he’s said that there are no secret prisons in Iraq, and that all of those in Muthanna were detained legally. The government claims that judges issued arrest warrants for everyone rounded up in Ninewa, that they were transferred to Baghdad under court order, and that judges were at Muthanna interviewing the prisoners. At the same time, the prison was run by the Baghdad Brigade, which answers directly to Maliki. Human Rights Watch also found that none of the prisoners had case numbers, and their families were never told where they were. The story is also causing problems with the ruling al-Hadbaa party in Ninewa. They claim that all of the men at Muthanna were the victims of warrant less arrests, and are threatening official protests unless all of those involved are investigated and prosecuted. Like many controversial problems in Iraq, this one is likely never to be fully dealt with. Maliki will say that he’s against torture, while denying any responsibility. A few scapegoats will be found and then everything will move on. Abuse is endemic within Iraq’s prisons and jails, largely because the justice system is based upon confessions. The Muthanna case is just the latest example. Unfortunately it’s unlikely to change anything.

SOURCES

Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Detainees Describe Torture in Secret Jail,” 4/27/10

Latif, Nizar, “Mosul in revolt over torture claims at ‘al Maliki’s secret jail,’” The National, 4/28/10

Parker, Ned, “Secret prison revealed in Baghdad,” Los Angeles Times, 4/19/10

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Forming A New Iraqi Government Delayed Again

Iraq’s parliamentary elections happened nearly 7 weeks ago, but the leading political lists are no closer to forming a new government. In fact, that process is only going to take longer due to two new developments. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki successfully pushed through a re-count in Baghdad province, the largest in the country, and the Iraqi National Alliance led Accountability and Justice Commission wants to ban over 60 candidates, eleven of which won seats in the legislature. 

First, on April 19, 2010 a three-member election court ruled that Maliki’s State of Law’s complaints about irregularities in Baghdad province had merit. The court ordered a manual recount of the 2.5 million votes there. Even before Iraq’s election results were released, State of Law began making charges of fraud and cheating when it looked like they would come in second to Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement. Even though State of Law won the most seats in the province, 26 compared to 25 for Allawi’s list, Maliki is hoping that the re-count will give them two or three extra seats, which would push them past the National Movement and make State of Law the largest coalition. Maliki believes this will give him the upper hand in negotiations with other parties because it will give added weight to his claim that he has the right to form a new government rather than Allawi.

The problem with the re-count is that it could lead to several additional difficulties. First, Allawi will not sit by and watch his lead be taken away from him. He has already stated that he may reject the court decision to re-tally the votes, demand re-counts in other parts of the country, or call for a complete re-vote. The National Movement is also talking about going to the United Nations, European Union, and Arab League if the results are changed. The Kurdish Alliance has also formally complained about irregularities in Ninewa and Tamim, and said that they could request re-counts there if Maliki is successful in Baghdad. That could lead to challenge after challenge, and weeks worth of going through the ballots.

Second, the Accountability and Justice Commission, which replaced the deBaathification Commission, jumped back into the political fray on April 26 when it announced it wanted to ban up to 61 candidates, eleven of which won seats. 52 of the candidates were actually banned before the balloting, but the Election Commission let them run claiming that the Accountability Commission had problems with their paperwork. It’s also believed that they were allowed to run so that the voting could finally take place after being delayed over and over. Two of them won seats, one of which was Ibrahim al-Mutlaq of Allawi’s list who replaced his brother Saleh al-Mutlaq who was banned before the election. The director of the Accountability Commission, Ali al-Lami said that nine more winning candidates, who came from the National Movement and State of Law, will have their fates decided in coming days. The Commission also wants to throw out the votes of any victorious candidate who is banned, which could change the election outcome as well. If the winning list still gets the most votes after the winner’s ballots are invalidated, than they will be able to name the replacement. However, if the list doesn’t come out victorious then the next coalition will get the seat.

Ultimately, up to a dozen or so seats could change hands after the re-count in Baghdad and the candidate banning. That could take the lead away from Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement, and infuriate their supporters who believe that their list won, only to see it taken away by what seems like political maneuvers behind the scenes. At the same time, even if Allawi does lose some seats, the overall dynamic between the large lists and their efforts to form a new government will not change. No party won a majority, which allows them to form the government. Each one of them needs to find partners to put together a ruling coalition. All of them have generally agreed to another national unity government that will include Allawi’s National Movement, Maliki’s Sate of Law, the Sadrist-Supreme Council led National Alliance, and the Kurdish Alliance. The problem is that both Allawi and Maliki have enough detractors to stop them from becoming prime minister, but neither will accept that. That’s what was originally dragging out the negotiations, and now they are going to be delayed even more as the re-count and deBaathification process plays out. When that’s done, everyone will be back to square one arguing over who will be Iraq’s new leader once again, meaning more weeks and months of talks. At this rate, the country will be lucky to have a new regime by the fall of this year.

SOURCES

AK News, “Iraq’s political parties support “consensual government,”” 4/19/10
- “Iraqiya might call for a re-vote: Allawi,” 4/27/10
- “The judiciary board deletes the votes of 52 candidates without their votes to their blocs,” 4/26/10
- “KA may call for recount of votes in Kirkuk if Baghdad recoutns show difference,” 4/24/10
- “Sadr bloc staggers govt. formation in Iraq: source,” 4/21/10
- “’State of Law interferes in excluding candidates,’” 4/27/10

Associated Press, “Baghdad recount could change Iraq election results,” 4/19/10
- “Iraqi Court Ruling May Change Election Outcome,” 4/26/10

Aswat al-Iraq, “Attempts to change election results – politician,” 4/27/10

Chulov, Martin, “Iraqi elections hit with claims of fraud by opposing parties,” Guardian, 3/16/10

Al-Iraq News, “Member of the Kurdistan Alliance: Re-count in Baghdad to pave the way for the rest of the provinces,” 4/20/10

Al Jazeera, “Iraq politicians struck from poll,” 4/26/10

Latif, Nizar and Sands, Phil, “Recount of ballots threatens to undermine Iraq’s fragile stability,” The National, 4/21/10

Lawrence, Quil, “Discord Over Election, Recount Cloud Iraq’s Future,” Morning Edition, NPR, 4/26/10

Visser, Reidar, “More Post-Election De-Baathification: Another Blow to the Idea of Democracy in Iraq,” Iraq And Gulf Analysis, 4/26/10

Williams, Timothy, “Wider Recount of Iraq Ballots Is Requested by Vote Leader,” New York Times, 4/20/10

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Iraqi Forces Launch Operations In Eastern And Western Iraq Against Insurgents

In late April 2010 several thousand Iraqi soldiers and police, some supported by the U.S., launched two simultaneous operations against Al Qaeda in Iraq and insurgents in western and eastern Iraq. On April 23, Iraqi and U.S. forces moved into the Hamrin mountain range in eastern Diyala province. So far they have captured two Al Qaeda in Iraq leaders, and uncovered a Naqshibandi Group hideout that was allegedly linked to Saddam’s former Vice President Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, who leads one faction of the banned Baath Party. A few days later 26,000 security forces began a separate operation in western Anbar, concentrating on the cities of Ramadi, Fallujah, Hit, Haditha, and Qaim. 

These two operations are likely taking advantage of the wealth of intelligence Iraqi forces recently came into possession of that led to the killing and capturing of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s leadership. This began with the March 11, 2010 arrest of Al Qaeda’s governor of Baghdad Manaf Abdul Rahim al-Rawi. Iraq’s National Security Affairs Minister Sharwan al-Waili claimed that his detention revealed the entire layout of his organization. A month later, Al Qaeda’s two leaders in Iraq, Abu Ayub al-Masri, the Egyptian head of the organization since 2006, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the ideological head of Al Qaeda’s front organization, the Islamic State of Iraq were killed in Anbar. Another operative recently eliminated was Ahmed al-Obeidi on April 20 in Mosul, the commander of Al Qaeda in Tamim, Ninewa, and Salahaddin governorates. 

Al Qaeda in Iraq is a shadow of its former self. Most of the Sunni population has turned on it since 2005 with the Awakening and Sons of Iraq program. The U.S. military spokesman in Iraq recently said that the group only holds about 1,500-2,000 followers almost all of which are Iraqi, and has fractured into three groups: opportunists who are looking for money, nationalists that want to get rid of the U.S. and the government, and ideologues that follow Al Qaeda central in Afghanistan/Pakistan. As a result, they have been reduced to a terrorist group capable of launching spectacular attacks like those that recently occurred in Baghdad, but they are no longer a threat to the current status quo in the country. Whether the recent arrests and killings will be a strategic blow to the group or just a tactical victory is yet to be seen, but with their reduced numbers they’re unlikely to recover anytime soon.

SOURCES

Ackerman, Spencer, “What Does al-Qaeda in Iraq Look Like After al-Masri and al-Baghdadi’s Deaths?” Washington Independent, 4/23/10

AK News, “Diyala Operation Finds records of Qaeda members names,” 4/24/10

Alsumaria, “Iraq finds ex-Vice President hideout,” 4/26/10
- “Iraq Forces carry on Al Qaeda clampdown,” 4/26/10

DPA, “Iraqi troops launch major offensive against al-Qaeda,” 4/26/10

Myers, Steven Lee, “Arrest Led to Strike on Two Top Iraq Qaeda Leaders,” New York Times, 4/22/10

Roggio, Bill, “Divisions in al Qaeda in Iraq,” Long War Journal.org, 10/13/06

Sands, Phil and Latif, Nizar, “Poll causes new split in Baathist hardliners,” The National, 3/21/10

Williams, Timothy, “Wider Recount of Iraq Ballots Is Requested by Vote Leader,” New York Times, 4/20/10

Monday, April 26, 2010

Iranian-Turkish Trade With Iraq

When the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) took over the administration of Iraq in 2003 it tried to promote capitalism, privatization, and free market reforms. As part of that process it got rid of all of Iraq’s tariffs and opened the country’s doors to foreign commerce. Since then Iran and Turkey have become the country’s two largest trade partners, which has not always been good for Iraq’s economy.

Immediately after the overthrow of Saddam, Tehran moved into Iraq in an attempt to spread its hard and soft power throughout the country. Iranian products started flooding the country as a result. Iran quickly became Iraq’s second largest source of trade. On April 14, 2010 the Iranian ambassador to Iraq announced that commerce between the two countries had reached $7 billion by 2009. The two had also signed 165 memorandum of understanding, mostly to do with economic exchanges. This year Iraq is planning on holding 20 trade fairs in Iraq to promote more business between the two starting with one in Najaf in April. With Tehran having largely shifted its focus away from supporting Shiite militias and Special Groups for now it is emphasizing soft power tools such as trade more than ever.

Turkey on the other hand has changed its stance towards Iraq. At first, it was worried what a new Iraqi government that included Kurds might mean for its own Kurdish population, as well as the presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) insurgent group within northern Iraq. Now Ankara is focusing upon building up ties with Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) so that it has influence with both after the U.S. withdraws. That has meant greatly expanding economic ties between the two countries, which has made Turkey the largest trade partner with Iraq. By 2009 Turkish-Iraq trade was worth $9 billion, up from $6 billion in 2008. Turkey has also invested $8 billion in Iraq. As a result, an estimated 80% of the goods sold in Kurdistan are Turkish imports, and 55% of the foreign companies in the KRG are Turkish as well. In the process, Ankara successfully became an important partner with the major parties within Iraq.

Iran and Turkey have greatly profited from their increased trade relations with Iraq. Their products are found throughout the country, and it is a means to gain soft power. Iraq has not benefited as much. The lack of tariffs and cheap imports has devastated many Iraqi factories and businesses, forcing some to even close down as a result.  This in turn, has made Iraq more dependent upon imports and its oil industry, and reduced job opportunities for a country with massive unemployment and underemployment problems. Iraq is unlikely to break from this trend as Ankara and Tehran’s economic ties are only going to increase in the near future until parliament decides that it wants to protect and promote its domestic businesses with tariffs and other measures.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Iraq-Turkey trade up 50 percent in past year,” 4/10/10

AK News, “Iranian Ambassador: Trade exchange volume with Iraq, US$ 7 billions in 2009,” 4/14/10

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

Fielding-Smith, Abigail, “Turkey finds a gateway to Iraq,” Financial Times, 4/14/10

Hanna, Michael Wahid, “Uneven Tracks for Iraq’s Regional Reintegration,” World Politics Review, 2/23/10

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Iraq Becoming Center Of Kidnapping, Prostitution, And Human Trafficking In Middle East

The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor recently released a report on the human rights situation in Iraq that also included a section on crime. As reported before, with violence declining in Iraq, crime is becoming a more pressing issue within the country. In fact, the two are directly related. Many criminals joined the insurgency and militias, and now that both of those are in the decline, many militiamen and insurgents are joining their outlaw brethren to make a living. The State Department noted a number of growing problems in the country ranging from kidnappings to trafficking in human beings and organs.

Kidnappings were and are a major threat to the Iraqi public. Abductions began early on in the insurgency, and that soon spread to militias, as a means to finance their activities. The practice actually increased as the insurgents began losing their foreign support with the decline of the sectarian war in 2007. The security forces have also been accused of abducting people. Today, most kidnappings are done for ransom. Kids are the most common targets, and there are sections of Baghdad for example, that have pictures of missing children posted on the streets. Most of these cases are not reported to the authorities, partly out of fear of what might happen to those taken, and also because the public doesn’t always trust the local police.

Iraq is also becoming a center of trafficking in slaves, prostitutes, human organs, babies, and illegal workers within the region. There are reports of women and children being sold off to Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Iran. There are also stories of orphanages selling kids, and gangs selling boys within and without Iraq for sex. In February 2010 for instance, the Health Ministry arrested two rings in hospitals in Baghdad and Kirkuk that were organized by nurses to kidnap and sell babies abroad. The State Department also recorded cases of human organs being trafficked. Illegal workers are brought into Iraq as well from Georgia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Uganda, and Sri Lanka.

For almost thirty years Iraq has been embroiled in wars, sanctions, and most recently a civil war. Since 2009, violence has hit its lowest levels since the U.S. invasion. Now Iraqis have to face rising crime from everyday criminals, militants, the security forces, and others. The increase in kidnappings and trafficking are signs of an impoverished society. The wars and sanctions have devastated the Iraqi economy. It’s estimated that 51% of the workforce is either unemployed or underemployed. That has hit the young, ages 15-29, the hardest. They constitute 57% of those out of work, and 250,000 new people enter the labor force each year. Add to that the fact that 25% of the population lives below the poverty level, which equals $2 a day, and the reason why so many might be drawn to illegal activities or be the victim of it can be understood. Until Iraq can find gainful employment for its people, and capitalize upon its great oil wealth crime is likely going to remain a pressing issue within the country.

SOURCES

Adel, Shaymaa, “7 million Iraqis exist below poverty line,” Azzaman, 4/6/10

AK News, “Iraqi Health: Gangs of thieves abducting children and False Doctor Arrested,” 2/2/10

Bakri, Nada, “In Iraq, battling an internal bane,” Washington Post, 10/22/09

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor, “2009 Human Rights Report: Iraq,” U.S. State Department, 3/11/10

Debat, Alexis, “Vivisecting the Jihad: Part Two,” National Interest, October 2004

Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq, December 2009” 2/15/10

Gunter, Frank, “Liberate Iraq’s Economy,” New York Times, 11/16/09

Miller, Deborah, “Iraqis face new threat: brutal violence,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, 9/21/09

Paley, Amit, “Iraqis Joining Insurgency Less for Cause Than Cash,” Washington
Post, 11/20/07

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

Schmitt, Eric and Shanker, Thom, “Estimates by U.S. See More Rebels With More Funds,” New York Times, 10/22/04

Williams, Phil, Criminals, Militias, And Insurgents: Organized Crime In Iraq, Strategic Studies Institute, June 2009

Friday, April 23, 2010

More Analysts Say That Iraq’s Oil Goals Are Too Ambitious

As reported before, early on some questioned whether Iraq could achieve its goal of increasing its oil production from roughly 2.4 million barrels a day today to 12 million barrels within ten years. In the last several weeks, a few more have voiced their skepticism as well.

First, at the end of March 2010 a panel of experts and oil executives convened by the Center for Global Energy Studies in London, England said that it was impossible for Iraq to reach its production goals within the time it allotted for itself. The conference went through Iraq’s reserves, the state of its fields, and its export marks, and said that they did not add up. Looking at two oil fields in Basra, Rumaila and West Qurna that were auctioned off to foreign companies in 2009, the group thought that both would only produce half of what the Oil Ministry hopes to achieve. Rumaila for example, has a production mark of 2.85 million barrels a day within ten years, but the meeting felt that it would only achieve around 1-2 million barrels a day by that time. Likewise, West Qurna has a goal of 4.125 million barrels a day, but the panel estimated that it would only produce around 2 million barrels. They were also worried that either the lack of an oil law or a new government coming to power in 2010 could overturn the deals signed last year.

Next, an energy analyst said that the country was so lacking in infrastructure and personnel that it would take massive investments to achieve its goals. The expert noted that almost all of the fields that are to increase production are concentrated in a very small section of Basra province, which would strain resources there. The companies will need water, power, pipes, pumps, ports, roads, storage facilities, camps, water desalination, waste water treatment plants, testing, etc., plus Iraq does not have enough skilled laborers to do all the work. The construction needs alone will be the largest seen in the region for decades. The analyst believed all of that would cost over $100 billion, and even then the Oil Ministry would struggle managing all of these businesses and contracts, which could threaten the success of the petroleum deals.

Finally, Cambridge Energy Research Associates in Massachusetts issued a report critical of Iraq’s oil industry on April 1. While it noted that the country has massive potential, it faces too many challenges to reach its goals. Iraq’s oil industry has been underdeveloped and under funded for twenty years due to wars and sanctions. Iraq also faces political, security, operational, and personnel challenges. The new government for instance, is likely to review the 2009 contracts, causing a delay in their implementation. As a result, the group thought that Iraq would only reach around 6.5 million barrels a day by 2010. 

Most experts seem to think that Iraq will only achieve half of its production goals. There are simply too many questions about its infrastructure, the ability to provide all of the logistics and workers necessary for the expanded work, and its political situation to achieve 12 million barrels a day in such a short period of time. No other country has been able to expand its oil industry by that much that quickly. The ten deals that the government signed in 2009 were a necessary step to open up the country to foreign investment. A lot of that money will simply go to refurbishing oil wells however, but that will no doubt lead to an increase in production as a result. The question is how much and in how many years, because Iraq needs to earn as much income as it can right now because the economy is almost completely dependent upon oil. In the meantime it will be interesting to see how much of the labor will be done by Iraqis because so many suffer from unemployment and underemployment. Petroleum is not a labor-intensive business, so the construction and logistics work that will come early on can show whether these deals have a real trickle down effect within the country or whether the corporations will turn to foreigners. If not Iraqis can at least hope that the extra money will go to improving services, rather than into the pockets of corrupt contractors and government officials, which has been a persistent problem within the oil sector. 

SOURCES

Brinded, Lianna, “Iraq’s Oil Output Targets ‘impossible,’” Energy Risk, 3/29/10

Fernando, Vincent, “CERA: Iraq’s Oil Revolution Is Massively Over-Hyped, There’s No Way They Can Expand As Fast As They Hope,” San Francisco Chronicle, 4/1/10

Haddadin, Haitham, “Iraq oil output goals unlikely to be met,” Reuters, 4/1/10

Iraq-Business News, “BP Awards $500mn Oil Services Contracts in Iraq,” 3/30/10

UPI, “Report: Iraqi Oil Output Goals Ambitious,” 4/1/10

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Maliki Tries To Cling To Power In Iraq

For weeks, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law list and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC)-Sadrist led Iraqi National Alliance have been talking about being on the verge of a merger. Everyday officials from either list would say that the two sides were going to come to an agreement soon. They actually agreed upon a committee to come up with a candidate for prime minister. Now all of that has come to an end for two reasons.

First, State of Law has given up on any agreement with the National Alliance for now. The number one reason is that the Sadrists, who won the most seats within the list, are opposed to Maliki returning to power. On April 11, 2010 Moqtada al-Sadr called Maliki a liar, and said that he had sent the security forces after his followers. Sadr is still bitter over the Prime Minister’s crackdown on the Mahdi Army in 2008 as well. Not only that, but SIIC chief Ammar Hakim recently said that he didn’t think Maliki could return to power because he lacks the necessary support. That has led State of Law to veto the committee idea, and Maliki himself said that the talks had gone nowhere on April 21. 

The second reason is because Maliki has decided to push for a manual re-count of the votes. As soon as it appeared that his State of Law would not win the most seats in the election, the list began complaining of fraud and misconduct. At one point they claimed that they had evidence that they had been cheated out of 750,000 votes. On April 19, Maliki partially got his way when a court ordered a re-count of the votes in Baghdad province, the largest in Iraq. State of Law beat the Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement there 26 to 24, but they are hoping that another tally of the votes will give them an even bigger lead, one large enough to push them into first place. Winning doesn’t mean as much this year because the Iraqi Supreme Court has ruled that it’s not the winner of the election that has the first right to put together a ruling coalition, but the list that can form the largest alliance afterward, but Maliki is hoping that if he has the most seats, it will give him the upper hand in negotiations. Instead of him going around looking for partners that will allow him to pass Allawi who won the most seats, he’s hoping they will come to him as the frontrunner.

Both of these recent events show that more than a month after the election, how little has actually been accomplished in forming a new government so far. Maliki is intent upon holding onto power even though it should be becoming increasingly apparent to him that is a fading dream. As reported before, he has turned on so many parties in the last two years that no one trusts him. He is still hoping that a re-count will give him the most seats, and that will change the dynamic in any talks with other lists. He also apparently believes that if he can hold out long enough the National Alliance will give up their opposition to him. Neither is likely to happen however, so these moves will just be more wasted time until Maliki realizes he has to step aside for Iraq to have a new government.

SOURCES

AK News, “Hassani: National Coalition and State of Law to Merge soon,” 4/16/10
- “INA nad State of Law reach agreement to choose next PM,” 4/16/10
- “Sadr bloc staggers govt. formation in Iraq: source,” 4/21/10

Alsumaria, “Al Maliki: Talks with Iraqi National Alliance unfruitful,” 4/21/10
- “Talks over next Iraq PM caught by new rows,” 4/19/10

Al-Ansary, Khalid, “Iraqi PM says next government has to include Sunnis,” Reuters, 4/16/10

Associated Press, “Baghdad recount could change Iraq election results,” 4/19/10

Aswat al-Iraq, “Maliki’s coalition urges vote recount in 5 provinces,” 4/11/10

Fordham, Alice, “savvy sadrists,” Niqash, 4/21/10

Ibrahim, Waleed, “Kurds to join Shi’a alliance: Talabani,” Reuters, 4/15/10

Latif, Nizar and Sands, Phil, “Recount of ballots threatens to undermine Iraq’s fragile stability,” The National, 4/21/10

Visser, Reidar, “The Manual Recount in Baghdad: What Maliki Wants,” Iraq And Gulf Analysis, 4/19/10

Williams, Timothy, “Wider Recount of Iraq Ballots Is Requested by Vote Leader,” New York Times, 4/20/10

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Secret Baghdad Prison Discovered By Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry

As recently reported, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor released an evaluation of Iraq’s human rights situation in March 2010. One of its main complaints was that Iraq lacked rule of law due to arbitrary arrests, torture, mistreatment, overcrowding, and poor facilities. The Los Angeles Times revealed the latest example of all of these when it ran an article on the discovery of a secret prison at the Muthanna Airport in western Baghdad. 

The prison was found to have over four hundred detainees who were all Sunnis rounded up as part of the Ninewa Wall security campaign launched on October 3, 2009. Ninewa is one of the most violent provinces remaining in Iraq. As a result, it saw four military crackdowns from 2008 to 2009. Immediately after Ninewa Wall started, the provincial council, governor, and citizens in the governorate all complained. They said that none of them was informed of the operation, and that innocent civilians were being rounded up. On October 8, for example, around 150 people demonstrated in the provincial capital Mosul claiming that the Ninewa Operations Command had arrested 350 people. It was also noted that 100 prisoners had been transferred to Baghdad at that time, which the Ninewa council also complained about. 

Eventually 431 prisoners were taken to Baghdad out of fear that they would be released if they stayed in Ninewa. The security forces got a court order and transferred them to a facility in Camp Honor, located in the Green Zone within Baghdad. Later the prisoners were sent to the Muthanna airport secret prison. There they faced two sets of interrogators. At first, they were questioned by investigative judges, which is a normal procedure, but then later in the day members of the Baghdad Brigade came in, a unit under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s command who are in charge of protecting the Green Zone. It was then that the abuse began.

On March 10, 2010 the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry found out about the detainees and secret facility from family members who were looking for their missing relatives. When they gained access to the Muthanna jail they found that the prisoners had been handcuffed together in stress positions, and at least 100 of them had been tortured. That included electric shock, sodomy, and rape. One prisoner died due to his mistreatment. A U.S. Embassy report on the incident claimed that at least four of the Baghdad Brigade members who questioned the prisoners were indicted in 2006 for selling Sunni prisoners to Shiite militias so that they could be killed. Guards were also extorting money from the detainees so that they could make phone calls to their families.

When the story broke in April Prime Minister Maliki declared that he would shut down the prison. Already 75 detainees have been set free, and 276 were sent to regular jails. While Maliki claimed that he was against torture, he said that it was due to his political rivals. He also stated that he was justified to use secret prisons and the Baghdad Brigade to secure the country. It was a positive sign that the Human Rights Ministry acted quickly when it found out about the Muthanna jail, and that Maliki said that he would shut down the facility and release some of the occupants. At the same time, it was farcical that the Prime Minister blamed torture on his enemies when it was found going on in a prison under his direct command. That practice is also unlikely to end in Iraq any time soon because not only does it have a long tradition within the country that the overthrow of Saddam did not end, but a justice system that relies upon confessions usually leads to abuse in developing countries.

SOURCES

Aswat al-Iraq, “Detainees’ parents demonstrate in Mosul,” 10/8/09
- “NOC returned 100 detainees to Baghdad- official,” 10/3/09
- “Over 200 arrested under Mosul’s fresh security operations,” 10/5/09

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor, “2009 Human Rights Report: Iraq,” U.S. State Department, 3/11/10

Parker, Ned, “Secret prison revealed in Baghdad,” Los Angeles Times, 4/19/10

Was There An Al Qaeda Plot Against The Najaf Shrine Or Not?

There are two conflicting reports about whether Al Qaeda in Iraq was planning to hijack airplanes and crash them into the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. First, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the Western press that Czech intelligence and Interpol had told Baghdad of a plot to hijack airplanes and crash them into a Shiite shrine in Najaf or Karbala. The Foreign Minister said that the plot was to happen in 45-60 days. His claim was supported by U.S. military officials who talked to the Christian Science Monitor, and said that there was evidence of a plot, but that it was only in the early planning stages. The story was also disseminated in the Arabic press. As a result of the reports, the Najaf airport was said to have been closed down. If the attack had happened to one of Shiite Islam’s top shrines, it could’ve led to another civil war in Iraq as happened after the Samarra shrine was bombed in 2006.

The counter story came from other Iraqi ministers and Al-Zaman. The Iraqi Defense Minister said that the closing of the Najaf airport was due to a dispute between the airport and the Transportation Ministry, and that claims of a terrorist attack were unconfirmed. The Minister of National Security Affairs told Al-Rai that the terrorist stories were exaggerated. He said any security measures at the airport were normal, and that the panic was started by the newspapers. He also added that the story was spread for personal reasons. Al-Zaman ran a piece claiming that the Iraqi intelligence service the Mukhabarat, that reports to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was the source of the rumor, and that it was leaked on purpose to pressure the Shiite clerics to support the formation of a coalition between Maliki’s State of Law list and the Supreme Council-Sadrist led Iraqi National Alliance. The purpose might have been to threaten instability and more violence within the country if a new Shiite led government wasn’t formed immediately. That would greatly improve Maliki’s chances of remaining prime minister.

Finally, the Najaf airport had been closed down for a few days before the alleged Al Qaeda plot was revealed. The Najaf provincial council and governor launched official protests against its closure on April 12, 2010. The governor said that it was shut down due to a dispute between the Najaf Airport, the Baghdad Airport, and the civil aviation authority. There was also a rumor that the Transportation Ministry wanted to take over control of the Najaf airport as another reason for it being out of service.

The true facts behind the terrorist attack and closure of the Najaf airport may never be known, but there are definitely some holes in the story. There might have been intelligence on an alleged plot, but it was nowhere near fruition according to the papers if it was real. That might be why the Defense and National Security ministers played down the story. The Najaf airport was also closed before the rumor surfaced, and that appeared to be for political, not security reasons, so that part of the story does not hold up.  Whether it was leaked under Maliki’s order to further his goal of hanging onto office cannot be determined. It is election time so it’s easy to understand why some might see the Prime Minister’s hand behind such a high profile story. Whatever the case the plot made headlines around the world, and was hyped as a 9/11-type plan, re-enforcing Iraq’s image as an unstable country full of terrorists.

SOURCES

Arraf, Jane, “Al Qaeda 9/11-style plot to fly airliners into shrines in Iraq,” Christian Science Monitor, 4/15/10

Aswat al-Iraq, “Najaf council threatens civil disobedience to open local airport,” 4/12/10

Al-Rai, “Al Waili for “The View”; “ media exaggerated.” Reports targeting religious shrines, planes in Iraq,” 4/15/10

Roads To Iraq, “Fake Najaf 9/11-style plot,” 4/15/10

Al-Sharq Al-Awsast, Al-Zaman, “The Story Behind the Closure of Najaf International Airport,” MEMRI Blog, 4/15/10

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Iraq Runs Into First Problems In Meeting Ambitious Oil Production Goals

After Iraq opened its oil and natural gas fields to international companies in two bidding rounds in 2009 its Oil Minister said that it would increase production by 10 million barrels a day for an average of 12 million barrels a day within 6 years. That would make it the largest oil producer in the world. There have been a variety of questions about whether that amount is possible, but Iraq has already run into two early problems achieving its production goals.

The first was of Iraq’s own making when Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani said that Iraq might follow OPEC quotas. Iraq has been exempt from the international organization’s limits since the Gulf War in the 1990s. In the middle of March 2010 OPEC held a meeting in Vienna, Austria where Shahristani said that Iraq might follow OPEC quotas when it reached 4 million barrels a day. The Oil Ministry didn’t even debate or argue over the issue, and seemingly agreed to follow the group’s strategy without a fight. An energy adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that Iraq could achieve 4 million barrels within 2 ½ to 3 years. That would obviously stop the country from achieving its much larger 12 million barrels a day mark, but would also mean that oil companies that signed deals with Iraq in 2009 would not meet the requirements of their contracts. While government set limits aren’t grounds for penalties, it could limit the corporations’ abilities to cover their costs, and make a profit. Following OPEC quotas may never happen however as there’s no guarantee that Shahristani will remain Oil Minister after a new government is eventually formed, so his comments may be nothing but words.

A much more pressing barrier to Iraq reaching its production goals is the state of its oil fields. In April 2010, Shell and Malaysia’s Petronas went to the Majnoon oil field in Basra that they successfully bid on in December 2009. They were surprised at how neglected it was. The field currently produces 45,000 barrels a day, and the Shell-Petronas contract calls for them to boost that to 1.8 million barrels a day, but after looking at it, an expert said they would only be able to pump around 175,000 barrels a day because of its sad state. Iraq’s oil industry has been deprived of investment and innovation for twenty years now due to wars and sanctions. Pipelines are old and aging, maintenance is bad, and the country is producing about just as much oil as it can currently handle at an average of 2.45 million barrels a day over the last ten months. All of the ten fields that Iraq signed contracts for last year were un- or underdeveloped like Majnoon, and are probably in the same situation operationally. That would be the largest damper to Iraq reaching its production goals within the six-year timeframe.

Iraq set ambitious goals for itself in 2009. Ten new petroleum deals were signed, and the country opened up to international companies. Its announcement of boosting oil production by 10 million barrels a day was more political than anything, as the government wanted to return to its once leading position in the world oil market. Technical problems like the state of Majnoon and other fields, are likely to delay reaching that mark, and require larger investments than were originally planned. The Iraqi government may also agree to OPEC quotas that would obviously limit its production. As a result, Iraq may never reach its potential because of all the problems it will run into.

SOURCES

AK News, “Economist: neglected oil fields surprise investment companies,” 4/3/10

BBC, “Iraq oil capacity ‘to reach 12m barrels per day,’” 12/12/09

Reuters, “Iraq Muddies Oil Plans with OPEC Quota Talk,” 3/29/10

Monday, April 19, 2010

Counterfeit Dollars Used By Iran To Influence Election?

On April 15, 2010 U.S. and Iraqi officials announced that up to $4 million in counterfeit U.S. currency had been detected within Iraq. Almost all of the money entered the Iraqi economy in December 2009. U.S. and Iraqi forces have seized up to $500,000 of the fake money so far, most of it in Maysan and other southern provinces. The counterfeit dollars were openly used in Iraqi markets and some of it even ended up on U.S. bases through Iraqi contractors working there. The dollars were of varying qualities from those printed from computers to sophisticated forgeries that only experts could detect. The U.S. Secret Service that investigates counterfeiting cases said that only Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon have the capability to produce the high quality fakes. This has led to speculation that Iran spread the fake money to influence Iraq’s March 2010 parliamentary elections.

It’s widely known that Tehran was supporting the main Shiite parties such as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and the Sadrists. In February 2010 a U.S. leak to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius claimed that Iran was giving $9 million a month to the Supreme Council and $8 million a month to the Sadrists before the voting. Iran has been known to interfere in Iraq’s previous elections. Before the 2005 vote for Iraq’s new parliament for example, an Iranian tanker was caught full of fake ballots coming across the border. 

Iran’s main priority in Iraq is to make sure that a friendly, Shiite led government is in power in Baghdad. They have exerted all means of soft and hard power to achieve this goal so it would not be surprising if they tried to buy votes and influence using fake money before the 2010 balloting.

SOURCES

Allam, Hannah, “Iraq awash in phony U.S. money; officials suspect Iran,” McClatchy Newspapers, 4/15/10

Filkins, Dexter, “Police Seize Forged Ballots Headed to Iraq From Iran,” New York Times, 12/14/05

Ignatius, David, “Tehran’s Vote Buying in Iraq,” Washington Post, 2/25/10

Saturday, April 17, 2010

U.S. Human Rights Report On Iraq

Iraq’s March 2010 election was hailed as a step towards democracy not only for itself, but also for the Middle East that has seen very few examples of the people being able to select their own leaders. Democracy is more than simply casting ballots however, it is also about creating a civil society that respects individual rights and establishes rule of law. A few days after Iraq’s voting was done, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor issued its 2009 report on human rights in Iraq. The State Department documented widespread problems throughout the country with its justice system, prisons and jails, media, and with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s abuse of power. The root of the problem is that Iraq has a weak government that does not enforce its own laws or fully protect its own people. The paper shows that the country still has a long way to go before it is a truly democratic nation.

The State Department dealt with Iraq’s justice system first, which showed that the country lacks the rule of law. The Human Rights Bureau found arbitrary arrests, torture, mistreatment, overcrowding and poor facilities in Iraq’s jails and prisons, lack of trials, and a weak judiciary. Iraq has a justice system similar to France’s Napoleonic Code, where judges do most of the investigating, and trials are more about determining punishments rather than determining guilt or innocence. Iraq’s constitution also ensures the right to a lawyer during questioning. The basis for most convictions is confessions, and that is what leads to abuses. Once suspects are brought to jail, police or soldiers usually beat or torture them until they testify against themselves. Due to the security problems in the country there are also many arrests made without warrants, although 2009 saw fewer of these instances than in previous years. Rape has also been reported, such as occurred with women in the Adhamiya prison in Baghdad in June, 2009. Prisoners are often denied the right to counsel, and held for months or years without facing a trial because there is such a backlog of cases and a shortage of judges who are weak, and open to intimidation and corruption. That has led to overcrowding in most facilities, some of which are also known for lack of food, bad medical care, poor maintenance, and denial of family visits or notification. This is true for both prisons and jails run by the central government, as well as those controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). In total, Iraq held around 29,000 prisoners by the end of 2009. Similar cases were found in a December 2008 report by Human Rights Watch that said Iraq lacked due process, and by the United Nations

The lack of accountability, oversight, sectarianism, and corruption prevent these abuses from being stopped. That means officers and soldiers that are accused of abuse rarely face punishments or consequences for their actions. For example, two police officers were charged with rape in the Adhamiya case in mid-2009, but by the end of the year nothing had happened to them. On June 11, the Interior Ministry run prisons in Rusafa, Baghdad, and Diwaniyah, Qadisiyah were accused of abuse and torture, and prisoners there went on a hunger strike. On June 18, the government set up a committee to look into the matter that led to 40 officials being charged, including one general, two colonels, two majors, and two lieutenants who were all suspended from work, but never went to trial. The State Department did find that more officers were investigated in 2009, whereas before nothing would happen.

One major improvement was that the security forces and ministries are no longer accused of running deaths squads as they once were during the 2006-2007 sectarian war. However, no officers, soldiers, or officials have ever been punished for these crimes. In 2007 for example, Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili and others in the ministry who were part of the Sadrist movement were arrested for killing Sunnis using Baghdad hospitals. In March 2008, charges were dropped against them for lack of evidence, probably due to witness intimidation. Ironically, Zamili successfully ran in the 2010 election, and won a seat in parliament representing Baghdad for the Sadrists. 

The central government and the KRG continue to use the security forces for their own political goals however. Prime Minister Maliki for example, made a concerted effort to break the power of the Iraqi Islamic Party and Accordance Front in Diyala during 2009 that has been documented here before. That began in May when arrest warrants were issued for four provincial council members, the deputy governor, and a member of parliament from the governorate. On May 18, the Iraqi Special Forces, who are under the direct control of Maliki, raided the provincial council building in Baquba and arrested Abdel Jabbar Ali Ibrahim, the head of the Accordance Front on the council, for terrorism. Ibrahim has been held in some Baghdad jail ever since. The Prime Minister later dropped the arrest warrants for the three other council members after Sunni parliamentarians protested against them. On November 22, the deputy governor Muhamad Hassayn Jasim was arrested for financing terrorism. He too is still being held by the Defense Ministry. There are continued reports of the Kurdish peshmerga and asayesh security forces discriminating against Christians, Yazidis, and Shabak minorities in Ninewa as well. The Kurds have been accused of confiscating their property and building settlements on them, limiting their job opportunities, harassment, and abuse. Human Rights Watch documented many of these cases in Ninewa in 2009, and so did the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2008

Iraq also has one of the largest media industries in the Middle East, but there are limits on their freedom. First, many reporters and editors complain that laws prohibiting defamation limit what they report out of fear of lawsuits. Many also said that they self-censor themselves or have their stories dropped due to political pressure. Journalists talked about intimidation, threats, harassment by politicians and parties, arrests, and murders. In Kurdistan, a press freedom law was passed in 2008, but it hasn’t been evenly enforced. Many reporters are still sued or arrested under an older law for printing stories about the ruling parties. Defamation is also illegal in the KRG and journalists are often arrested for it.

Iraq has held six elections since it regained its sovereignty in 2005. That makes it an exceptional country in a region that is known for autocracies and monarchies. Allowing people to pick their own government, and replace politicians they don’t like is an important step towards democracy, but it is only a piece of the puzzle. Iraq needs a government that protects its own people from itself, and enforces the law. That is sorely lacking in Iraq right now since the authorities are still weak, divided, corrupt, and there is no transparency or oversight. That means the Prime Minister can use the security forces against his political rivals, suspects can be tortured and held incommunicado for years sometimes, and the media can be intimidated by officials with little to no consequences.

SOURCES

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor, “2009 Human Rights Report: Iraq,” U.S. State Department, 3/11/10

Al Dulaimy, Mohammed and Allam, Hannah, “In tight Iraq parliament vote, upsets point to future battles,” McClatchy Newspapers, 3/19/10

Human Rights Watch, “On Vulnerable Ground,” 11/10/09
- “The Quality of Justice, Failings of Iraq’s Central Criminal Court,” December 2008

Rubin, Alissa, “Charges Are Dropped Against 2 Shiite Ex-Officials Accused in Sectarian Killings,” New York Times, 3/4/08

United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, “Human Rights Report 1 January – 30 June 2009,” 12/15/09

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, "Iraq Report - 2008," December 2008

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ninewa Becomes Playing Field Between Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement And The Kurds

Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement has been actively courting the Kurdish Alliance since the March 2010 elections. As reported before, the Kurds have major questions about some members of Allawi’s list however, such as parliamentarian Osama Nujafi and his brother Atheel Nujafi who is the governor of Ninewa, and the head of the al-Hadbaa party. Allawi has been trying to assuage the fears of the Kurdish leadership by pressing the Nujafis to make concessions in Ninewa province, which has seen a tense standoff between the Kurds and al-Hadbaa since the 2009 provincial elections. Then, al-Hadbaa won a majority of seats and took all the governorate positions, leading to the Kurds to not only boycott the council, but to announce that the 16 administrative districts they controlled would not cooperate with the al-Hadbaa led government either. As part of Allawi’s attempt to mend fences between the two, al-Hadbaa and the Kurdish Ninewa Fraternal List held a United Nations sponsored meeting in early April 2010. 

The conference happened in Baghdad, and was attended by top officials from Baghdad, Kurdistan, and Ninewa. Some of those who were present were Deputy Prime Minister Rafa Issawi, who ran as part of the Iraqi National Movement, Governor Atheel Nujafi, the heads of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Ninewa, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Interior Minister. The Kurds said they wanted a joint administration in Ninewa that would include them receiving the head of the provincial council, the deputy governor, and dividing the governorate’s budget evenly between the Arab and Kurdish areas. The Kurds also said that the two needed to discuss the presence of the peshmerga in the province, the borders, and annexing the disputed territories there. Despite the positive spin given to the meeting, afterward al-Hadbaa officials said they were pressured by Allawi’s list to attend so that a new national government could be formed. A few days later in mid-April Governor Nujafi said that he had no problems with any of the Kurdish parties that ran in Ninewa in the 2010 vote except for the KDP that won the most parliamentary seats within the Kurdish Alliance. In effect, he was trying to say that he was fine with the Kurds, but just not their leadership. That didn’t seem to work as the other Kurdish parties said they all had a united front within Ninewa.

So far, nothing has come of the U.N. conference or Allawi’s pressure on al-Hadbaa. The Kurds are still boycotting the Ninewa provincial council, there is no power sharing there, and the National Movement and the Kurdish Alliance have come to no agreement over a new government. Despite Allawi being the head of his list, he has only so much influence over the parts of his coalition. The differences between al-Hadbaa and the Kurds run deep, and the two have had several confrontations since the 2009 balloting. Its unclear whether Allawi or the United Nations has enough pull to bring the two sides together, and that may be enough to stop the Kurdish Alliance and the National Movement from finding common ground any time soon.

SOURCES

AK News, “Local consensus government likely in Nineveh: source,” 4/7/10
- “Nujaifi says Hadba issues only KDP in Mosul,” 4/14/10

UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, “SRSG Melkert hosts a meeting between Hadba and Ninewa Fraternal List in Baghdad,” 4/5/10

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Conflicting Numbers On Iraq’s March 2010 Casualty Figures

Unlike most months, for March 2010 the four main agencies that track deaths in Iraq, Iraq Body Count, icasualties.org, Iraq’s ministries, and the Associated Press, showed conflicting numbers. For the past ten months, all four groups followed the same pattern; deaths went up one month, and then down the next. This time, Iraq Body Count and Iraq’s Defense, Interior and Health Ministries showed deaths going up for two months straight. For example, in December 2009 Iraq Body Count recorded 426 deaths, then a drop to 258 in January, and then a slight increase to 296 in February. In March however, deaths continued to go up to 303. In comparison, icasualties and the Associated Press’ numbers kept up the pattern. The Associated Press had 383 deaths in December, 177 in January, 255 in February, and then 230 in March.

Mass casualty bombings have also broken their recent history. Since July 2009 the number of bombings and the casualties they caused went up and down like monthly deaths. For instance, in December 2009 there were 25 bombings, causing 246 deaths, and 851 wounded. The next month there were only 10, resulting in 100 deaths and 407 wounded. That went up to 11 in February with 160 deaths and 492 wounded. March however saw the third month of the number of bombings going up with 12, but casualties still followed the up and down pattern with 142 dead and 314 wounded.

The numbers show two important trends in violence in Iraq. First, the insurgents are weakened to the point that they can only carry out a large number of attacks every other month. They then have to take a month to recover and re-supply, which accounts for the previous up and down pattern. Second, casualties are at their lowest rate since the 2003 invasion. The Iraqi security forces are stronger, many groups are trying to partake in politics rather than use violence, most of the insurgency has switched sides since 2005 with the Anbar Awakening and the Sons of Iraq program, and the Special Groups have been largely inactive since the 2008 government offensives in Basra, Baghdad, and Maysan. That has resulted in what some U.S. commanders have called the “irreducible minimum,” meaning violence will not see any more reductions without some change in the status quo. Even with this new security environment, Iraq is still number one in the world in terrorist attacks, and 200-400 people die each month as a result, an unacceptable amount for any country.

Monthly Death Counts

Month Iraq Body Count Icasualties Iraqi Ministries Associated Press 
Aug. 09 584 439 456 425
Sep. 298 158 203 238
Oct. 404 320 410 364
Nov. 205 106 122 93
Dec. 426 287 367 383
Jan. 10 258 135 196 177
Feb. 296236 352 255
Mar. 303 183367230

Mass Casualty Bombings

Months BombingsDeathsWounded
Aug. 09 44 359 2,252
Sep. 13 70 263
Oct. 22 241 887
Nov. 10 43 136
Dec. 25 246 851
Jan. 10 10 100 407
Feb. 22 260 492
Mar. 12 142 314

SOURCES

Associated Press, “Iraq: Key figures since the war began,” 4/1/10

Aswat al-Iraq, “3 killed, 8 wounded in 3 Anbar blasts,” 3/28/10
- “4 killed, 8 wounded in Baghdad blast,” 3/7/10
- “12 killed, 49 injured on special voting day,” 3/4/10
- “15 civilians injured in north of Hilla,” 3/16/10
- “17 vehicles burnt out in Falluja blast,” 3/15/10
- “Baaquba explosions’ toll up to 30 dead, 48 wounded,” 3/6/10
- “Baghdad’s residential building blast casualties up to 44,” 3/7/10
- “Casualties from southern Baghdad blast reach 11,” 3/13/10
- “Final casualties of Khalis blasts 125,” 3/27/10
- “Karbala double explosion’s casualties rise to 69,” 3/29/10
- “Najaf blast kills 4 Iranians, wounds 7,” 3/6/10

Cordesman, Anthony, “The Uncertain Security Situation In Iraq,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2/17/10

icasualties.org

Iraq Body Count

Reuters, “Iraq civilian deaths climb in March,” 4/4/10

Xinhua, “Iraq’s death toll of violence rises in March,” 4/5/10

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Salahaddin Governor Crisis Ends

In April 2009 the new provincial council and governor took office in Salahaddin following the provincial elections that year. On September 9, the new council voted 17 to 7 to dismiss Governor Mustashar al-Alawi of the Islamic Party and Accordance Front for fraud and refusing to appear before them for questioning. That started an eight month long crisis between the governor, the council, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that may now be finally over.

The dilemma in Salahaddin was that Alawi refused to step down for a new governor appointed by the council, while Maliki thought he deserved to have a say in the matter. First, the day after Alawi was voted out there were pro and counter demonstrations for his dismissal throughout the province. Governor Alawi then took his case to the Supreme Court, while suing the head of the council for having a criminal record and faking his diploma. That led to the council chief being forced out on October 11. The Prime Minister at first said that he supported Alawi, but when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of his removal, Maliki changed his mind. The council went ahead and elected a new governor, Ahmed Abdul Jabbar Abdul Karim, but Alawi still refused to leave office. On January 10, 2010 Maliki sent a letter to Alawi telling him to step down, and when he refused, the Prime Minister sent in an Iraqi Army unit to take over the provincial council building in Tikrit and force Alawi out. That wasn’t the end of the matter however, as the Army unit ended up keeping the council, government employees, and the public out of the building. That was because Maliki thought he should be able to name Alawi’s replacement. What followed was a new three-month long deadlock as no one refused to give, and the Army continued to command the council offices.

Finally, at the end of March the new provincial council head met with Maliki in Baghdad, and the two came to a compromise. A new governor Khaled al-Darraji would take office, and the Iraqi troops would withdraw. That finally happened on April 1.

The Salahaddin crisis was a sign of Prime Minister Maliki’s power, and the problems he will have holding onto it. In the test of wills between the Salahaddin governor, its provincial council, and the Prime Minister, Maliki won as neither Alawi or Karim became governor. It’s also another example of the Prime Minister acting outside the law by using the security forces to achieve his personal goals. It’s events like these that have made Maliki’s political rivals weary of joining with his State of Law to form a new government. They are afraid that he will continue to centralize power around himself and his Dawa Party, while sending the army out against his opponents or to impose his will on others. In the end, that could cost Maliki a second term as Prime Minister.

SOURCES

AK News, “’No Iraqi army around Salahaddin council building,’” 4/11/10

Hiel, Betsy, “Iraqi’s election warning ‘implied threat,’” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/25/10

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kurds Try To Strengthen Their Alliance

While both Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement that won Iraq’s 2010 election, and runners up Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law have been courting the Kurdish Alliance to form a new government, the Kurds themselves are not as powerful as they once were. In 2005 the Kurdish Alliance led by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) won 53 of 275 seats, 19% of the total. The Kurds became part of the ruling coalition behind both Prime Ministers Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Nouri al-Maliki. As part of the current government, the Kurdish Alliance received the presidency, one deputy prime minister, the deputy speaker of parliament, the Foreign Ministry, the Environmental Ministry, the Industry Ministry, the Housing Ministry, and the Ministry of State At Large. This year, the Kurdish Alliance won 43 of 325 seats, 13% of the total. Some believe that means they will not get as many privileges within any new regime they might join. To enhance their position, the Kurdish Alliance is trying to get the smaller Kurdish opposition parties as well as minority groups to join them.

There are three main Kurdish opposition groups that were first attacked by the Kurdish Alliance for costing them victories in important provinces. The three are the Change List formed by former PUK members, and two religious parties, the Kurdistan Islamic Union and the Kurdistan Islamic Group. The Change List won 8 seats, the Kurdistan Islamic Union 4, and the Kurdistan Islamic Group 2. Immediately after the election, the Kurdish Alliance accused the opposition of costing them a majority in Tamim province. The Kurdish Alliance ended up splitting the twelve seats up for grabs there 6-6 with Allawi’s National Movement. The Kurdish Alliance claimed that the opposition cost them 40,000 votes that could’ve given them the majority.

By the end of March however, the Kurdish Alliance was talking about creating a united Kurdish front. The plan was for all the Kurdish parties to have one voice vis a vis Baghdad and the other political blocs. Together they would not only negotiate the terms of a new governing coalition, but would also have the same position on Kirkuk, Article 140, and other leading Kurdish issues. In turn, the opposition parties wanted a real voice in decision-making in any new alliance, resolution of political differences between the parties, and not to punish any opposition members within Kurdistan. On April 3, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani held a meeting with all the winning Kurdish parties, and they agreed upon terms. In turn, they all decided to support Jalal Talabani for Iraq’s presidency again. Together, the new Kurdish grouping would have 57 seats in parliament.

The Kurdish Alliance also called on all the minority parties to join with them. On April 3, KRG President Barzani asked for the Christian, Shabak, and Yazidi parties to unite with the Kurds. Under the election law Christians received 5 seats, Sabean Mandeans 1, Yazidis 1, and Shabaks 1 as well. Most of these seats went to pro-Kurdish parties. Nothing has been solidified on this front, but the Rafidain List, a large Christian party that received 3 seats, said that they would support the Kurdish Alliance. If all the minorities were to join with the Kurds together they would have 65 seats, putting them on par with the Supreme Council-Sadrist led Iraqi National Alliance that has 70 seats.

The more seats the Kurds are able to accrue the more power and influence they hope to amass in the new government. The KDP and PUK were disappointed by their showing in the March election because of how well the Kurdish opposition parties did, and the fact that Sunnis came out in large numbers for Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement in northern provinces such as Ninewa and Tamim where the Kurdish Alliance did well in 2005. The Kurds were likely to be included in any ruling coalition, but with fewer seats they were afraid of not getting as many top positions. That has led them to the post-voting bloc building with the opposition, and then with the minority parties. Together they hope to resolve the long-standing disputes between the KRG and Baghdad, but if the government is another national unity one that includes all of the major lists, it’s likely to be deadlocked just like the old one because of all of the divergent agendas.

SOURCES

AK News, “Change List: The Kurdish lists will form a united front,” 3/28/10
- “Discords over Kirkuk after Iraq vote,” 3/22/10
- “Gorran emphasizes unified stance and lining up among Kurdish forces,” 3/31/10
- “Kurdish lists endorsed Talabani to become new Iraqi President,” 4/3/10
- “Rafidain List demands to participate in Kurdish Political Bloc Meetings,” 4/4/10

Aswat al-Iraq, “Barazani urges Christian, Shabak, Yazidi winners to merge with KA,” 4/3/10

BBC, “Guide to Iraqi political parties,” 1/20/06

Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, “Iraq Status Report,” U.S. Department of State, 3/31/10

Hamad, Qassim Khidhir, “unification among kurdish parties urged,” Niqash, 4/1/10

Jamal, Pshtiwan, “Kurdish options narrowing,” Niqash, 4/7/10

Taha, Yaseen, “claim and counterclaim in kirkuk,” Niqash, 3/18/10

Visser, Reidar, “The Pro-Kurdish Minority Vote,” Iraq And Gulf Analysis, 3/25/10