Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More Escapes From Iraq’s Prisons

(Black Anthem)
On May 20, 2011 it was reported that five Mahdi Army commanders escaped from Taji Prison, Salahaddin. A number of prisoners were going to be transferred to Karkh Prison, Baghdad under the supervision of the Rapid Reaction Force, when three were reported missing. Another source claimed that none had fled, and all were in Baghdad. The next day the Justice Ministry denied any escapes, but then confirmed that five Mahdi Army commanders, one of which was a senior leader, had in fact, slipped their guards during the transfer process. The Ministry claimed that they had help from politicians, parties, the prison administration, and the guards. The leadership of the prison was immediately replaced. Back in January a leader from the League of the Righteous Special Group was able to get out of the same facility.

This was just the latest escape or attempt from one of Iraq’s prisons. Twelve days before, Al Qaeda in Iraq members staged a revolt at the Interior Ministry building in the capital to try to get away. In January, several senior Al Qaeda leaders were able to slip out of a prison at the Basra Presidential Palace. What all three events had in common, was that the detainees had inside help. That ranged from the guards all the way up to officials in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office in the case of the January escape. It’s obvious that the government has been penetrated at all levels by militants, be they Shiite or Sunni. Sympathizers, money or threats may all be at play, but whatever was the case, insurgents and militias were able to gain important intelligence and assistance from within the bureaucracy, and have been able to break out a number of their senior members as a result.

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “5 Mehdi Army chiefs escape from Taji prison,” 5/20/11
- “Iraq Justice Ministry: Prisoners escape is an organized scheme,” 5/21/11

Al-Shammari, Yazan, “Minister: There was no prison break,” AK News, 5/21/11

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Iraq-Kuwait Dispute Over Port

BIG THINK VIDEO: Donald Rumsfeld's Mistakes In Iraq

Monday, May 30, 2011

More Protesters Arrested In Iraq

It appears that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is becoming a little nervous before his deadline for the government to improve its work concludes. In the middle of nation wide protests, the premier pledged on February 27, 2011 to give his ministers 100 days to provide better services or be replaced. Those days are quickly running out, and a new wave of demonstrations may emerge again, because no one believes that the bureaucracy will get any better any time soon. In response, Maliki is carrying out a new wave of arrests to try to stave off any renewed signs of public discontent.

As reported before, a small group of people gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on May 27, as they have every weekend for the last three months, to demonstrate against a wide variety of issues. The police were out in full force, blocking off entrances to the square, conducting searches, and putting down barbwire to the bridge connecting the square to the Green Zone. During the protest, four organizers were picked up by soldiers from the 11th Division, and then driven away in an ambulance. Their location is unknown, but the four had been setting up protests since February, and were planning a big event to coincide with the end of the 100-day deadline

That next day, a security unit raided the offices of Where Is My Right organization in Baghdad. Four Humvees, and two four-wheel drive vehicles pulled up outside their building, men burst in, searched the offices, destroyed some of the equipment, and took away files and some computers. The government forces then took away eleven members, including the secretary general. At the time, the group was ironically discussing how to obtain the release of the four organizers arrested at Tahrir Square. Where Is My Right is another body, which had been organizing demonstrations in the capital. Again, which unit carried out the raid, and where the eleven activists were taken is not known.

Soon after Iraq’s protests started at the beginning of the year, Prime Minister Maliki responded with a carrot and stick approach. He made promise after promise of reform to cajole them, while deploying the army and police in increasing numbers to silence the dissenters. That had a decided affect as demonstrations went from nation-wide with thousands of people showing up, to just a few hundred appearing in Baghdad every Friday, with a scattered few in a couple other cities in Iraq. Whether the protest movement will regain its steam after the premier’s 100-days expires is unknown. It appears that Maliki is taking no chances with this new series of raids on activists.

Images of May 27, 2011 protests at Tahrir Square, Baghdad care of Uprising Free Iraq









SOURCES

Aswat al-Iraq, “11 activists in Baghdad arrested,” 5/28/11
- “Iraq’s “February Youth Movement” to hold new conference after detention of 4 of its members,” 5/29/11
- “Sit-in Before Baghdad Provincial Council,” 5/27/11

Al Mada, “Liberation Square: security return to the language of intimidation, detain demonstrators youth,” 5/28/11

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Iraqi Refugees Leave Syria For Home

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Iraq’s Divisive DeBaathification Official Gunned Down In Baghdad

Ali al-Lami, executive director of Iraq's Accountability and Justice Commission was assassinated in Baghdad (Agence France Presse)
On May 26, 2011 the executive director of the Accountability and Justice Commission, which replaced the old deBaathification Commission, Ali al-Lami was gunned down in Baghdad. Lami was traveling back to his home in Sadr City when a car cut him off, gunmen with silencers jumped out, and shot him in the head. He was pronounced dead 20 minutes later in a nearby hospital. Lami is the most prominent government official to be killed in a rash of assassinations that have been happening in the country for the last several months.

There have been a slew of accusations over who was responsible for Lami’s death. At his funeral procession in Najaf, the secretary of the Accountability and Justice Commission Mothaffar al-Batat blamed the United States and the ruling coalition. He claimed that the country’s major parties wanted to return Baathists to power after the 2010 elections, and made statements attacking the Commission’s work. Lami himself had been saying that the Americans were plotting to kill him since mid-2010, because he opposed their plan to bring back former regime members. A parliamentarian from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of law said the assassination was a message from the Baathists. A lawmaker from Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement was quoted as saying that his death was a sign of the divisions that the deBaathification process had caused in the country. Until someone claims responsibility for the hit, it is nearly impossible to determine who was behind Lami’s murder. Iranian-backed Shiite Special Groups, Al Qaeda, and Sunni insurgents have all been involved in assassinations, with the assistance of political parties and the security forces this year. What is known for sure is that Lami had compiled a long list of enemies due to his work with the Accountability and Justice Commission.

Lami was born in Baghdad in 1964. He received a BA and MA in Mathematics. He became an opponent of Saddam Hussein, and was arrested several times as a result. Those included detention during the 1991 Shiite uprising following the Gulf War, and again in 1999 when Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr was killed by the government.

After the U.S. invasion, Lami became the executive director of the DeBaathification Commission in January 2004 under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). He was under the Chairmanship of Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, which had played a pivotal role in convincing the Americans to invade Iraq in 2003. The CPA’s deBaathification rules were only supposed to apply to the top 4% of the Baath party, but instead it was applied to a wide range of officials and members of the security forces. It also led to sectarian tensions as Sunnis felt like the Commission was targeting them, while Shiites with Baathist pasts were allowed to work in the government. In January 2008, parliament passed the Accountability and Justice Law to replace the CPA order. The committee to implement the law was never formed however, so the old members of the deBaathification Commission such as Lami and Chalabi simply retained their positions and authority.

In August 2008 Lami was arrested by American forces, accused of working with Special Groups in an attack in Baghdad. Lami was picked up at the Baghdad airport after a trip to Lebanon on a fake passport. The U.S. claimed he worked with Shiite militants to carry out a bombing in Sadr City, Baghdad on June 24, 2008 that killed six members of the local district council, two American soldiers, and two U.S. civilians. In February 2010, then commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno said that Lami was a Sadrist who had contact with Abu Mahdi Muhandis, one of the leaders of the Khataib Hezbollah Brigades, an Iranian backed Special Group. Muhandis is said to be an adviser on Iraq to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force commander General Qassim Suleimani. Lami was also supposed to have ties with another group supported by Tehran, the League of the Righteous. In June 2008, Iraqi and U.S. soldiers, along with American civilians held a meeting with local officials in Sadr City. When they were leaving, their cars were struck by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). General Odierno claimed that he had intelligence directly linking Lami to the attack. They did not have enough evidence to prosecute him however.

In July 2009 Lami was released. (1) The U.S. originally claimed that it was part of its withdrawal process from Iraq where it had to turn over prisoners it held to the Iraqis or let them go. Feeing him was actually part of a deal worked out between Baghdad and Washington to get a British contractor and his security guards released by the League of the Righteous, and for them to agree to a cease-fire and reconciliation. Afterward, Lami was interviewed by McClatchy Newspapers, and claimed that he had been subjected to psychological and physical abuse for three months in a secret facility before being transferred to Camp Cropper in Baghdad. He said that he was the Iraqi National Congress’ liaison with the Sadrists, but denied any involvement with Special Groups.
While Lami was trying to ban candidates in the 2010 election he was running for office as well (AP)
After being freed Lami went right back to work at the Accountability and Justice Commission, and played a disruptive role in the 2010 parliamentary elections. In January 2010 the Commission announced that it was banning over 500 candidates for alleged ties to the Baath Party. They included prominent politicians such as Salah al-Mutlaq, a leader within the Iraqi National Movement, Dhafir al-Ani, the head of the Iraqi Accordance Front, and Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Mohammad Jassim Obeidi. Lami tried his best to maintain the bans. The next month, the Commission stated that it would dismiss 376 soldiers as well. Eventually a deal was worked out to allow a few banned candidates to run, while the rest were replaced. The Commission then went after 55 of the replacements as well, six of which won seats to parliament. They along with three other victorious candidates who were threatened with deBaathification were all eventually allowed to take their seats. General Odierno charged Lami of pushing this agenda at the behest of Iran, and during the whole process Chalabi and Lami were candidates for the Iraqi National Alliance. Chalabi won a seat in parliament, while Lami lost.

Lami had a controversial career to say the least. He went from being a U.S. ally with the Iraqi National Congress to being accused of being a tool of the Iranians. He helped spread sectarian tensions through his work with the deBaathification and Accountability and Justice Commissions, and he nearly derailed the 2010 parliamentary elections as well. Given that history many groups might have wanted him dead from rival politicians to insurgent groups. Even in death, he has led to more divisions, as his allies have accused some of the leading parties and the Americans of complicity in his murder. His killers are unlikely to be found, and ultimately his death will go down as just the latest sign of the political violence that is besetting Iraq.

FOOTNOTES

1. Tu’mah, Abd-al-Wahid, “One British hostage set to be released in Iraq, ‘before the end of the week’ – paper,” BBC Monitoring International Reports, 7/8/09

SOURCES

AK News, “Iraqi List criticized the Accountability and Justice commission,” 2/8/10

Allam, Hannah, “Chalabi aide: I went from White House to secret U.S. prisoner,” McClatchy Newspaper, 9/5/09

Alsumaria, “Al Batat blames Allami’s killing on US and Iraqi parties,” 5/28/11
- “Fate of winning candidates still pending,” 5/3/10

Alsumaria News, “Assassination of the President of the accountability and justice central Baghdad, Ali al-Lami,” 5/27/11

Al Sumaria News, Qanon, Al Cauther, Al-Iraq News, Al Rafidayn, RM Iraq, Sotal Iraq, “Iraq Votes – Part IX,” MEMRI Blog, 3/23/10

Associated Press, “Gunman kills Iraqi tasked with purging Saddamists,” 5/26/11

BBC, “Anti-Baath committee chief Ali al-Lami killed in Iraq,” 5/27/11

Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraq’s Insurgency and Civil Violence,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8/22/07

Danly, James, “Iraqi Elections Update,” Institute for the Study of War, 2/15/10

DPA, “Report: 376 Iraqi security officers to be fired for ‘Baathist’ ties,” 2/24/10

Eisenstadt, Michael and Ali, Ahmed, “’How This Ends’: Iraq’s Uncertain Path toward National Reconciliation,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 7/17/09

Fadel, Leila, “Commission to challenge Iraq election results,” Washington Post, 3/29/10

Faraj, Salam, “Funeral for top Iraq official as Baathists blamed,” Agence France Presse, 5/27/11

Gutman, Roy, “Close aide to Iraq’s Chalabi assassinated,” McClatchy Newspapers, 5/26/11

Independent Press Agency, “Urgent … The assassination of the Executive Director of the accountability and justice central Baghdad, Ali al-Lami,” 5/26/11

Institute For The Study of War, “The Future of Iraq: A Conversation with General Raymond T. Odierno (video),” 2/16/10

International Crisis Group, “Iraq’s Uncertain Future: Elections And Beyond,” 2/25/10

Al Jazeera, “Iraq de-Baathification official gunned down,” 5/26/11

Knights, Michael, “The Evolution of Iran’s Special Groups in Iraq,” CTC Sentinel, November 2010

Lake, Eli, “EXCLUSIVE: Iraqi official’s top aide linked to Shi’ite terrorists,” Washington Times, 8/28/09

Morris, Loveday, “Battle over Iraq candidates’ Baath links heads for courts,” The National, 3/10/10

Nordland, Rod and Dagher, Sam, “U.S. Will Release More Members of an Iraqi Militia,” New York Times, 8/18/09

Parker, Ned and Jaff, Salar, “Anti-Baath Party official killed in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 5/27/11

Pessin, Al, “US Commander Says Iran Planned Political Dispute in Iraq,” Voice of America, 2/16/10

Radio Sawa, “The assassination of an official of the de-Baath Party in Iraq,” 5/27/11

Al Rafidayn, “Assassination of the President of the accountability and justice central Baghdad, Ali al-Lami,” 5/26/11

Rao, Prashant, “Head of Iraq anti-Baath committee gunned down,” Agence France Presse, 5/26/11

Roads To Iraq, “Barred candidates allowed to stand, INA’s emergency meeting … updated,” 2/3/10

Sly, Liz, “Iraqi court upholds appeals of 9 winning parliamentary candidates,” Los Angeles Times, 5/18/10

Spangler, Nicholas and Kadhim, Hussein, “Chalabi aide arrested on suspicion of Baghdad bombings,” McClatchy Newspapers, 8/28/08

Sullivan, Marisa Cochrane, “Sunni Politicians Barred From Candidacy,” Institute for the Study of War, 1/14/10

Tu’mah, Abd-al-Wahid, “One British hostage set to be released in Iraq, ‘before the end of the week’ – paper,” BBC Monitoring International Reports, 7/8/09

Visser, Reidar, “The Internal Dynamics of the Iraqi National Alliance: The Sadrist Factor,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 3/17/10
- “The Reign of Terror Continues in Iraq,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 2/2/10
- “Why Ad Hoc De-Baathification Will Derail the Process of Democratization in Iraq,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 1/8/10

Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 27, 2011 Protest In Iraq’s Tahrir Square, Baghdad

Between 250-500 Iraqis gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square for another day of protest on May 27, 2011. The event was called “False Promise Friday” or “Friday of Decision.”

The activists had to walk through a series of checkpoints leading to the square where they were searched, and had recording and camera equipment taken by the security forces. The square is right across from the Green Zone, which is accessible through a bridge. That was completely blocked off by police, as has happened previously.

There were a myriad of issues expressed by participants. Some called for better services and jobs, which have been a mainstay of protests since they started back in January. Others demanded the release of family members who had been detained by the government. A few condemned Kuwait’s plans to build a major port in the Persian Gulf that could conflict with Iraq’s Basra ports, while more were mocking Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s pledge to improve the work of the country’s ministries within 100 days. One protester told the press that the government had lost its legitimacy because it had failed to follow through with its promises. There were also reports that chants could be heard calling for U.S. forces to withdraw from the country by the end of the year. This eclectic set of demands has been heard in previous protests as well

A small group of people broke away from Tahrir Square, and marched to the Baghdad provincial council building. There they staged a brief sit-in.

On a more disturbing note, four organizers of the day’s activists were detained. They were at first, taken by soldiers from the 11th Division, then passed to another unit, before being placed into an ambulance, and driven off to an unknown location. They were all students from the Academy of Fine Arts and the Institute of Arts in the capital, and had been leading demonstrations since February. It was said that they were planning a major event on June 7 to mark the end of Maliki’s 100 day deadline for the ministries. The fact that they were taken away by an ambulance instead of a regular military or police vehicle could bode ill for their fate. The government has tightened their grip on demonstrators as of late, and there are numerous stories of abuse and torture being used against them.

Man holding picture of his son who is detained by the government, while Iraqi police stand behind him blocking bridge to the Green Zone (AP)
Iraqi forces blocking bridge from Tahrir Square to the Green Zone (AP)
Police walk through crowd of demonstrators (Alsumaria)
Crowds in Tahrir Square (Great Iraqi Revolution)
Protester wrapped in Iraqi flag (Great Iraqi Revolution)
Women chanting and holding signs at the May 27 demonstration (Great Iraqi Revolution)
Chanting in Tahrir Square (Great Iraq Revolution)
(Great Iraqi Revolution)
(Great Iraqi Revolution)
(Great Iraqi Revolution)
(Great Iraqi Revolution)
While protests have been held every Friday in Baghdad for the last five months, large numbers of people have not been seen in the streets for quite some time. That was largely because of the carrot and stick approach used by Premier Maliki to coo and woo them. The arrest of the four organizers was just the latest example of this policy. Next month could see more Iraqis show up as the Prime Minister’s deadline will have expired, and few expect any major changes to be accomplished.

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “Demonstration in central Baghdad demanding release of prisoners and denouncing the port of Mubarak and the arrest of four of the organizers,” 5/27/11

Associated Press, “Protesters chant anti-Iraqi government slogans,” 5/27/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Four Demonstrations Activists Arrested Today,” 5/27/11
- “Sit-in Before Baghdad Provincial Council,” 5/27/11

BBC VIDEO: Iraq's Moqtada al-Sadr Warns Mahdi Army Ready To Fight US

Friday, May 27, 2011

Iraq’s 5-Year Development Plan Falls Behind Schedule

In 2009, Iraq announced its National Development Plan for 2010-2014. It included almost $200 billion in spending to diversify the economy, create jobs, and replace the state-run economy with a capitalistic one. In just its second year however, the program has fallen behind schedule.

In November 2009, Iraq’s then Planning Minister Ali Baban announced the 5-year National Development Plan. It was based around building up the country’s oil, electricity, farming, and industry. Its goals were to diversify the economy so that the private sector rather than the state was in the lead. $186 billion was to be spent on 2,700 projects, that were supposed to create 3-4.5 million new jobs. As soon as the plan was announced it was criticized for its lack of specificity

On May 23, 2011 it was reported that the central government was angry with the slow pace of its development plan. It said that there were some major projects that were behind schedule. Corruption and government inefficiency were cited as the reasons. Those projects that were not sticking to their timelines were going to have their funding cut, and be turned over to the provincial governments where they resided. The Iraq Central Bank was quoted as saying that the growth rate was “shameful.” The delays meant that the 5-year plan had to be revised.

Given all the problems that exist within Iraq’s state-run economy, it should’ve come as no surprise that its 5-year plan would have issues. Many large, multi-million dollar projects that were announced in years past have fallen through, and Iraq’s legal system is still unaccommodating to outside investment. The World Bank’s “Doing Business 2011” report for example, had Iraq ranked 166 out of 183 countries in ease of doing business. It noted that to get a construction permit required 14 steps that took an average of 215 days to complete, that importing and exporting materials was difficult and costly, and that credit was hard to come by.

Iraq’s institutional limitations are due to its history. For twenty years the country was cut off from the world economy due to sanctions and wars. The security situation has only recently improved to the point where the state can focus upon the economy. On the positive side, Iraq has plenty of money to spend due to high oil prices, and it is gaining increasing interest from foreign companies. It will take time for the bureaucracy to adapt to the new situation, and until then, the nation’s progress will be slow and even.

SOURCES

Adel, Shaymaa, “Iraq’s development plan to create 3.5 million new jobs,” Azzaman, 6/15/10

Alexander, Caroline, “Iraq’s Council of Ministers Backs Five-Year Development Plan,” Bloomberg, 4/27/10

Daood, Mayada, “what’s the plan? fears of renewed central control,” Niqash, 5/25/10

Dunia Frontier Consultants, "Foreign Commercial Activity in Iraq 2010 Year in Review," 2/5/11

Al-Sabah, “Five-Year, $200 Billion Development Plan for Iraq,” MEMRI Blog, 11/23/09

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/11

Al-Wanan, Jaffar, “Delayed projects to be handed over to local councils,” AK News, 5/23/11

World Bank and International Finance Corporation, “Doing Business 2011 Making a Difference for Entrepreneurs,” World Bank, 11/4/10

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Iraq Will Have To Wait For Its Return To The Regional Stage

In early 2011 Iraq’s government was preparing to host the Arab League Summit in Baghdad. It was also asked to join the Gulf Cooperation Council. Both would be important events to show that after years of wars, sanctions and civil strife, Iraq was back on the regional map. Instead, the summit was delayed and Iraq’s membership in the Council was rejected due to its stance on the unrest in Bahrain. It seems like some in the Arab world were not yet ready for the new Iraq.

In February 2011, Iraq found itself caught up in the unrest sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. In that month, Libya was suspended from the Arab League for its suppression of rebels. That meant Iraq moved into a temporary leadership position, with Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari becoming the acting head of the League. He then went to a meeting in Paris, France where he said that Iraq supported the no fly zones in Libya because they worked in Iraq in the 1990s. Zebari, being a Kurd, noted that the no fly zones in Iraq helped protect Kurdistan from Saddam during that period. He also stated that Iraq could be a model for democracy in the Arab world as several autocratic governments were being overthrown. These were important events, because they marked the first time that Iraq was involved in regional politics since the 2003 American invasion.

These all appeared to be positive signs for Iraq as it was going to host the next Arab League Summit. Originally the conference was scheduled for March 23, but then it was pushed back to March 29, and then May 10, because of the protests and fighting going on in the Middle East and North Africa. Baghdad was excited to host the event because it was hoping that it would mark Iraq’s return to regional politics. The last time Iraq hosted a summit was in 1990. In anticipation of the event, the government began renovating a former Saddam Republican Palace, the Baghdad International Airport, villas, hotels, and roads in the capital. It ended up spending around $450 million

Everything seemed to be going fine until March. That was when the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) deployed troops to member state Bahrain to suppress demonstrations there organized by the country’s Shiites. While the Iraqi government did not make any official announcements about it, some of its  leaders did. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr both issued statements condemning the actions of the GCC. The Shiite religious establishment in Najaf refused to meet with Bahrain’s counsel to Iraq. On March 16, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that the Saudi and United Arab Emirates' military forces in Bahrain could lead to sectarian violence in that country. The next day, the Iraqi parliament held a debate on how they should respond to Bahrain. They discussed whether Baghdad should try to mediate, support the protesters, kick out Bahrain’s ambassador, or end diplomatic relations. On March 17, Speaker of Parliament Osama Nujafi stated that parliament should take 10 days off in support of Bahrain. Maliki would later say that the GCC’s actions were disrupting the region, and called Saudi Arabia and Bahrain “cowardly tyrannies.” There were also marches in several Iraqi cities in support of Bahraini demonstrators. Those comments angered the Saudi King Abdullah who already disliked Maliki and Shiite rule in Iraq. The Gulf Sates also responded by claiming that Iraq was working at the behest of Iran, whom they said was inciting the Shiites in Bahrain and threatening the region. Iraq and the GCC found themselves caught in a war of words that would only escalate.

Despite these problems, parliament’s foreign relations committee told the press on March 23 that Iraq had been invited to join the GCC. A source in the prime minister’s office said that Iraq would became a member, but only if the organization agreed not to interfere in its internal affairs. Baghdad also refused to join the GCC’s Island Shield security forces, which was used to intervene in Bahrain. Still, this seemed like another good sign for Baghdad. Despite the on going disputes in the Persian Gulf, Iraq had another opportunity to become part of Middle Eastern affairs.

The euphoria of the announcement didn’t last long. That same day, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa sent a Twitter message saying that the GCC wanted the Baghdad summit to be canceled. The League at first denied that it received any such request, but then its Deputy Secretary General said that the United Arab Emirates ambassador didn’t want the summit to happen because of Iraq’s comments about Bahrain. Egypt came to the defense of Iraq, saying that the meeting should still happen no matter what. The United States made similar comments. The six member GCC were obviously upset about what some of Iraq’s leaders had to say about the situation in Bahrain, and were going to hold the Arab League summit hostage as a result.

On April 20, the Arab League agreed to another delay because of pressure from the GCC. The League announced that the Baghdad summit was now set for March 2012, with the protests and fighting given as the reason for the postponement. The GCC was more blatant, when Bahrain’s foreign minister continued to remind the press that the Gulf States did not want the conference to happen at all because of what it saw as Iraq’s interference in its internal affairs. The Arab League ministers were going to meet again to try to finalize the summit date, but that was put off because of the Gulf countries. Iraq complained about the cancellation, but could do nothing about it.

The next month, the GCC announced that it was rejecting Iraq’s bid to join. The reason given was Iraq’s inappropriate policies in the Gulf. That was of course, a thinly veiled reference to Bahrain. Since the GCC had put off the Arab League summit because of its anger with Baghdad, it was no surprise that they would not allow Iraq to join.

Iraq was hoping that the Arab summit and the Gulf Cooperation Council invitation would usher in its return to regional affairs. It had been an outcast since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, and the U.S. invasion, and subsequent Shiite rule did not help with that isolation. Time had passed however, and Iraq felt like it would finally be re-accepted into the Middle East. It spent millions on preparing for the conference, and was elated that the GCC asked it to join. Events in Bahrain undermined all of those plans, as the Gulf States took Iraqi leaders’ comments to be pro-Shiite and pro-Iranian, two bogeymen for the region. By 2012 events may be dramatically different. Bahrain may not be an issue, the GCC could be in a forgiving mood, and the Baghdad meet could finally take place. Only time will tell if Iraq will finally regain its once prominent position in the Arab world as a result.

SOURCES

Abubakir, Idris, “Arab summit in Baghdad still uncertain,” AK News, 4/14/11

Ali, Ahmed, “Iraq’s Regional Awakening,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 3/23/11

Ali, Sarah, “Arab League denies Gulf request to cancel Baghdad summit officially,” AK News, 4/13/11

Allen, Karl, “Omani minister: Iraq’s “unwise” political approach behind GCC rejection,” AK News, 5/16/11

Alsumaria, “Allawi holds Iraq government responsible for missing Arab Summit,” 4/16/11
- “Arab FMs to consider adjourning Summit in Baghdad,” 4/15/11
- “Egypt backs holding Baghdad Summit,” 4/18/11
- “Moussa steps up talks over Arab Summit in Baghdad,” 4/16/11
- “US supports holding Arab Summit in Baghdad even if adjourned,” 4/19/11

Alsumaria TV, Al Mowaten News, “Arab League Confirms Request From GCC to Cancel Summit,” MEMRI Blog, 4/14/11

Arango, Tim, “Arab League Again Delays Baghdad Summit Meeting,” New York Times, 4/20/11
- “Ready or Not, Iraq Ascends to Take Helm of Arab Bloc,” New York Times, 3/23/11

Associated Press, “Bahrain’s foreign minister says Gulf states ask Arab League to cancel Iraq summit,” 4/13/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraqi MP discloses presence of Iraqi mediation between Bahrain’s government and opposition,” 5/9/11

Blair, Edmund and Awad, Marwa, “UPDATE 1-Arab League delays summit by year to March 2012,” Reuters, 5/5/11

Brosk, Raman, “Iraq to join Gulf Cooperation Council,” AK News, 3/24/11

Al Forat, “Signs Of New Crisis Between Iraq And Gulf Countries,” MEMRI Blog, 5/5/11

Khalaf, Safa, “Zebari: Arab summit will be held on time in Baghdad,” AK News, 4/11/11

Al Mulhem, Koumay, “iraq insists: arab summit must take place in Baghdad,” Niqash, 4/20/11

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Politicians Support Postponing Arab League Summit,” 4/22/11

Reuters, “Iraq Spent $450m on Postponed Summit,” Iraq Business News, 5/6/11

Al-Shara, Basim, “Storm Over Iraqi Shia Support for Bahraini Opposition,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 4/15/11

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Al-Hayat, Al-Zaman, “Another Postponement For Arab League Summit,” MEMRI Blog, 4/21/11

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 11,” 3/27/11

BIG THINK VIDEO: The Potential Of Democracy In Iraq

AL ARABIYA VIDEO: Car Bomb In Baghdad

AL ARABIYA VIDEO: Security In Iraq

AL ARABIYA VIDEO: Sadrist Movement In Iraq

FRANCE 24 VIDEO: Iraq's Sunnis And Shiites Reconcile

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How Iraq’s Kurdistan Broke Up Two Months Of Protests

While on a visit to Doha in the Persian Gulf, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Premier Barham Saleh gave an interview to a Qatari paper. He said that the protests that happened in Kurdistan were a sign of the power of the civil society in the region. He was quoted as saying, “We should not be afraid of the protests. We should not be afraid of our people when they demand reforms. On the contrary, it is a step forward for reforms.” What the prime minister failed to note in his talk with the foreign press was that the Kurdish security forces had violently broken up all the demonstrations in Kurdistan by that point, had harassed and attacked the media that were covering the events, and punished the opposition parties that came to align themselves with the protesters. Rather than being a sign of change in the region, the protests showed how committed the ruling parties were to keeping their tight hold on the reigns of power.
Early protest in Sulaymaniya, Feb. 2011
In mid-February 2011 Kurdistan saw their first protests. On February 17, people gathered in Sulaymaniya city’s Saray Square. The organizers got permission from the city council. During that opening day, there was a march to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headquarters, one half of the ruling coalition in the KRG, where rocks were thrown at the building. Guards fired into the crowd in response to break them up. A 15-year old boy ended up dead, and fifty others were injured as a result. Other organizers planned demonstrations in the neighboring province of Irbil, but were stopped by the authorities that refused to give them permission. A few showed up anyway, and were violently broken up by the security forces. Agents spread throughout the city and quickly imposed a curfew to stave off any other assemblies. In retaliation, the Change List, the largest opposition group in Kurdistan had its offices attacked in the cities of Soran, Shawlawa, Dohuk, Dinaslawa, and Irbil, with the last one being set on fire, and one of their TV stations was banned. Change denied any connection with the marches, but condemned the violence used against them. Those initial events set the trend for the following months. People would occupy Saray Square everyday until late-April, there would be demonstrators in other cities that would be met violently by the security forces, the opposition would align themselves with the demonstrations, and any press that chose to cover the events would be harassed.
Protesters carrying away wounded comrade in Sulaymaniya, Feb. 17 (Alsumaria)
The following day, 2,000 university students tried to march in Sulaymaniya. The police would stop them from leaving campus. On February 19, protesters went to the KDP headquarters in the city once again to object to the shootings that took place on February 17. They were stopped by the security forces that fired into the crowd once again. 2 people would end up dying from their wounds, and 14 others were injured.
Police carrying away an injured protester in Sulaymaniya, Feb. 19 (Al Arabiya)
Protest in Halabja, Feb. 22
By the next week there were protests throughout Sulaymaniya province. On February 22 there was a march to the KDP headquarters in Halabja calling for new elections. The security forces met them, leading to another confrontation, and 20 injured. Two days later, people went to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headquarters, the other half of the ruling coalition, in Sulaymaniya City, threw rocks, and were shot at, leading to one guard being killed, and two protesters injured. February 25 was called the Day of Rage for demonstrations throughout the country, and there were events in Sulaymaniya, Chamchamal, Kalar, and Sayid Sadiq. In Chamchamal, 500 marched to the deputy mayor’s office and KDP headquarters, where they ran into guards who ended up killing one child, and leaving several others injured. The protesters in Sulaymaniya city ended up issuing 11 terms, and 26 demands, which included allowing them to attend meetings of the political parties, freedom at the universities, removing political parties from government administration, re-doing the Kurdish constitution, appointing neutral technocrats to the security ministries, bringing justice to the people who shot at protesters, and cutting the salaries of top officials and lawmakers, amongst others. The Change List, along with the other two opposition parties, the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) and Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) quickly came to the side of the demonstrators, because they were pushing for many of the same issues, and also because it gave them a way to pressure the KDP and PUK. They issued their own 17-point reform program on February 26, which included new elections. They would eventually boycott the regional parliament, and call for the dissolution of the government.

These expressions of discontent caught the PUK and KDP completely off guard. Just the day before they started, the senior Kurdish parliamentarian Mahmoud Othman said that the demonstrations that were spreading throughout the Middle East and North Africa could not happen in the KRG because it was a stable and democratic region. When they did, the ruling parties, slowly but surely responded with a carrot and stick approach.

First, the ruling parties launched verbal attacks upon the demonstrators and the opposition. They tried to discredit the protests by saying that Iran and foreign agents were leading the protests. They also tried to tar the Change List, by saying that they were cooperating with those outside powers. The Kurdistan Islamic Union also reported receiving threats
NRT TV offices after they were set afire for covering demonstrations
The PUK then went after the independent and opposition press that were covering the demonstrations. On February 17, NRT TV started broadcasting, and was the only station running stories about the initial protests. Three days later the station director received threatening phone calls, before 50-armed men broke in and set the building on fire. KRG Prime Minister Barham Saleh later claimed that 9 people were arrested for the attack, two of which were member of the anti-terror agency, but nothing has been said about whether they were punished or not since then. The independent newspaper Hawlati and Radio Nawa also received threats, and reporters were beaten and harassed while they were trying to cover the protests.

The authorities in Sulaymaniya also targeted the activists themselves. On February 26, anti-riot police tried to break up the demonstration at Saray Square using sound bombs and firing into the crowd. A stray bullet killed a protester. On February 27, an imam gave a speech at the square against corruption. He was picked up by four peshmerga from the PUK, beaten, and held for four days. He was arrested again at the end of March and detained for a week. There were other stories that protesters were being arrested and tortured by the Kurdish security forces. 

The KDP in Irbil were much more proactive and repressive from the beginning. In mid-February, the pro-KDP Kurdistan Students’ Union told all university students in Irbil that they had to go home or all the services at the schools would be shut down. This was a pre-emptive act to send away potential demonstrators before any of them became organized. On February 25, some activists tried to march to the central square in Irbil city, but were broken up by plainclothes security officers. 7 members of the Change List were arrested before the demonstration even started. Reporters for Radio Nawa had their equipment taken and were threatened with rape by the security forces, and cameraman had their equipment taken as well that day. A man working for a non-government organization was picked up and beaten for refusing to give up his cell phone in the square. The message was being sent that anyone who tried to protest, report on it, or who were even suspicious around an assembly would be threatened, harassed, and beaten if necessary in Irbil.
KRG Pres. Barzani promised reforms in March, which have not happened yet
Starting in March, the regional government began offering some carrots. In the middle of the month KRG Premier Saleh and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is also the head of the PUK, both said that they supported the demands of the protesters, and that the authorities would work to meet them. On March 21, the head of the Sulaymaniya provincial council claimed that KRG President Massoud Barzani, the leader of the KDP, would resign if reforms weren’t implemented. That same day Barzani told the regional parliament that he had a plan for early provincial elections, and that they needed to create an integrity committee to look into corruption, two of the major concerns of the demonstrators. By the end of the month, the President stated that he would pass a 7-point program that included both concessions and warnings to activists. The plan included the courts taking legal action against those that shot at demonstrators in Sulaymaniya in February, but also that anyone that led an assembly without a permit or who attacked government property would be prosecuted as well. So far, no changes have been made by the KRG, two months after these pronouncements.

What seemed more pressing was the increased use of force. On March 6, masked men attacked tents that demonstrators had set up in Saray Square, and lit them on fire. Dank Radio, an independent station in Kalar, Sulaymaniya, had its facility attacked by gunmen who stole their equipment. On March 11, the KDP held a rally to celebrate the 20th anniversary of liberation from Saddam Hussein in Irbil in order to block a planned protest that day. On April 2, people tried to march through part of Sulaymaniya city, but were met by riot police who used water cannons and live fire to disperse them. 44 police and 12 protesters were wounded in the ensuing clash.
Peshmerga after clash with protesters in Sulaymaniya, April 18
By mid-April the KRG was tired of the unrest, and moved to end it. Starting on April 17, there was another attempt to march through Sulaymaniya. They were met by police who tried to disperse them using tear gas and batons. 56 ended up being wounded. The next day, there was another clash in the city with 16 protesters being shot and wounded. There was also a protest in Irbil that was again broken up through force. 22 were wounded as a result, while journalists and even bystanders with cameras were attacked as well by plainclothes Asayesh. The chief of police later denied that anything had happened that day. On April 19, security forces moved in to clear people from Saray Square. First, people tried to march to the main court building to have a sit-in. The anti-riot police and peshmerga were there to meet them, and several arrests were made. The government then announced that all unlicensed demonstrations in the city were banned. They warned that anyone breaking the law would be arrested, and that all the protests in the city would be ended. As a result, all of the people at Saray Square in Sulaymaniya were cleared out, and their two-month stay was put to an end.

During the crackdown, the authorities also moved against the press and opposition. Reporters were chased away from central Sulaymaniya in an attempt to stop any coverage of the suppression of the protesters. The Kurdistan Islamic Group’s Payam TV station was surrounded by security forces, and then subsequently attacked. KNN TV had its transmission blocked. A spokesman for the demonstrators, a Kurdistan Islamic Union journalist and another member who was on the Sulaymaniya provincial council all had their cars blown up. Two of the KIU’s offices were also attacked. By the end of April, all three opposition parties said that the regional government had not delivered their monthly budgets. In Kurdistan all of the political parties are funded from the KRG’s budget.

By the end of April it was all over. There were no more protests in Kurdistan. Several people were left dead and several hundred were wounded in the previous two months. The opposition parties were still trying to push their demands, but there was no one in the streets to apply outside pressure on the government. Despite all the talk of reform, the PUK and KDP have not done a thing. In the end, that was all words, and the authorities showed their true colors when they went after not only the demonstrators in Irbil and Sulaymaniya, but also the media, and the Change List, the Kurdistan Islamic Union, and the Kurdistan Islamic Group. Despite all the talk of the KRG being the “other Iraq,” i.e. the more secure and supposedly democratic portion of the country, the ruling parties showed all of the authoritarian tendencies of other nations in the region. That’s because their foremost concern was holding onto power. For the last thirty years, they have used their family, tribal, and political connections, along with a little dose of repression to govern. Their tight hold over every aspect of Kurdish society eventually gave birth to opposition, which spilled over into the street. Not use to change or having to answer to others, the PUK and KDP responded by using the heavy hand. This gained very little coverage in the international press, and with the Americans more concerned about maintaining their friends in Iraq like the Kurds, there was no real foreign pressure on the KRG to not use force. It succeeded in suppressing the protests for now, but all the problems remain in the region. That leaves the government the choice to either finally share power with others or become more repressive in the future.

SOURCES

Abubakir, Idris, “Medical sources: 56 wounded in protests in Sulaimaniyah,” AK News, 4/18/11
- “Security forces surround opposition satellite broadcaster,” AK News, 4/19/11
- “Two wounded as security forces shoot at protesters in Sulaimaniyah,” AK News, 4/18/11

Agence France Presse, “Iraq’s Barzani calls for Kurdistan reforms,” 3/21/11

Ahmed, Hevidar, “Barzani asks govt to bring protest culprits to justice,” AK News, 3/31/11
- “Barzani vows to resign if reform not enforced, says official,” AK News, 3/21/11
- “demonstrations in sulaymaniyah turn violent but protesters vow to go on,” Niqash, 4/21/11
- “KRG survives confidence vote,” AK News, 3/10/11

AK News, “Demo waves through Kurdistan Region,” 2/25/11
- “Erbil protest amid denial of ruling party and assertion of opposition,” 4/18/11
- “KRG Prime Minister responds to protesters’ demands,” AK News, 3/14/11
- “Opposition: protests erupted in Erbil, suppressed by security,” 4/18/11

Ali, Saman, “KDP backs early elections if majority demands it,” AK News, 2/26/11

Alsumaria, “Armed Men Attack Kurdish Opposition Radio Stations and TVs,” 4/22/11
- “Reports: Arabs are dispatched to prevent protests in Sulaimaniah,” 4/26/11
- “Sulaimaniah protests kill 1 policeman, wound 2 demonstrators,” 2/24/11
- “Sulaymaniya protests turn into violence,” 2/18/11

Amnesty International, “Days Of Rage, Protests and Repression In Iraq,” April 2011

Asaad, Dana, “unrest in kurdistan,” Niqash, 2/21/11

Associated Press, “Kurdish security fires on protesters in north Iraq,” 2/17/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “22 protesters wounded in clashes with security elements in Arbil,” 4/18/11
- “Arbil police chief denies protest, clashes,” 4/18/11
- “Sulaimaniya demonstrar, injured in clashes with security men, dies,” 4/23/11
- “Fears of potential security vacuum following US troop withdrawal,” 5/15/11
- “Iraq’s Kurdistan government calls for protection of journalists,” 4/24/11
- “Security forces break through demo in Sulaimaniya,” 4/19/11
- “Unlicensed demos banned in Sulaimaniya as of Tuesday,” 4/19/11
- “URGENT / Iraq’s President expresses support for demonstrators demands in Sulaimaniya,” 3/17/11

Aziz, Raber, “Newspaper: Iran behind Sulaimaniyah unrest,” AK News, 2/22/11
- “Opposition forces to take legal action against government for budget cut,” AK News, 5/1/11

Ghafour, Goran, “Update: 97 injured in clashes between protesters and Kurdish forces,” AK News, 4/18/11

Hameed, Leila, “Sulaimaniya embraced day of anger,” AK News, 2/26/11

Hasan, Rebin, “Asayish refutes reports of torturing detainees of recent unrest,” AK News, 3/1/11

Human Rights Watch, “Iraq Widening Crackdown on Protests,” 4/21/11

Al-Jourani, Flayeh, “Human Rights: dangers at rife for journalists in Kurdistan,” AK News, 4/24/11

Laween, Brodawest and al-Jourani, Fliaeh, “KBC: Kurdish leadership set time limit on implementation of protestors’ demands,” AK News, 3/12/11

Majid, Maruf, “Another major party headquarters attacked in Sulaimaniya,” AK News, 2/22/11

Mohammed, Hazhar, “Kurdish Islamic party members allegedly threatened with death,” AK News, 2/27/11
- “Kurdish PM and ministers to be interrogated over Sulaimaniyah protests,” AK News, 3/2/11
- “More Goran headquarters attacked, says statement,” AK News, 2/20/11

Mohammed, Shwan, “Students demand Iraq Kurd apology for protest deaths,” Agence France Presse, 2/19/11

Nawzad, Khabat, “Halabja supports Sulaimaniya anti-govt. protests,” AK News, 2/23/11

Rahim, Fuad, “Anti-govet.writer released after being tortured in Sulaimaniya,” AK News, 4/21/11

Reuters, “Gunmen storm Iraqi radio station, halt broadcasts,” 3/6/11

Rudaw, “Another Violent Day in Sulaimani Protests,” 4/17/11

Saifaddin, Dilshad, “Court staff go on strike to protest security forces’ arrest of demonstrators,” AK News, 4/19/11
- “Opposition deputy’s car torched in Sulaimaniya,” AK News, 4/21/11
- “Opposotion offices attacked in Sulaimaniya,” AK News, 4/23/11
- “Sulaimaniya protest: 56 civilians and policemen wounded,” AK News, 4/2/11
- “Sulaimaniyah Protesters vow to continue as authorities threat to end protests,” AK News, 4/19/11
- “Threats on media outlets in Kurdistan continue,” AK News, 3/10/11

Subhan, Kamaran, “Sulaimaniya protests to declare strike if not responded within 48 hours,” AK News, 3/1/11

Tawfeeq, Mohammed, “Kurdish unrest continues in Iraq,” CNN, 3/6/11
- “Teenager dies, 39 hurt in fresh clashes in Iraq’s Kurdistan,” CNN, 2/21/11

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Iraq’s Leaders Impede Anti-Corruption Efforts

Corruption has been one of Iraq’s most pressing issues in the past several years. A recent survey found that 27.8% of Arabs and 37.9% of Kurds thought it was the top problem facing the country. In January 2011 Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani condemned its pervasive affects in a meeting with President Jalal Talabani. It has also been one of the main complaints of protests throughout the country. The head of the Integrity Commission, one of the top anti-corruption agencies in Iraq, recently said that there is no commitment by the country’s political leadership to deal with it.

Judge Rahim al-Ogaili, the head of the Integrity Commission, told the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction that his organization and others were hindered in investigating corruption in the country. He presented a long list of barriers that he and others faced. That included officials with political connections that were off limits, the lack of transparency amongst ministers and high officials, political pressure to stop investigations of high-ranking officials, judges and inspector generals within ministries who are afraid to act on cases because of possible retaliation, Article 136(b) of the criminal code that allows ministers to block any inquiries, inadequate and untrained staff within the commission itself, and the lack of political will. As a result of these difficulties, Ogaili said that he was only able to go after low-level officials and small cases.

Parliament is presently trying to eliminate Article 136(b). Twice before the legislature voted to get rid of the clause, but because they didn’t finish the necessary procedures they were never finalized. There is a move within the government to have President Jalal Talabani stop the latest measure. The President no longer has veto power however.

On the more positive side, the integrity committee within parliament has promised to conduct wide ranging investigations into corruption within the government. In March 2011, it stated that the most corrupt offices were Health, Trade, Defense, Youth, and the Baghdad municipality, and that all of them would be looked into. Currently the committee is asking questions about the fake bomb detectors that the Interior Ministry bought. They could have been purchased for $18,500 a piece, but Iraq ended up paying $60,000 for them. The devices were found to not work, former Interior Minister Jawad Bolani used 136(b) in 2010 to shut down an investigation, and the general who was the Director General of the Explosives Department in the Ministry was arrested, but he was then cleared by the Integrity Commission. Not satisfied with that, the parliament’s committee re-opened the case. It is also asking about the use of fake documents by thousands of government workers, a $200 million housing project in Sadr City, Baghdad, the purchase of airplanes and other military equipment, and possible graft in the sale of land in the capital. It’s yet to be seen whether the parliament can do a better and more effective job than the Integrity Commission in actually prosecuting any wrong doing they discover.

Corruption has wide ranging affects throughout Iraq. It has cost the country billions of dollars, set back reconstruction projects, hindered the development of the private sector, and undermined public confidence in the authorities. The political elite has only given lip service to addressing these issues, and behind the scenes actively works to end anything that might touch them or their followers within the bureaucracy. It’s that lack of political will that Judge Ogaili said was the most detrimental to his work. Until that changes, graft and fraud will remain institutionalized within Iraq.

SOURCES

Azzaman, “Arrest warrants issued against 11 senior officials on corruption charges,” 4/20/11

Brosk, Raman, “Integrity commission names most corrupt ministries,” AK News, 3/6/11

Hadi, Laith, “Iraqi MP reveals defect in importing arms deals,” AK News, 3/9/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/11

Visser, Reidar, “Anti-Corruption Measure Sparks Constitutional Confusion in Iraq,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 5/10/11

Al-Zaman, “Iraqi Parliament Reveals Massive Corruption In Government,” MEMRI Blog, 4/6/11

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Iraq Oil Union Protest Averted In Basra

An Iraqi oil union in Basra threatened protests at three of the largest oil fields in the nation in mid-May 2011. They planned to stop work at the fields so that the government would hear their demands about higher pay. The strike was called off at the last minute due to the intervention of Basra’s governor, but their complaints are unlikely to be met.

Oil workers at the Rumaila, Zubair, and Majnoon fields in Basra threatened a one-day strike on May 17, 2011. They said they would stop work, block the entrances to the fields, and prevent foreign workers from entering. The day before the planned action Basra’s Governor Khalaf Abdul Samad stepped in. He offered to meet with the workers, and hear their complaints. Their main grievance was that foreign workers were getting paid more than them.Iraq’s oil workers are some of the lowest paid in the world according to a report by Hays Oil & Gas. Internationally, petroleum workers average $76,000 per year in earnings. Foreign workers in Iraq make on average $94,800 per year. Iraqi workers in comparison only get $22,000 a year. It’s that huge gap in pay that was one of the main motivators behind the call for action.

The three fields account for more than half of all of Iraq’s oil production. Rumaila is the largest field in the country, and one of the largest in the world with 18 billion barrels in proven reserves. British Petroleum and China National Petroleum Corporation are currently developing the field along with the government-owned State Oil Marketing Organization. It produces 1.1 million barrels a day, which is just under half of Iraq’s total output. Majnoon is the third largest field in Iraq with 12.6 billion barrels of reserves, and is operated by Royal Dutch Shell, Malaysia’s Petronas, and the state-run Maysan Oil Company. Finally Zubair is the sixth largest with 4 million barrels of reserves, and is run by Italy’s Eni, America’s Occidental Oil, South Korea’s Korean Gas, and Maysan Oil.

While the one-day work stoppage was averted, the union is unlikely to gain anything from their discussion with the governor. He has no power over their pay or the operation of the petroleum fields, which are under the jurisdiction of the Oil Ministry and central government. An energy analyst from IHS Global Insight was quoted as saying that he doubted that the Ministry would even have the funds necessary for any wage increases because they have to start paying the foreign companies as well as start gigantic development projects in the country’s oil and gas infrastructure. That could mean strikes and demonstrations in the future. The oil unions always objected to the foreign deals, and the government has responded to them with arrests and repression in the past, which could lead to some angry days ahead in Basra.

SOURCES

Abu, Ali, “Rumaila blockade averted,” Iraq Oil Report, 5/18/11

Carlisle, Tamsin, “Iraqi foreign oil payments threatened,” The National, 5/20/11

Gentile, Carmen, “Union leaders taken to court for oil sector dissent,” Iraq Oil Report, 7/2/10

Lando, Ben, “Basra oil workers’ boycott imminent,” Iraq Oil Report, 5/17/11

Mohammed, Aref and Abbas, Mohammed, “Job fears, hopes temper Iraq welcome for oil majors,” Reuters, 12/7/09

Smith, Patrick, “Analysis: Iraq’s oil projections wildly optimistic,” AK News, 5/15/11

PLATTS VIDEO: Iraq's Potential As Oil Producer