Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What Is Security Like Today In Iraq? An Interview With Wash. Institute for Near East Policy's Dr. Michael Knights


Dr. Michael Knights is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is also the Vice President of Olive Group, an international security company that works in Iraq. Knights has been researching, writing, and working in Iraq for the last three decades. He is one of the premier analysts on the security situation within the country. From 2005-2008 Iraq fell into a sectarian civil war that almost destroyed the nation. It has only been in the last few years that it has been able to claw itself out of this situation. Many are unaware of what security is like currently in Iraq, because the news is dominated by stories about bombings and killings. Today, violence has become very local with only select areas affected, which has allowed the majority of Iraqis to return to their normal lives. That doesn’t mean that Iraq is anything like a normal country, but things are changing. Unfortunately, the country’s political crisis is a major factor dividing the country, and creating a fertile environment for militants to continue to operate in. Below is an interview with Knights about what security is like in different parts of the country, what role politics plays in the situation, and the future of the insurgency. 
 
1. It seems like the general public has a distorted image of Iraq, because almost all the news they hear about the country today is on violence that occurs there. In general, what is the security situation like within Iraq?

There are currently around 400-500 bona fide insurgent or terrorist attacks in Iraq each month that are reported by the media: I can surmise, by experience working directly with Iraqi Security Forces, that there are probably a further 300-500 or so serious incidents that are not captured by any system of collection. Let’s say the worst case of around a thousand serious violent incidents were suffered a month. This is still a small fraction – about an eighth – of the violence being suffered at the height of the civil war-type conditions in the autumn of 2007. What does this kind of violence feel like at ground level? What does it do to society?
(Wikipedia)
Let’s look at some case studies. To take a place like Mosul city as an example of the extreme higher end of the risks: the city, which is 10 miles by 10 miles, suffers maybe 40-60 serious reported attacks a month, and probably suffers around a hundred actual attacks a month if unreported incidents are added. There are close to 1.8 million people in Mosul. Most of them will hear a number of distant explosions a month, because most explosions are smaller these days, are often highly localized under-vehicle bombs, and see some evidence of them (smoke, debris on the roads after attacks, rushing ambulances). They will read about lots of local violence, but see very few incidents, because most attacks are very sudden hit-and-run drive-by shootings or silenced pistol assassinations at odd hours of the day and night. Occasionally someone they know will be affected, most usually because their business will be extorted by a militant group, and only extremely rarely, because a friend or relative is injured or killed. Unless the citizen is someone involved in politics, they personally will not be in serious danger unless they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, a very unlikely occurrence. Even though violence does not directly stare Mosul’s hardened citizens in the face every day, it is a constant drain on the nerves, and a factor depressing the citizens, and imposing many small inconveniences on them.

Let’s take a different case: the city of Kut, which is a semi-rural town of 370,000 south of Baghdad, strung out in the bends of the Tigris River, and about 5 miles’ square. People in Kut very rarely experience violence nowadays, and the town goes about its business fairly normally. The town only suffers three or four major reported security incidents a month, and there is probably another three or four lower-profile incidents, politically motivated assaults or organized criminal extortion that are not reported. Every few months, a car bomb might be exploded somewhere in or near the city, maybe at a market. This is a source of worry for everyone, particularly when other attacks are happening in Baghdad or in other nearby cities like Hillah. The security forces sometimes check trucks as they enter the city, but only sporadically, and during periods of alert. Life goes on, and the people cannot be worried about a possible car bomb every day. Insecurity cannot stop real life. Every so often, a few times a month, people hear about a person whose house was damaged by a warning bomb put on their doorstep by a militia or hear about a local businessman whose wife and son were kidnapped and who had to pay a huge ransom to get them back.

These scenarios show that insecurity does not cripple the ability of citizens to get on with life, but nor is Iraq anywhere near a normal environment. As a Westerner, one could get away with a quick unannounced walk around many urban neighborhoods, but linger in some of the more active insurgent areas or set patterns and one would certainly be killed or injured. For an Iraqi who is a priority target of the insurgents, a politician or a local security force member, many areas of Iraq are as dangerous as they ever were, even at the worst times, and fear is a constant companion. For most Iraqis, insecurity is about inconvenience, frustration and the knowledge that there are things one must not risk, and places one must not go, and people one must not offend. This latter category resembles many people in post-conflict societies around the world and it comprises the majority of Iraqis.

2. You’ve said that violence in Iraq has become vary localized, could you explain what you meant?

Violence in Iraq has always varied significantly at the local level. One district can be very violent, and the one next door can seem strangely quiet. This aspect of Iraqi security has become more pronounced as violence has become concentrated in some key urban neighborhoods, towns, and rural areas since 2009. Far fewer communities are very violent, but some still are. The number of “oil spots” of violence on the map are thinning out, and most areas feel like post-conflict environments.

3. Levels of violence vary throughout the country. Baghdad has the most attacks, what is it like there?

The size of Baghdad and its bustling nature makes it feel like a normal Middle Eastern city, in fact, a very exciting and interesting city. Violence in Baghdad is a background factor for everyone to consider, and the security forces are very evident, which is a source of problems for some communities as the security forces do routinely extort and harass people. There are almost no skirmishes any more between militants or involving the security forces: violence is covert, hit-and-run and episodic, arriving suddenly and ending just as suddenly. In neighborhoods with significant militia presence like Sadr City, Hurriya, Shula, or Jihad or where relations with the security forces are bad like Abu Ghraib, Ghazaliya, amongst many, there is a very tense feeling. In general, the city feels surprisingly normal.

4. What’s the situation like in Kurdistan?

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) must be split into different types of threat environment if it is to be described accurately. Irbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniya, and most other cities within the KRG, are friendly and welcoming, and security is not a real constraint or consideration. These places face a terrorism threat in the same way that Amman or Ankara or indeed London does. Rural areas are beautiful, but can sometimes conceal hidden risks: mainly the explosive remnants of Saddam-era military operations and minefields. Locals know how to avoid these risks. The KRG becomes markedly less safe as one approaches its international borders with Iran and Turkey, where military action against Kurdish rebels is commonplace, and where militants are active. The internal border between areas of KRG and federal control can also be very dangerous, and the good security of the KRG invisibly blurs into the danger of the disputed areas. 

5. You mentioned Mosul already. How is it in Ninewa in general, and provinces like Salahaddin, and Diyala?

These areas feel more like the old Iraq of 2008-2009. There is more tension, and significantly greater security force presence than in other governorates. Most of Iraq’s violent incidents occur each month in these provinces, and no areas within these governorates are completely safe or quiet each month. Diyala is effectively under federal government-imposed martial law. In all three provinces there are tense crossing points between areas of KRG and federal control.

6. How does that differ from southern Iraq?

Southern Iraq suffers so few security incidents, and they are of such a local and constrained nature, a shooting, a grenade thrown over a garden fence at night, etc., that insecurity has very little impact on civilian life. The security forces are present, but they are not very alert typically, and are mainly a presence, on show, to demonstrate government control.

7. What’s happening in Babil right now?

(BBC)
Babil, just south of Baghdad, is presently being pacified by a government security operation that has seen tougher commanders, and added forces sent to the province. The situation began to deteriorate in the first quarter of 2012 after a long slow build-up of violence in 2011. The cause seems to have been Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) return to the area, on the back of a devastating campaign to kill off the Sons of Iraq leaders who originally drove AQI out of the area in 2008. Old AQI operating areas and tribal relationships were rekindled. This may have been stopped for now by very robust Iraqi government raids, and garrisoning of the area. Then again, the security forces can also boost insurgent recruitment if its tactics are too heavy-handed.

8. Most major attacks in Iraq automatically get blamed on Al Qaeda in Iraq, but there are other militant groups operating like the Baathist Naqshibandi. Could you explain who some of these other groups are?

AQI is a very real force, a real organization with a structure and goals, and formal membership, but Al-Qaeda is also a catchall phrase to describe “bad guys” as well, as you note. AQI does undertake the majority of insurgent car bombings, and pretty much all suicide attacks in Iraq, and it does a lot of other smaller attacks on security forces and local political enemies in Baghdad and north-central Iraq as well. Another major force is the Naqshibandi movement, Jaish Rijal Tariqah al-Naqshibandi (JRTN). I published a detailed article on this very interesting movement, but suffice to say that the group is the only Baathist/nationalist insurgent group to have maintained its cohesion since 2008. It has a fairly limited core area, the triangle formed by southeastern Mosul, Kirkuk and Ad Dawr, near Tikrit, but seems to collaborate with groups more broadly, including AQI. Its areas of operation never really experienced the full forced of the US-led “Surge,” and the movement has cleverly maintained the fiction that it only undertook anti-US attacks, and never killed Iraqi civilians. As a result, it has a lot of security within the Baathist strongholds it operates within.

9. The trial of Vice President Hashemi has brought up whether Iraq’s political parties are involved in the daily violence in Iraq. A lot of the attacks these days such as shootings of officials using guns with silencers or planting sticky bombs on their cars appear to require a huge amount of intelligence and planning, and perhaps inside sources within the government. Do you have any inclination that Iraq’s politicians are involved in any of these hits?

Almost all major parties were involved in militancy during the civil war-type conditions of 2006-2008. Security details associated with key politicians did harsh things, and were involved in tit-for-tat killings. This is a can of worms that no one really wants to open. Militias and criminal gangs even to this day, are used by political blocs to bring pressure on their rivals. So are shadowy parts of the security forces. Every major faction in Iraq has an armed wing of some description, though some are more distantly related to their political wings than others. Until Iraqi politics mature, this will continue to be the case. No one can afford to disarm fully or permanently, so armed groups play an important role in politics.

10. As part of the U.S. withdrawal they released all the prisoners they held. How did that affect security?

A minority of the detainees released by the U.S. were immediately scooped up by the Iraqis, and never released. Of those released out into society, many immediately rejoined AQI or other movements, or could not reintegrate into their communities due to things they had done to local people, and eventually wound a path back to militancy. Some went back to normal lives. Whatever the exact proportions, it is clear that AQI has benefited from an unprecedented infusion of trained terrorist manpower. Many of the released persons spent time planning inside detention facilities like Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper, specifically so they could launch a smarter, stronger insurgent effort one day.

11. Overall, what direction is the insurgency going, and what’s their future?

The Sunni insurgencies (plural) are being kept on life support by the political problems in Iraq, the lack of reconciliation, the collapse of population-centric counterinsurgency, over-centralization of security decision-making, noxious sectarian and ethnic identity politics, and the perception of Iranian influence on the government. This will delay the day that they dissolve into fully criminal syndicates, and mean that the insurgencies will continue to look and feel like military efforts in some areas with “resistance” attacks using military firepower against government forces, basically a transition of resistance activities from anti-U.S. to anti-government. In the longer term, all insurgencies tend to die. I am worried that in some parts of Iraq, the aforementioned political factors could result in a situation where some Sunni areas become ossified as Bahrain-type sectarian enclaves, albeit with Sunnis under the Shiite yolk, not the other way around, sullen, government-occupied villages where government forces fear to operate at night and where there is never any investment, in other words, the same way Saddam treated southern Iraq in the 1990s.

12. There are also plenty of gangs in Iraq who hardly ever get discussed. Could you talk about what they’re involved in?

The overlap of criminality and the insurgencies has always been strong. It is not a new thing, and groups constantly operate on a sliding scale, doing more of one, less of the other. There are professional kidnap for ransom gangs unrelated to insurgent groups; that is also not new. There are neighborhood Mafiosi, usually tied to a militia, who tax businesses. In the worst areas, the local security forces also shake down people and display gang-like behavior. There is a lot of Mafiosi action related to oil smuggling, trucking, ports, the usual things that organized crime are attracted to. Gangs ideally cultivate political top cover from local politicians, but this is not always the case, particularly with smaller rackets and gangs. Criminals do have to be cautious and the stupid or poorly connected ones regularly get nabbed by the security forces.

13. How does the security situation in Iraq affect developing its economy?

The oil economy, which accounts for a huge proportion of Iraq’s state income, is not really affected by insecurity. There are some incremental costs and delays associated with security, but it is not a major brake on development. The non-oil economy is bustling, it is not particularly affected either. Lack of government capacity to manage projects and undertake major infrastructure improvements is a more significant restraining factor.

14. The Americans used to stress the counterinsurgency capabilities of the Iraqi forces. You’ve said that the Iraqis have changed their tactics since the U.S. left. You also believe that many of their actions are counterproductive, how so?
Iraq's security forces have moved away from American style counterinsurgency tactics to being more reactive and heavy handed (AP)
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have a very long history of undertaking counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. They have basically been doing COIN constantly since the mid-1970s with very few breaks. First, there were long-running campaigns against the Kurds, and later these were joined by a parallel widespread military occupation of southern Iraq in an effort to suppress Iranian-backed militancy from 1980 onwards. The traditions developed during this time reflected the “Iraq style of COIN,” which is reactive, punitive, and heavy-handed. This is the opposite of the population-focused COIN that the Coalition briefly practiced in 2007-2012. With such a short experience of population-focused COIN, and such a long track record of traditional COIN, it is not surprising Iraqi units have reverted almost immediately to the old ways. In Sunni areas, where local insurgencies remain active, the Shiite-led government is particularly disinterested in coddling the communities or building “soft security” through local engagement. Instead commanders are encouraged to teach the locals a lesson to dissuade them from supporting insurgents. Communities are harassed with blockades, arrests, red tape, local curfews, etc. Under these conditions, ISF corruption is often a problem because political decision-makers have given units carte blanche and are willing to turn a blind eye to abuses.

16. In many Middle Eastern states, the security forces tend to be loyal to the ruling regime rather than the people or the constitution and sometimes even interfere in democratic transitions. The U.S. tried to change that culture in Iraq, and create a force that would support peaceful transitions of power. Which direction do you see Iraq heading in today?

In a centralized political system like Iraq, where all actors look upwards to the most senior circle of power and ultimately to the chief executive for decisions, there is a tendency for the security forces to follow government orders to the letter. This is particularly true since loyalist political appointees were seeded throughout almost all senior commands. The big test for the military will come during some future election when a sitting Iraqi prime minister fails to win reappointment and a peaceful constitutional transition occurs. Or it could happen if a prime minister is removed by a parliamentary no confidence vote, as might have happened this spring. At such moments, the military has a choice: follow the constitution or deviate from it. Of course the situation is rarely that clear-cut, and a clever chief executive could probably suspend the political process “temporarily” due to “emergency conditions.” This is one of the problems of having an open-ended security crisis: it creates space for abnormal political behavior and bending or breaking of constitutional rules.

17. The big question today within Iraq is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. There is a big debate both within and without Iraq about whether he is becoming an autocrat. What are your thoughts?

Autocracy is the rule in Iraq, not the exception, so it is unsurprising that Maliki would gather as much power to himself as the system will allow. In part, his accumulation of power is legitimate, under the circumstances. For instance, a strong hand was needed to guide Iraq out of its security crisis in 2008. This required some centralization and direct political control of security forces. Some power has accrued to the cabinet, because other institutions, notably the parliament, defaulted for years on end, causing deadlock. Autocracy is a systematic feature in Iraq: authority is sucked upwards in the system, as junior decision-makers lack the confidence to make choices and continually punt decisions up the chain.

On the other hand, centralization has arguably gone too far. The federal court system is no longer functioning as a check on executive power. Though the parliament is becoming more ready to play its role, the executive is hesitant to return legitimate powers to the legislature. Furthermore, the government is heavy-handed in its use of the security forces, and the constitution is regularly and seriously violated by the state. Many parties in Iraq and outside Iraq believe that two terms should be the limit on the premiership, because in a centralizing system like Iraq any leader can become an autocrat within a short number of years.

SOURCES

Knights, Michael, “A Violent New Year in Iraq,” The National Interest, 2/16/12
- “The Effort to Unseat Maliki: Lessons for U.S. Policy,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 6/5/12
- “Iraq – The Past, The Future, And Why it Matters To You,” London Business School Energy Club, 4/24/12
- “Iraq’s Political Crisis: Challenges for U.S. Policy,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 12/21/11
- “The JRTN Movement and Iraq’s Next Insurgency,” CTC Sentinel, July 2011
- “The plateau: How to cope with prolonged insecurity in Iraq,” Iraq Business News,
- “The Role and Significance of Signature Attacks in the Iraqi Insurgency,” CTC Sentinel, September 2010

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Third Straight Year Protests Over Electricity Break Out In Basra


As temperatures soared over 120 degrees each day and the government’s promises of more electricity proved hollow again, people in the city of Basra in southern Iraq took to the streets. Government offices were attacked, the police responded with firing into the crowd and made arrests, local officials came out in support of the demonstrators, while the Electricity Ministry tried to appease them. This was the third straight year that anger has boiled over in the city. Each time Baghdad has made some superficial concessions to the public, but then eventually turned to force to stop the protests if they continued. That could be repeated again this summer if the protests last for any lengthy period of time.
(Shatt News)
(Shafaq News)
Demonstrations started in Basra city in mid-July 2012. The first was reportedly on July 22, and was caused by the lack of electricity. Two days later, people blocked off streets and set fire to tires, while they threw rocks at a government building. The police broke up the protest by firing live rounds into the air, and making arrests. The Mayor of Basra complained about 16 hour power outages during the summer, and charged Baghdad with ignoring the problem. The governor of the Basra called on the Electricity Ministry to dismiss the manager in charge of power transmission in southern Iraq for failing to do his job. Two parliamentarians from the province said that people had legitimate complaints about the lack of services, and one blamed corruption in the government, especially in the Electricity Ministry as being the cause. Back in Basra, protesters promised more actions in the future if their demands were not met, going as far as threatening to attack the oil pipelines that run through the governorate. On July 28, the Electricity Ministry responded to the governor’s demands by firing the manager, and claimed that the power outages were due to a technical problem with overflowing three transmission lines. In addition, the Ministry said that it would provide electricity from two stations to the province. The central government is in a dilemma when it comes to these matters. While it blamed technical issues, the real problem is that production cannot keep up with demand. Electricity has increased in the last several years, but it has never caught up with the huge increase in usage since 2003. The Ministry makes continued announcements about new power plants coming on line, and that the country’s shortages are just about to be solved, but they never come to fruition. Currently, Baghdad is claiming that it will solve the country’s power problems by the end of 2013.The failure of past promises was a major reason why people in Basra were so angry at the authorities, not because of any temporary transmission issues. They have heard enough of these empty words, and want to see real action be taken.

That anger is why there have been protests in Basra for the last three years. In June 2010, there were demonstrations over the lack of electricity. At the time, there was only an average of two hours of power a day from the national grid. On the first day, 3,000 people attended a march. The protests quickly spread to Dhi Qar, Anbar, Wasit, and Diyala provinces. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki responded by pushing out the Electricity Minister Karim Wahid al-Hasan who resigned, and naming then Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani, a close ally of the premier, as his replacement. At the same time, Maliki issued orders to the Interior Ministry to put an end to the street actions. New restrictive rules were put in place, the police were authorized to use force against demonstrations, and organizers were rounded up effectively putting an end to that year’s events. When the Arab Spring reached Iraq in January 2012, some of the first protests were in Basra, which again focused upon electricity and services. As the demonstrations grew and dragged into the summer, the prime minister once again turned to the use of force. 2010 and 2011 set the pattern for how Baghdad would response to outbursts in Basra. At first, there were comments about more energy coming soon along with reforms to the government. Then, when people refused to cease their actions, and be appeased by these carrots, the prime minister would resort to the stick, and called out the security forces.

Iraq is no closer to solving its chronic electricity problems today than it was five years ago. The central government has proven again and again that it cannot execute its grand plans for building dozens of power plants, and expanding the national grid. That’s leading to increasing anger as people have taken to the streets for three straight years now. Basra has been at the center of all this. The public there believes that it should be enjoying the spoils of the wealth that it generates from its oil fields, which funds the entire country. Instead, people find themselves enduring some of the highest temperatures in the country with little power and other essential services. What has happened in Basra has also proven to be a catalyst for the rest of Iraq since when protests have broken out there they have spread to other provinces as well. That’s why the recent events could shape the rest of the summer. If demonstrations continue they may start in other areas leading to a replay of 2010 and 2011. Maliki will then respond with concessions, and then use the security forces to break up the protesters as he has done before. The inability to meet the demands of the public has been a trademark of the new Iraq. Frustration is growing as a result, and street actions and subsequent crackdowns may become an annual event as a result.

SOURCES

Al-Mada, “Signs of spring and the hot Iraqi Basra vows to cut off oil supplies,” 7/27/12

Al Saadi, Ahmed, “Basra threaten protests more violent against Al-Maliki and oil supply,” Shatt News, 7/26/12

Al-Sabah, “Basra repeatedly invoke the wrath of 2010 and on the promise of electricity <>,” 7/25/12

Shafaq News, “Electricity ministry announces dismissing General manager of energy transmission in the South,” 7/28/12
- “Ministry of Electricity agree to supply Basra with two additional stations,” 7/28/12

Sotaliraq, “MPs threaten Basra, led by popular demonstrations demanding better services in their wallets,” 7/24/12

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Massoud Barzani: Flying The Kurdish Flag

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Conflict In Syria Forcing Iraqi Refugees Out


The increasing instability in Syria is leading Iraqi refugees to return home. Previously, thousands of Iraqis went to Syria to escape the growing violence in their neighborhoods. Now that trend is reversing. Exact numbers of how many have crossed the border are imprecise as of now, and there are stories spreading that Iraqis were being targeted in Syria as well. Since the situation is so fluid, none of these reports can be confirmed. What is for sure is that as the chaos spreads in Syria more Iraqis will return, but they face an uncertain future back home.

The television and newspapers have been full of reports recently about an Iraqi exodus from Syria. Iraqi Airways claimed that 10,000 people had returned from Syria to Anbar and Baghdad in July. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repeated that number as well. The main reason for their return is the increased fighting in cities like Damascus and Aleppo. A member of Iraq’s foreign affairs committee in the Iraqi parliament, and a few news stories have claimed that Iraqis are being targeted in Syria as well. One source claimed that Syrian rebels were going after Iraqis saying that they were being associated with supporters of the Syrian government. The UNHCR said that Iraqis were going after other Iraqis to settle old scores from the civil war days. A parliamentarian from the Iraqi National Movement told the press that Iraqis were being told to leave. The situation has gotten so bad in Syria that the Iraqi government has called on Iraqis to return. It has sent planes to Damascus and Aleppo to pick people up, and buses are available as well. Most Iraqis live in those two cities. When the fighting first broke out in Syria, it was away from those urban centers, so Iraqis were largely untouched. Now the rebels are directly challenging the Assad regime at its base, dragging Iraqis into the fray. There isn’t enough information available yet to determine whether Iraqis are being singled out, but the violence is spreading quickly, which poses a threat to them.

Iraqis coming back to Iraq are likely to face more hardships. In Syria, if they registered with the United Nations, they could get a monthly cash stipend. The cost of living was also cheaper there, and jobs were more plentiful. In Iraq, prices are going up, there is a severe housing shortage, and jobs are not as easily available. Baghdad has also proven not up to the task of receiving such a large influx of people in such a short period of time. This was despite the fact that back in February, the Minister of Displacement and Migration stated that his ministry was ready for any emergency regarding refugees in Syria. Not only that, but Shafaq News reported that the Defense and Interior Ministries were questioning refugees heading back to Baghdad in an attempt to weed out any Baathists that might be amongst them. That has led to a large number of refugees being held in Abu Ghraib outside the capital waiting for interrogation. Living in Syria as refugees was no easy task for many Iraqis, but it might be even more difficult going back to Iraq. While the civil war is over, there are still terrorist attacks, especially now that insurgents are launching their summer offensive. In the immediate situation, Iraqis can expect little help from the authorities adjusting to life back home. The Iraqi government is notoriously inefficient, and that makes it especially ill prepared for an emergency situation like this. In the bigger picture, former refugees might find it especially hard to live in Iraq right now. Wages have gone up, driving up costs. Unemployment and underemployment are also high, especially for the young. Workers need to get a government job to make decent wages, and those are usually only offered to followers of political parties. Since many of those returning have been out of the country for several years, they will struggle to deal with all of these issues. That’s also a reason why there are large numbers of Iraqis remaining in Syria, because they know about the hardships back home.

The number of Iraqis living in Syria is unclear. During the mid-2000s there were a reported 1.2 million refugees there, the largest amount of any nation. Today, only 87,741 Iraqis are registered with the U.N. At the same time, the UNHCR has recorded around 50,280 coming back from Syria from January 2011 to May 2012. That was a huge increase from previous years. From 2009-2010 for instance, only 29,135 returned. Obviously not all Iraqis have signed up with the United Nations, others have likely moved on to third countries. At the same time, there has been some controversy over how many Iraqi refugees there were in the first place. Whatever the true figure is, there are still plenty of Iraqis in Syria, and more of them are likely to want out as the rebels and government forces increasingly face off against each other across the country.

Syria has historically been a refuge for Iraqis. First, people wanting to get away from Saddam Hussein went there. Then, more and more Iraqis came as the insurgency turned into a civil war after the United States invasion. Now the situation has changed. Syria is in the midst of a growing civil conflict. As it reaches the major cities it will threaten more and more people, including Iraq’s refugees. Some will try to stick it out, some will go to other countries like Lebanon or Jordan, and some will go back to Iraq. Thousands have already taken the last choice, and are flowing across the border. Now they will have to start a new life back in Iraq, where there is no promise that it will be an easy one.

The following are scenes of Iraqis coming back from Syria in July 2012

(Shafaq News)
(Shafaq News)
(AP)
(AP)
(AP)
(AP)
(AP)
(AP)
(Getty Images)
SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraqis flee Syria in droves, some evacuated by air,” Associated Press, 7/20/12

Agence France Presse, “Iraqi refugees in Syria flee home from the violence,” 7/20/12
- “Iraqis back from Syria face obstacles at all turns,” 7/25/12

Alsumaria News, “Iraqi government going flights between Mosul and Aleppo and Latakia Alsorretan to transport Iraqis,” 7/24/12

Arango, Tim, “Despite Its Turmoil, Syria Still Looks Like an Oasis to Iraqis,” New York Times, 7/28/11

Brusk, Raman, “Iraq closes borders with Syria,” AK News, 7/20/12

IRIN, “IRAQ-SYRIA: Samia, “Why can’t they just take us out of here?” 4/23/12
- “SYRIA: Iraqis use Syrian conflict to settle old scores,” 7/13/12

Msarbat, Anwar, “Baghdad and Anbar register return of 10,000 Iraqis from Syria,” AK News, 7/22/12

National Iraqi News Agency, “Baghdad International Airport receive more than 1 200 Iraqi residing in Syria,” 7/20/12
- “”Iraqis forced to leave Syria”, says Mohammadi,” 5/13/12

Al-Rawi, Sarri, “Iraqi refugees in Syria blame Syrian rebels for their plight,” Azzaman, 7/21/12

Shafaq News, “Dozens of Iraqis returning from Syria to Baghdad detained in search of “Senior Baathists,”” 7/21/12
- “Source: Iraqis in Syria are being targeted under the pretext of supporting the Syrian regime,” 7/22/12
- “Source: More than 500 Iraqi families exposed to killings and kidnappings in Syria,” 7/23/12

UNHCR Iraq Operation, “Monthly Statistical Update on Return – May 2012,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, May 2012


Waleed, Khalid, “Arab Unrest Drives Iraqi Refugee Return,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 5/23/12
- “NIQASH interview with minister of migration: EU treats iraqi deportees ‘inhumanely,” Niqash, 2/9/12

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How The New Chevron Deal Affects Oil Dispute Between Iraq’s Central Government And Kurdistan


The struggle between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over Iraq’s energy policy continues. In July 2012, Chevron announced that it was buying into a joint venture in Irbil. This followed the October 2011 deal between Exxon Mobil and the KRG. These were the first two major oil companies to come to terms with the Kurds, which greatly angered the central government. It has demanded that all contracts must be made with it. There is talk that more large foreign companies might be interested in Kurdistan as well. Recently, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been feeling more assertive, because oil production is taking off in southern Iraq lessoning the need for any Kurdish petroleum. The only way for the KRG to try to gain some leverage in this dispute is to get big companies like Chevron, Exxon, and others to enter its market, so that it can try to even the playing field with Baghdad.
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Chevron’s agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government was announced in July 2012. The company bought out India’s Reliance Industries that had an 80% share in a joint venture with Austria’s OMV AG for the Sarta and Rovi blocks in Irbil. As a result, the Oil Ministry banned Chevron from any future deals with it. Baghdad has always demanded that all energy contracts go through it. Corporations that have disregarded it have faced similar penalties before. In this case however, it’s going to have little affect. Going into Kurdistan Chevron must have known how the central government was going to respond, but was not deterred.

Chevron follows Exxon Mobil as the second major oil company to do business in Kurdistan. In October 2011, Exxon signed a contract with the KRG for six blocks. Baghdad objected to that deal as well. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently sent a letter to President Barak Obama asking him to intervene in the matter. Unfortunately for the central government Exxon is too large of a company to retaliate against. Exxon was already working on the West Qurna 1 field in Basra when it decided to work in Kurdistan as well. The Oil Ministry initially threatened to cancel that contract, but has not done so. If it did it would make an already difficult situation worse. Many companies operating in southern Iraq have complained about the bad business environment, the red tape, the delays in getting equipment and personnel into the country, and the tough terms set by the Iraqi government that severely limit profits. If the Oil Ministry were to move against Exxon in any substantial way it and others could decide to leave, and Iraq desperately needs them to develop its oil industry. At the same time, Maliki’s government is afraid that more energy businesses will head towards Kurdistan now that Exxon and Chevron have.

In June, the KRG’s Natural Resource Minister Ashti Hawrami said that several other major oil companies would shortly be doing business with it. There have been various reports that Italy’s Eni, France’s Total, Norway’s Statoil, and Russia’s Lukoil were all interested in Kurdistan. Total might join the U.S.’s Marathon Oil, while Lukoil could sign a deal with the KRG to work in Western Zagros. All those companies have worked with the Oil Ministry, and Statoil even pulled out of southern Iraq, because it didn’t like the working conditions there. That is one of the major motivations to try Kurdistan instead.

Attracting major oil companies has been part of Kurdistan’s long-term strategy to develop its energy resources. At first, only small and medium sized companies were willing to work in the region. Kurdistan was only open to exploration work initially, and any business that went there would be blacklisted by the Oil Ministry, and be denied access to the much larger southern oil fields under its control. As the difficulties of working there have been exposed, interest in the KRG has increased. In 2011 for instance, Tony Hayward, the former CEO of British Petroleum took charge of the Turkish Genel Enerji, one of the largest investors in Kurdistan’s energy field. The KRG is more open to investment than Baghdad, offers better terms, and the promise of larger profits. The Kurds can only hope to truly achieve their goals of becoming a major oil producer if large firms like Exxon and Chevron come there. Then Kurdistan will have more leverage to pressure the central government to come to terms with it, not objects to its oil deals, and allow it to export.

The dispute over oil in Iraq is heating up. In April 2012, the Kurds stopped exports over a payment dispute with the central government. That has reduced it to smuggling to Iran and Turkey that can’t bring in close to the revenues it was earning before. Baghdad has also reduced its fuel shipments to the KRG in retaliation for its independent energy policy. No compromise is seen on either issue, because Premier Maliki has the upper hand currently. With oil production taking off in southern Iraq there is no real need for Kurdish exports. Before Baghdad would protest any deal signed with the Kurds, blacklist the company, and then ignore the matter. Now, the central government is punishing Kurdistan. One way the latter is trying to regain its position is by drawing in more major energy companies. They are too big for Maliki to take real action against. With almost all of the corporations considering work in Kurdistan already having contracts with the Oil Ministry they might lead the two sides to come to some type of agreement. Exxon and Chevron alone are probably not enough to achieve that goal, but if more companies were to join them, then the KRG might finally have the leverage it needs against the prime minister.  

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “French Total seeks business in Iraqi Kurdistan: chief,” 3/13/12

Ali, Hawar Abdulrzaq, “Chevron Secures Major Deal in Kurdistan, But More is to Come,” Rudaw, 7/19/12

Hadi, Hemn, “Maliki threatens foreign companies investing in Kurdistan region,” AK News, 7/21/12
- “Total in talks to invest in Kurdistan’s oil,” AK News, 5/19/12

International Business Times, “Total Close to Securing Oil-and-Gas Exploration Rights in Iraqi Kurdistan: Report,” 1/29/12

International Crisis Group, “Iraq And The Kurds: The High-Stakes Hydrocarbons Gambit,” 4/19/12

Jacobs, Caroline and Boselli, Muriel, “UPDATE 3-Total latest oil group to shift Iraq focus to Kurdistan,” Reuters, 2/10/12

Lando, Ben, “Chevron announces KRG block buy,” Iraq Oil Report, 7/19/12

Mackey, Peg, “Iraq Kurdistan sees more oil deals with majors soon,” Reuters, 6/19/12

Reed, Stanley, “Chevron Makes Oil Exploration Deal in Iraqi Kurdistan,” New York Times, 7/19/12

Reuters, “Iraq blacklists Chevron for Kurdistan deals,” 7/24/12
- “Iraq warns France against unsanctioned oil deals,” 6/20/12
- “Shahristani says Total cannot sign Kurdistan deals,” 2/12/12

Anti Vice President Hashemi Ad From Iraq

This ad from Iraq uses an image of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of the Iraqi National Movement (INM) to promote silencers for pistols. It talks about how accurate and efficient they are. Hashemi is currently on trial for allegedly running deaths quads using his bodyguards. As a result he fled to Turkey, and is being tried in absentia. This advertisement was obviously run by an opponent of Hashemi and his list the INM.

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Fault Lines: Iraq: After The Americans Part 1

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Iraq Prepares To Host Syrian Refugees

RUSSIA TODAY VIDEO: Iraq Terror Blitz A Chilling Message To Assad From Al Qaeda

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction’s “Hard Lessons” Chapter 12 “Reconstructing Iraqi Security Forces”

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Besides rebuilding Iraq’s economy, infrastructure, and government, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) also focused upon creating new security forces for the country. This was greatly complicated by the fact that CPA head Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi military as soon as he arrived in Iraq, and then lacked the money, personnel, and time to achieve his goals. Infighting, and lack of pre-war planning back in Washington crippled many of the CPA’s ideas as well. The growing insurgency undermined much of the early work at creating new police and military units as they were thrown into the fray before they were ready. In the end, one of the few successes the U.S. had in the reconstruction of Iraq was to create a new Iraqi military and police, but it would take years. In the early period of the occupation, that outcome could hardly have been predicted due to all the setbacks and problems the Americans ran into trying to secure the country.

Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, there was some sound planning for Iraq’s police, but the White House rejected it. Richard Mayer of the Justice Department drew up a report recommending that 5,000 advisers be sent to Iraq to help rebuild the police. The National Security Council (NSC) turned down the plan, because it believed that Iraq would be secure after the invasion with the Iraqi police continuing on with their regular duties, and did not want the U.S. to be responsible for occupying the country. It would also have been an extremely expensive program to carry out, and there was no money available, plus the Americans knew little about the country, and had few Arabic speakers. This represented much of the pre-war thinking in Washington. While some officials had good ideas about Iraq, the leadership in the White House were not interested. They had a best-case view of what the nation would be like after the fall of Saddam Hussein, which would allow the U.S. forces to quickly withdraw. Any programs aimed at rebuilding the Iraqi police were in direct contravention to that idea, which was why the Mayer plan was never accepted.

Another issue with America’s post-war planning for Iraq was that there was always a plethora of groups and plans in the works, with no real coordination between them. In May 2003, after the U.S. invasion, the Justice and State Departments sent a team to Iraq to review Iraq’s police, judiciary, and prisons. This was despite the fact that Justice’s Mayer had already come up with a plan for these. Jerry Burke was a member of the review team, and said that the police needed everything. The team came into the country when much of the looting was over, which did not spare the police. The Interior Ministry and many of the police stations had been ransacked and destroyed with little left in them. The group’s assessment found that the Iraqi police could not bring back law and order, and had to be completely rebuilt. It recommended that 2,500 international police be brought in to help restore order, and an additional 6,660 trainers and advisers be deployed to help rebuild the police. Just like the Mayer plan, the assessment team’s report was rejected by the NSC, because of its costs and the trouble it would require to implement. Sending in a team to Iraq after the government had collapsed, and mass looting had broken out to come up with suggestions that should have been done before the war was irresponsible. Burke believed that the entire exercise was a delaying action, because Washington did not want responsibility for Iraq. U.S. planners believed that American forces would only be in the country for a little while after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, so the White House could claim that it was considering securing Iraq with the review, but would not have to actually do anything about it, because the U.S. would shortly be withdrawing.

When the CPA was created in April, it too cast its ideas for the Iraqi police. Paul Bremer asked Washington for 1,500 police advisers, a far modest proposal from the 5,000-6,900 suggested by the Mayer plan and the assessment team. This idea was rejected as well, this time because of infighting between the Defense and Justice Departments over who would control them. Inter-agency rivalry and lack of coordination had been a feature of American planning on Iraq almost from the get go. This would continue long after the 2003 invasion, and be a major impediment to success.

When the United States finally took action on the Iraqi police it was woefully inadequate. Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who gained fame during 9/11 was chosen to head the rebuilding of the Iraqi police. Kerik knew nothing of Iraq, and only had a measly 12 Justice Department advisers to create a force of 60,000. At the time, security was quickly deteriorating with the emergence of the insurgency, and the CPA wanted to put the police out in the field as quickly as possible as well as reform it as an institution. Kerik put his 12 advisers to work restoring police stations and academies, setting up a training regime, and rebuilding the Interior Ministry. When Kerik left in just over three months, he claimed to have reopened 35 police stations in Baghdad, and brought back 40,000 Iraqi police. His time in Iraq was widely derided however. General Ricardo Sanchez, the American military commander in Iraq thought that Kerik was a waste of time, because he only focused upon Baghdad, and didn’t provide the police with any equipment. Jerry Burke who was one of Kerik’s 12 advisers thought that all he cared about was publicity, because he spent most of his time running around Baghdad out on operations with a string of reporters in tow. In addition, the Army’s V Corps ordered the 18th Military Police Brigade under the command of Colonel Ted Spain to organize and advise the Iraqis in central and part of southern Iraq. They worked alongside Kerik’s team in Baghdad, and tried to get police stations up and running, and officers back on duty. Sending Kerik to Iraq who had no knowledge of the country, international police, or training them was another example of Washington not taking the post-war situation seriously. How Kerik and his small staff were to accomplish anything meaningful was a mystery. Col. Spain believed that the U.S. forces were not interested in restoring the police either, because it was only thinking of the military situation instead of law and order or the justice system. All together, there was little support, and not enough personnel nor money committed at this time when it was direly needed since the Iraqi government had ceased to exist, and there was widespread lawlessness.

The shortcomings of the American effort did not mean that nothing was achieved in the period immediately after the fall of the old regime. In May, Bremer was upset with the small amount of police on duty, and issued an order the following month that any officers who did not report back to their posts would be fired. That led to 38,000 returning to duty. The U.S. military also hired 30,000 more. By June, a few police academies had been rebuilt, and classes started. They had a severe lack of capacity however, which led the U.S. to approach Jordan to train Iraqis. By September 2003, 1,500 police were being sent there a month for classes. There was still a lack of funds to carry out all these tasks, so the CPA increasingly relied upon the Iraqi budget to try to meet the shortfall. In the 2003 budget, only $2.4 million was allotted for the police, going up to $122.4 million the following year. Most of that went to salaries and pensions however, instead of equipment and facilities. That didn’t stop the CPA from coming up with some grand plans for Iraq’s new security forces, something the Authority had been guilty of since the day it was created.

Bremer presided over the creation of several new Iraqi forces. In August 2003, the CPA created the Department of Border Enforcement. It excluded former officers for possible corruption or ties to the Baath Party, provided little funding for training, and deployed them almost immediately to the border even though they were not ready. By June 2004, there were only 255 borders officers who had completed their classes. That led the U.S. army to try to carry out the task, but it was completely unprepared since hardly any of them spoke Arabic, and didn’t know the documents for checking crossings and trade. It would continue doing this job for years however, as the building up of the new force would take a long time. The CPA also created the Facilities Protection Service to look after infrastructure and provincial government buildings. By 2004, there were 80,000-100,000 on duty, but they only received 3 days of training, and lacked heavy equipment. They were open to influence by militias and political parties, which only deteriorated their already poor skill set since many of these infiltrators were not qualified for their new jobs. Bremer had big ideas for Iraq, but lacked the personnel, funding, strategy, and time to follow through with most of them. The Facilities Protection Service and the Border Enforcement were perfect examples, since there was no way adequate forces could be trained, equipped, and put to work in the short lifetime of the CPA. When the Coalition turned over sovereignty to the Iraqis in 2004, it would leave behind two weak forces for the Iraqi government to manage, when it had even more problems than the Americans. Both would suffer from mismanagement for years as a result.

Finally, the CPA tried to rebuild the Iraqi army after Bremer disbanded it. One of the first things he did when he arrived in Iraq was to issue CPA Order Number 2, which closed the Defense Ministry and got rid of the military with no compensation. Eventually, Bremer realized the error of his ways and in August, CPA Order Number 22 called for the creation of a new Army. It would be smaller than the previous one, be under civilian control, be made up of volunteers, and be focused solely upon external defense in the Western tradition. At the time, the CPA did not think the military was as important as the police, because they were needed to restore internal security. The Coalition ended up planning for only three light battalions in two years as a result. Including headquarters units that would only amount to around 40,000 troops. Around the same time, General Paul Eaton was placed in charge of training the army. He found that the U.S. forces and the CPA did not really care about his mission, as shown by the fact that the only instructions he received from the CPA initially was a 24-page PowerPoint slide show from Central Command (CENTCOM), and he only had a staff of six with $173 million to spend. Eaton quickly got to work asking the U.S. division commanders to come up with 45 former Iraqi officers in each of their areas of operations. After some initial problems, the CPA was eventually able to bring back many officers and non-commissioned ones from the Saddam era. Bremer’s decision to get rid of the Iraqi military was considered one of the worst mistakes the U.S. made. There were several U.S. officials and officers who warned him of the consequences of his actions, but he ignored them. Bremer’s national security adviser Walter Slocombe claimed that the Iraqi army had disintegrated during the invasion, and therefore what the CPA did was just officially declare what had happened. The Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which was initially in control of post-war Iraq, was attempting to bring back Iraqi units, when it was replaced by the Coalition. Bremer and Slocombe considered getting rid of the military a political act to wipe the slate clean of the old regime. Instead it would undermine much of what they hoped to accomplish in the country, as many former soldiers would end up joining the insurgency.

As security worsened in Iraq, the U.S. was forced to improvise. First, Donald Rumsfeld changed Bremer’s plan to create a new military from two years to one since Iraqi forces were desperately needed to deal with insurgents. General Eaton ended up asking Jordan for help with training, and it agreed in August 2003. CENTCOM and Gen. Sanchez came up with the idea of an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, which would be a paramilitary force to help the U.S. and Iraqi police. In July, training started for six battalions of the new Corps. Again, the Americans were not coordinating their work as the Corps was not linked with the other Iraqi forces, and was under direct U.S. control rather than the Iraqi ministries. Some like General Eaton worried about this arrangement, but the military was acting in an ad hoc manner to deal with the chaos that was spreading across the country. By April 2004 there were 45 Defense Corps battalions with 36,000 personnel. Faced with the insurgency growing, the U.S. was forced into a series of desperate moves. The initial plans for a small military focused upon external defense were scrapped, and would not become an issue again for several years. The Americans then focused upon pumping out as many soldiers as quickly as possible, which caused further problems, because many of these units were thrown into action before they were ready. Finally, the Defense Corps ended up being scrapped as well, and integrated into the Army showing the short sightedness of many of the ideas being propagated at the time.

When Bremer announced that the CPA would be disbanded in June 2004 and sovereignty returned to Iraqis, the U.S. had to rethink many of their plans for the country’s security forces. In November 2003, the CPA’s Office of Policy Planning told Bremer that Iraq not only needed new police and soldiers, but rule of law, a reformed judiciary, and intelligence agencies. It also warned that the immediate goal of providing security was undermining the long-term aim of creating a Western style security apparatus that would support democracy. It emphasized that the Coalition had to be thinking long-term now that it had a finite time to run Iraq. That was ignored. The CPA also had to speed up their rebuilding of the Defense and Interior Ministries. Defense officials were given three weeks of training in the United States on Western style militaries, but General Eaton felt that was not sufficient to overcome their worldview, which had been shaped by Saddam. The CPA did not trust the Iraqi Governing Council, which it had created either to name a Defense Minister, so one was appointed by the U.S. Interior proved more difficult. The Americans had relied upon former Iraqi officers to fill 1/3 of the Defense Ministry positions. The CPA did not trust any of the old Interior employees, and therefore had to start from scratch. Despite all the grand plans Bremer had for creating a new Iraqi society, he never consulted with Iraqis about what they wanted or considered their traditions. A few weeks of training was not going to change that. When the Iraqis regained control of the government in 2004, political parties took over the ministries and security forces, and placed their followers in charge whether they were competent or not. The Shiite parties for example placed thousands of militiamen into the Interior Ministry and police, using them against their rivals, and increasingly for sectarian attacks upon Sunnis. That would be a leading cause of the civil war later on.   

The White House was completely disconnected from events on the ground at the time. The administration became focused upon the number of Iraqi forces that were on duty as a sign of progress in the country. On week the Pentagon claimed there were 20,000 in the security forces. Then that suddenly jumped to 80,000, then 100,000, and then 120,000. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Bremer, and General Sanchez all believed that the administration was exaggerating the numbers. That didn’t trickle back to the U.S., as President Bush and his officials would continue to talk about the growth of the security forces for the next several years. It did eventually become a debate within the U.S. over how qualified these new forces were, but that had little affect back in Iraq as the focus remained on pumping out as many new soldiers and officers as quickly as possible.

The emphasis upon numbers led to another fateful decision. General John Abizaid the commander of CENTCOM thought that the military should take over training of all the security forces, because the CPA never had enough personnel. Civilian police advisers were opposed to the plan since the U.S. forces outside of the military police knew nothing about police work. Instead, the police would end up being militarized instead of becoming a civilian force. In November, Rumsfeld sent a team to Iraq led by General Karl Eikenbery to review the development of the security forces. He reported in February 2004 that the CPA did not have the staff or planning for the job, and that its program was far behind schedule. Finally, it suggested that the U.S. military take over the training of the army and police. Rumsfeld agreed with these ideas, which led to the creation of the Office of Security Cooperation. General Eaton took over command of the new office in March. Just as the police advisers warned, military training of the police undermined their purpose. Instead of focusing upon law and order and fighting crime, the police ended up confronting the insurgency, a job they were never supposed to take on, and were still unfit to carry out due to lack of equipment.

The plans to create as many Iraqi forces as quickly as possible were also linked to U.S. strategy, which was to withdraw from Iraq. In March 2004, General Sanchez said that as more Iraqis forces came on board, the U.S. would eventually retreat to bases outside the cities, and then begin to pull out. He announced that the number of American troops would go from 130,000 to 115,000 that year, and the number of forward operating bases would be reduced from 60 to eight by May. All those plans were scrapped when the insurgency and Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army rose up in the spring. Fighting broke across the country, and the Iraqi forces were not prepared. The police fell apart in Fallujah, Najaf, Karbala, and Kut. In one week in April, 3,000 police quit. In less then two weeks in that same month, 12,000 deserted from the Iraq Civil Defense Corps. Soldiers also fled, and some even helped the militants. This series of events torpedoed the U.S. security and withdrawal plans. All the talk of thousands of Iraqis being on duty went out the window, as they lacked the training, equipment, and wherewithal to deal with the insurgents, and militias were taking over units increasing the conflict. The result was that the U.S. doubled down on building up the security forces as quickly as possible only increasing the problems they already had.

In July 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority said that it was going to create a safe and secure Iraq. Without that it stated the rest of its goals could not be accomplished. The CPA never achieved that. The Iraqi police were not being adequately trained or equipped, and then thrown into the field with the expectation that they could stand up to the insurgency and militias, jobs which no police force is capable of doing. Many of the same issues were facing the Iraqi military. The Spring 2004 uprising showed that the security forces were not ready, and were pushed out too quickly. The U.S. simply lacked a workable strategy for Iraq. The Special Inspector General would eventually say that the rebuilding of the Iraqi forces was one of the few success stories in the country. That would take years however, because of the poor planning shown by the administration before and immediately after the invasion. The U.S. did not want to deal with post-war Iraq, and when it was thrust into that job it was constantly reacting to situations in an ad hoc manner, which cost it dearly. The Iraqis suffered even more as their country descended into chaos and then a civil war in part due to the string of bad decisions made from 2003-2004 by the Americans.

SOURCES

Elliott, Michael, “Occupation Hazards,” Time, 6/9/03

Gordon, Michael, “’Catastrophic Success’ Debate Lingering on Decision to Dissolve the Iraqi Military,” New York Times, 10/21/04
- “For Training Iraq’s Police, the Main Problem Was Time,” New York Times, 10/21/04

Maas, Peter, “The Way of the Commandos,” New York Times Magazine, 5/1/05
Kerik knew nothing of Iraq and only ended up staying 3 ½ months before returning to Iraq

PBS Frontline, “Interview Robert Perito,” Truth, War and Consequences, 10/9/03
- “Interview Walter Slocombe,” Rumsfeld’s War, 10/26/04

Ricks, Thomas, Fiasco, New York: Penguin Press, 2006

Spain, Ret. Col. Ted, “How The U.S. Struggled To Establish Law And Order In Post-Invasion Iraq, An Interview With Retired Colonel Ted Spain,” Musings On Iraq, 12/22/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09
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VIDEO: Al-Muthanna Province In Iraq

Monday, July 23, 2012

Iraq’s Government Increases Pressure Upon Kurdistan For Its Oil Policy By Threatening To Cut Its Share Of The Budget


The dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over their independent energy policies continues to escalate. In April 2012, the Kurds ended their oil exports over a payment dispute with the central government. Immediately, officials condemned the move, and claimed that it was threatening Iraq’s revenues. That led to a number of statements by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his deputy Hussein Shahristani that they would deduct the amount of money they claimed the KRG owed from its share of the national budget. This was a major threat since almost all of Kurdistan’s funds come from Baghdad.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made the Kurds’ oil policy the topic of discussion at a recent cabinet meeting in July 2012. According to Trade Minister Khayrulla Hassan Babakir Mohammed of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the premier arrived at the meeting and proclaimed that Kurdish oil smuggling would be at the top of the agenda without informing anyone before hand. He allegedly brought files on the Kurds’ energy deals with him. Oil Minister Abdul Karim Luaibi said that petroleum had to be controlled by the central government, and claimed that Kurdistan was smuggling oil to Iran and Turkey. Maliki stated that the KRG had earned $8 billion from this illegal activity, which was not sent to the government’s coffers. He demanded that money be deducted from the Kurds’ share of the national budget. The Kurdish ministers and Deputy Premier Rowsch Nouri Shaways of the KDP along with Finance Minister Rafi Issawi of the Iraqi National Movement all objected. The Kurds claimed that trucking oil to Turkey was legal, and blamed the lack of an oil law as the real problem in Iraq. Maliki ignored those complaints, and called for two auditing committees to be formed to go through the KRG’s Natural Resource Ministry’s finances. Despite the Kurds no votes, the proposal was passed by the parliament. This was mostly for show since Maliki and his allies have been talking about reducing the Kurds’ budget since April. The fact that it came up in a cabinet meeting however, gave the threat more weight. Before, the subject was only brought up in conversations with the press. Now the prime minister was requesting official action on the matter with the investigating committees. That doesn’t mean it will actually happen, but it raises the pressure on the Kurds, which was the premier’s goals.
Deputy Premier Shahristani first brought up cutting the Kurds' portion of the budget for its oil smuggling and failure to meet its export quota (AK News)
The origins of this latest argument started when the Kurds stopped exporting oil. On April 1, the KRG announced that it would no longer be shipping its petroleum abroad due to a payment dispute with Baghdad. It claimed that it was owed $1.5 billion. Finance Minister Issawi responded that his ministry was in the process of distributing $558 million to them, but the Kurds said that it was too late. The next day, Deputy Premier Hussein Shahristani who is in charge of energy policy held a press conference where he accused the KRG of smuggling oil to Iran and Turkey. He stated this Kurdistan had earned $3.5 billion from these illegal activities in 2011. He went on to say that this would lead to a deficit, because not only was it not turning over its petroleum revenues, but was not meeting its 175,000 barrel a day export quota set for it in the 2012 budget. Even before the Kurds ended their exports, it was not meeting this amount. Shahristani told the press that in total the KRG owed Baghdad $5.6 billion, and that should be deducted from their share of the budget. This was the first time that this idea was brought up publicly. In July, Shahristani officially requested that the Finance Ministry cut $5 billion from Kurdistan’s budget, but they refused, and sent the issue to the cabinet for review. The deputy premier has been the staunches topponent of the Kurds’ independent oil policy. He has consistently claimed that all of the KRG’s oil deals are illegal, that the central government should control all the nation’s natural resources, and that it is the only body with the authority to export as well. It was no surprise then that he was the first to make a comment about punishing Kurdistan financially for ending its exports, and smuggling. The KRG has been sending oil to neighboring countries since the 1990s, but Baghdad has said little about it unless the press brought it up. Maliki’s government is feeling like it has the upper hand over energy policy now, because production is taking off in southern Iraq. That has given it the confidence to mention things like smuggling, which it would not have done otherwise, because it felt like it needed Kurdish oil to raise more money. That’s not true anymore, which led to Shahristani’s press conference.

The deputy premier’s remarks had added weight when the Kurds officially announced that it would start trucking oil to Turkey in return for fuel in July. When the KRG mentioned that it wanted to build two independent pipelines to Turkey, the central government responded by cutting petrol shipments to Kurdistan. The Kurds started talking about shipping oil to Turkey in May as a result to make up for this loss, which gained Ankara’s official approval in July. Turkey’s Energy Minister said it would take petroleum trucked in as border trade, but would not agree to the use of any Iraqi pipelines by the Kurds without Baghdad’s approval. This of course enraged Maliki, Shahristani, and company even more. They had just accused the Kurds of smuggling oil, and now they were officially stating that they were doing it. Not only that, but Turkey agreed, and even said that it was hoping that the trade would increase. That was probably a driving force for the prime minister to bring up financially punishing Kurdistan in his July cabinet session.

There’s no telling whether the threat to reduce the Kurds’ budget is real or not yet. Prime Minister Maliki is definitely upping the ante by going from statements to the press to officially asking the cabinet to look into the matter. This is just the latest test of wills between the central and regional governments. Maliki is felling more emboldened since southern oil production is taking off. That leads him to believe that the Kurds are no longer necessary to develop the industry or to earn money. In turn, the pressure is building upon the KRG. While its share of the national budget is 17% after some expenses are deducted, that money makes up 95% of the KRG budget. That makes it largely dependent upon the central government, and specifically the southern oil fields, which provides 90% of the country’s revenue if not more. Kurdistan, just like the rest of Iraq has a state-run economy, so any reduction in funds would have wide ranging affects upon society from wages to pensions to paying companies for their work. The Kurds cannot afford to let this happen, but has little leverage in the situation. A best-case scenario would be that this confrontation would lead to some sort of compromise between the two sides. Unfortunately, neither is willing to back down, so it’s likely that more conflict is on the horizon.

SOURCES

Abdul Razaq, Hawar and Ahmed, Hevidar, “Oil Expert: Baghdad Usurps Oil of Disputed Territories,” Rudaw, 4/9/12

AK News, “Ashti Hawrami: we plan to sell natural gas directly to Turkey,” 7/3/12
- “Govt. to employ 17,000 people in 2012,” 6/23/12

Aswat al-Iraq, “smuggling oil from Kurdistan waste of national wealth,” 4/17/12

Brosk, Raman, “Any attempt to deduct Kurdistan’s budget is “collective” punishment, says Kurdish Blocs Coalition,” AK News, 5/3/12
- “Shahrestani should focus on paying dues not making threats,” AK News, 4/3/12

Daoud, Hussein Ali, “Iraqi Federal Government Plans To Lower Kurdish Oil Payouts,” Al-Hayat, 7/4/12

Hadi, Hemn, “Kurdistan starts trucking exports of oil to Turkey,” AK News, 7/7/12

Hafidh, Hassan, “Iraq Says Kurdish Oil Exports to Turkey Are Illegal,” Wall Street Journal, 7/9/12

International Crisis Group, “Iraq And The Kurds: The High-Stakes Hydrocarbons Gambit,” 4/19/12

Jamal, Sangar, “Iraqi kurdish state budget passes – eight months late, against strong opposition,” Niqash, 7/12/12

Natali, Denise, “Baghdad and Erbil Clash Over Oil,” Al Monitor, 6/5/12

National Iraqi News Agency, “Ankara refuses Iraq’s request to stop importing oil from Kurdistan,” 7/17/12
- “Nechirvan Barzani, Erdogan discuss exporting, refining oil, opening two border outlets,” 6/6/12

Reuters, “UPDATE 1-Turkey importing crude from N.Iraq in road tankers,” 7/13/12

Rudaw, “Maliki Angers Kurdish Leaders by Accusing Them of “Smuggling Oil,”” 7/17/12

Sayfadin, Dilshad, “Two committees formed for solving Iraq and Kurdistan Region’s oil disputes,” AK News, 7/16/12

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 36,” 4/18/12

Van Heuvelen, Ben, “KRG claims right to independent crude exports,” Iraq Oil Report, 5/10/12

Al-Wannan, Jaafar, “Deputy PM: Kurdistan didn’t fulfill its oil export obligations,” AK News, 4/2/12
- “Finalizing oil bill will resolve Erbil-Baghdad tension,” AK News, 4/3/12

Yeranian, Edward, “Iraq’s Kurdistan Region Halts Oil Exports to Baghdad,” Voice of America, 4/2/12