Monday, June 30, 2008

Iraq’s Judiciary Under Attack

The last few days has seen a wave of attacks on Iraq’s judiciary. On June 27 Senior Judge Kamil al-Showaili was assassinated while driving in eastern Baghdad. Today, June 30, five bombs went off targeting judges. The houses of Judge Sulaiman Abdullah, Judge Ali al-Alaq, Judge Ghanim Janab, Judge Alaa al-Timimi, and Judge Hassan Fouad were all damaged with people wounded, but no one killed. All of them work for Baghdad’s two appeals courts. A spokesman for the High Judicial Council said the obvious when he noted that the attacks must have been coordinated. He went on to say that the Council was building secure housing for the judges to protect them. According to the government 21 judges have been killed from 2004 to 2006.

Iraq’s judicial system has struggled since Americans rebuilt it after the 2003 invasion. Iraq’s courts have been overwhelmed with cases, especially since the Surge that caused a dramatic increase in the number of arrests. Many cases are never investigated, and police often hold prisoners for months, sometimes years without charging them. To add to the problem, the majority of prisoners are Sunnis, while the system is run by Shiites. The courts have also suffered threats, assassinations, a lack of security, and complaints of government neglect.


Leinwand, Donna, “Wheels of justice slowly returning to Iraqi court,” USA Today, 2/26/08

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

UN Assistance Mission For Iraq, “Human Rights Report 1 April – 30 June 2007,” U.N., 10/12/07

Voices of Iraq, “2 Iraqi judges wounded in eastern Baghdad,” 6/30/08

Xinhua, “Bomb attacks target Iraqi judges in Baghdad,” 6/30/08

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

Sunday, June 29, 2008

DeBaathification and Elections Update

The Voices of Iraq reported on June 28, 2008 that Iraq’s parliament had passed an amendment to the new de-Baathification law, the Accountability and Justice act. The amendment would stop former security officers from being fired and allow those that had quit before the U.S. invasion, the opportunity to get new jobs in the government.
What would happen to Baathists in the security forces and related ministries was a major question with the original version of the Accountability and Justice law. The act said that Baathists were banned from the Interior, Defense, and Justice ministries. That could mean up to 7,000 employees at the Interior Ministry as well as many in the Army losing their jobs. The fact that former soldiers might now be eligible for jobs could mean that Sons of Iraq fighters, many of which are ex-army, could also get work with the government. This would be a positive step for the de-Baathification process because getting Sunnis’ back into the government is one way to rebuild trust and overcome divisions in the country. Of course, the original law hasn’t even been implemented yet.

England’s Guardian reported that Iraq might change its voting system. During the last elections in 2005 Iraq used a closed list system where voters only got to pick from parties, not politicians. When the new elections happen the government may allow people to choose candidates. An open list would make for a more democratic system in Iraq. It would allow people to vote on individuals instead of groups, and make politicians answerable to the public. The problem is the ruling parties are opposed to such elections, and are doing everything they can to delay them. Because they are the most organized and powerful group in parliament and control the majority of provincial governments they are trying to shape the election laws so that they can hold onto power.

The Guardian also said that elections in the disputed city of Kirkuk might be delayed. Currently Kurds, Arabs and Turkoman all lay claim to the city, and they can’t agree on how to register voters. The Kurds control the city and provincial government, and are expected to hold up the elections until they get a system that will benefit them. In fact, in May it was reported that the Kurds were attempting to hold up the entire election process by delaying the passage of the election law until Kirkuk was resolved. The Kurds are also opposed to the elections because they fear that they will lose power in several northern provinces where Arabs are the majority.

According to the head of the electoral commission, the country’s elections, which were suppose to be held in October 2008, are expected to be delayed until December already. Parliament has missed three deadlines on passing a new election law so far.


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

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

Government Accountability Office, “Security, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq Progress Report: Some Gains Made, Updated Strategy Needed,” June 2008

Gulf News, “Parliament walkout freezes bill on Iraqi local elections,” 2/8/08

International Center for Transitional Justice, “Briefing Paper: Iraq’s New ‘Accountability and Justice’ Law,” 1/22/08

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

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

Voices of Iraq, “Debaathification law not applicable to security agencies – MP,” 6/28/08

Saturday, June 28, 2008

New DeBaathification Law

In January 2008 Iraq’s parliament voted on a new de-Baathification act called the Accountability and Justice Law. On February 2 the law passed through the Presidential Council and became law. This was the first major legislative benchmark that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government had passed since it came into power in 2006. The law was held up as a sign that Baghdad was finally taking advantage of the political space created by the surge and moving towards reconciliation. The legislation has not been enacted however. The original de-Baathification order was a major source of sectarian division in Iraq, and the failure of the new law to go into effect shows that Maliki’s government still has a long way to go to heal those wounds.

History of the DeBaathificiation Process

The first major order that Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority issued when it came into existence in 2003 was CPA Order 1 “The De-Baathification of Iraqi Society” that banned the top three levels of the Baath party from work within post-Saddam Iraq. The idea was that the old order needed to be swept away as the U.S. did in Germany after World War II with the Nazis. The law however, was never applied evenly or fairly, and had an effect far past the top three echelons of Baathists. Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress was put in charge of the de-Baathification committee and used it against not only Baathists, but his political opponents as well. While high ranking former Baathists like Iyad Allawi was able to become the interim prime minister despite the law, up to 150,000 other members of the party lost their jobs in 2003. This became a major cause of the insurgency, made the Sunnis feel that they were being persecuted, and robbed the new Iraqi government and armed forces of officers and professionals. By 2004 the U.S. was attempting to bring back those people to help end the insurgency. As a result, around 102,000 former Baathists found jobs in the government, including 45,000 former soldiers who either got pensions or returned to the security forces.

Ever since Prime Minister Maliki formed his government in 2006 he had promised and been pressured into passing a new de-Baathification law as a sign of reconciliation with the Sunnis. After five such pledges, a new law was finally introduced in March 2007, and sent to parliament in November. After lawmakers shouted it down, it was revised, amended, and finally voted on January 12, 2008. Some of the Sunni, secular, and independent parties boycotted the event, but the largest Sunni bloc voted in favor of it. As a result, only 143 of 275 politicians were present, and only 90 voted yes, showing the great divide over the law. It was then sent to the Presidential Council where Sunni Vice President Tariq Hashemi opposed the bill, and said that he wanted to amend it. That never happened, and after a set time limit, it became law in the beginning of February.

The Political Maneuvers Behind Passage of the New Law

The main reason why the new law was finally passed after over a year of delay was the changing political coalitions in parliament between supporters and opponents of Maliki. In 2007 Maliki’s government fell apart. Sunni and Shiite cabinet ministers boycotted his government. Lawmakers also routinely failed to show up to parliament leading to no political movement on anything of consequence. Maliki was forced to align himself with the Kurds and Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) to stay in power. When Maliki failed to come through with promises to the Kurds, they turned to the Sunnis to threaten Maliki. At the same time, a number of different political parties including the Sadrists, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List, and the Sunni National Dialgoue List attempted to overthrow Maliki. The prime minister’s only strong backer was the SIIC who had been calling on the boycotting Sunnis to return to the cabinet. It was within this context that the Accountability and Justice Law was passed, to try to appease the Sunnis and have them back Maliki’s faltering government.

Possible Effects of the New Law – But When Will They Happen?

The possible effects of the new law are hotly debated. Like the old law, the new one will ban the top 3 levels of the Baath party from jobs within the government. This time however, they will have the opportunity to apply for pensions with a new de-Baathification committee. Those denied could also appeal their cases, something that wasn’t allowed under the original law. It’s estimated that 3,500 former Baathists will be ineligible for jobs, but are now open to pensions, while 12,000-30,000 could apply for either. A sticking point in the new legislation is the fact that it says Baathists are banned from jobs in the Interior, Defense, Justice, Finance and Foreign Affairs ministries, the most powerful in the country. Some Iraqi politicians claim that up to 7,000 employees of the Interior Ministry as well as soldiers could lose their jobs as a result. It could also ban many of the Sunni Sons of Iraq groups from joining the Iraqi security forces because of their backgrounds. Many Sunnis interviewed by American and Iraqi newspapers also said they were afraid of the Shiite run government. Many Baathists fled the country after 2003, while others are living in hiding, fearing retribution by Shiites or Kurds. Critics also say that it continues on with the de-Baathification policy, which outlaws Baathists, rather than individuals, just under a new name. What it will actually do is yet to be seen as the de-Baathification committee hasn’t been appointed yet despite having four months to fill the positions. Accountability and Justice is then just a law in name only.


In order for the Accountability and Justice law to be a step towards reconciliation it needs to be enacted, and then allow enough Sunnis to be employed to overcome their deep distrust. The problem is that one of the greatest fears of many Shiites is the return of the Baathists to power, while many Sunnis fear domination by the Shiites. The actual implementation of the law will be what matters, whether it will be sued fairly and evenly, or be abused like the former act was. The Maliki government does not have a good record when it comes to overcoming sectarianism, which is not a good starting point for the law.


Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraq Parliament Back: Weighs No Key Laws,” Associated Press, 9/4/07
- “New Law Allows Baathists to Reclaim Jobs,” Associated Press, 2/3/08

Alsumaria, “Hashemi lashes Accountability & Justice Bill,” 2/1/08
- “Iraq tribes request role in decision making,” Alsumaria, 1/18/08
- “Iraq VP decries Justice & Accountability law,” 1/22/08

Ardolino, Bill, “Inside Iraqi politics – Part 5. A look at legislative progress: Sunnis’ and states’ rights,” Long War, 2/28/08

Associated Press, “Former Baathists don’t trust job plan,” 1/14/08

BBC News, “Agencies see good year for Iraq,” 1/17/08

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

Cole, Juan, “The war against Iraq’s prime minister,”, 8/29/07

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

Government Accountability Office, “Security, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq Progress Report: Some Gains Made, Updated Strategy Needed,” June 2008

Hurst, Steven, “Shiite Leaders Urges Outreach to Sunnis,” Associated Press, 1/11/08

Ibrahim, Waleed, “Main Iraq Sunni Arab bloc says ready to return to government,” Reuters, 1/14/07

International Center for Transitional Justice, “Briefing Paper: Iraq’s New ‘Accountability and Justice’ Law,” 1/22/08

International Crisis Group, “Iraq After The Surge II: The Need for a New Political Strategy,” 4/30/08

Karim, Ammar, “Iraq Shiite and Sunni MPs sign new ‘unity’ pact,” Agence France Presse, 1/13/08

Karouny, Mariam, “Row mars Iraq parliament hearing on Baathists bill,” Reuters, 11/25/07

Lannen, Steve and Fadel, Leila, “Iraqi de-Baathification law may force some key officials out,” McClatchy Newspapers, 2/3/08

Mardini, Ramzy, “Implications of the New Kurdish-Sunni Alliance for Security in Iraq’s Ninawa Governorate,” Jamestown Foundation, 1/14/08

Moore, Solomon, “Ex-Baathists Get a Break. Or Do They?” New York Times, 1/14/08

Moubayed, Sami, “Iraq’s Sunnis reclaim lost ground,” Asia Times, 1/15/08

Oppel, Richard and Myers, Steven Lee, “Iraq Eases Curb for Former Officials of Hussein’s Party,” New York Times, 1/13/08

Paley, Amit, and Partlow, Joshua, “Iraq’s New Law on Ex-Baathists Could Bring Another Purge,” Washington Post, 1/23/08

Parker, Ned, “Former Hussein supporters live in fear in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 2/3/08
- “Hard-line Iraqi clerics group shut down,” Los Angeles Times, 11/15/07
- “Iraq votes to lift ban on ex-Baathists,” Los Angeles Times, 1/13/08

Partlow, Joshua and Abramowitz, Michael, “Iraq Passes Bill on Baathists,” Washington Post, 1/13/08

Senanayake, Sumedha, “Iraq: Will Passage Of New Law Appease Sunnis?” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1/15/08

Voices of Iraq, “VP intends to hinder approving accountability bill – MP,” 1/23/08

Walker, David, “Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq Iraqi Government Has Not Met Most Legislative, Security, and Economic Benchmarks. Testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate,” Government Accountability Office, 9/4/07

White House, “Benchmark Assessment Report,” 9/14/07

NOTE: There are too many dead links to the sources for this article for me to post them.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Delayed Iraqi Elections?

Today National Public Radio’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported that the head of Iraq’s Election Commission believes that provincial elections, which were scheduled for October 2008, might be delayed until December. The Executive Director said that Iraq has no electoral calendar to follow that would set deadlines for preparing the elections. Most importantly the parliament needs to pass a new election law to regulate the voting. So far the Electoral Commission has registered 500 parties and individuals for the election. Voting registration is supposed to begin in July. Some other outstanding issues are how to deal with voting in Kirkuk, which the Kurds wish to annex, how refugees and the displaced are to vote, how their votes are to be counted, and the role of women candidates.

If the elections are delayed it will not be the first time. Prime Minister Maliki has been talking about elections since 2006. When President Bush announced the surge in January 2007 he said that there would be provincial elections by the end of 2007. The main reason why the elections have been held up is because Maliki’s two main backers, the Kurds and Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) are opposed. The Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front is also against the idea. They all fear that they will lose power if new elections are held. In February 2008 when the provincial law was finally voted on in Iraq’s parliament it squeaked through 83-82. After the law was passed the United Nations announced that the voting would be held on October 1.

The upcoming elections are probably the most important event in Iraq’s immediate future. The elections could begin the political realignment of the country. Maliki’s Dawa Party, the SIIC, and the Iraqi Accordance Front are widely unpopular. The Kurds rule Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces that have Arab majorities, because the Sunnis boycotted the first provincial elections in 2005. A member of the Accordance Front, the Iraqi Islamic Party runs Anbar province because it was the only Sunni party that decided to participate in the 2005 voting. When new elections take place it’s believed that the Kurds could lose control of those three provinces to the Sunnis, and the Islamic Party will lose Anbar to the tribal Awakening movement. The elections could also give power to the Sadrists, and new parties such as the Sunni Sons of Iraq, tribes, and independents. Delaying elections, will only increase Iraq’s political problems.


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

Agence France Presse, “Iraq provincial elections on October 1: UN,” 2/14/08

Alsumaria, “Provincial elections take upper hand in Iraq,” 5/20/08

Ardolino, Bill, “Inside Iraqi politics – Part 3. Examining the legislative branch,” Long War, 2/13/08

Bowman, Tom, “A Year Later, Surge’s Impact Seen in Some Areas,” Morning Edition – NPR, 1/7/08

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

Gulf News, “Parliament walkout freezes bill on Iraqi local elections,” 2/8/08

International Crisis Group, “Iraq After The Surge II: The Need for a New Political Strategy,” 4/30/08
- “Shiite Politics In Iraq: The Role Of The Supreme Council,” 11/15/07

Said, Yahia Khairi, “Political Dynamics in Iraq within the Context of the ‘Surge,’” Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 4/2/08

Visser, Reidar, “The Law on the Powers of Governorates Not Organised in a Region: Washington’s ‘Moderate’ Allies Show Some Not-So-Moderate Tendencies,”, 2/11/08

Voices of Iraq, “Electoral Commission demands Parliament finalize elections law,” 4/24/08

Walker, David, “Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq Iraqi Government Has Not Met Most Legislative, Security, and Economic Benchmarks. Testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate,” Government Accountability Office, 9/4/07

Is Iraq Going To End Up Like Eastern Europe?

At the beginning of April 2008 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held two days of hearings on the future of Iraq. One guest was Yahia Khairi Said from the Center for the Study of Global Governance and Revenue Watch. One of the interesting arguments he made was that Iraq could turn out like Eastern Europe.

According to Said, after the Iron Curtain fell in Eastern Europe a series of reformers took power. They tried to push for change, too fast in many cases, but didn’t prove to be good at actually running a government. Many ended up losing power to former elites and bureaucrats. In Russia for example, the reformer Boris Yeltsin gave way to former KGB officer Vladimir Putin, as many Russians chose security and autocracy over the instability and uncertainty of democracy. Putin brought back elements of the Communist regime, sans the Communist Party.

Said postulated that Iraq could turn out the same way. After the U.S. invasion, the American run Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) attempted widespread reforms of Iraqi society that were greatly resented such as de-Baathification, disbanding the army, closing state-run industries, etc. The CPA gave way to an Iraqi government run largely by exiles. None of them have proven competent at running a government. Prime Minister Maliki’s rule suffers from a lack of qualified personnel, corruption, sectarianism, and an inability to provide basic services. Said argued that these exiles might lose power eventually over the next series of elections to former Iraqi officials that the public believes can bring stability, as happened in Eastern Europe. As examples, he points to the military that hasn’t matured yet, but could play a role in politics in the future, and the midlevel bureaucrats that are trying to make the government work.

Alternatively, Said put forward two other possible scenarios for Iraq besides the return of the old order. Those consisted of continued rule of the exile parties and a disintegration into warlordism. In the first, the Dawa, Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and Kurds would maintain their ruling coalition without popular support, shut out opposition, decentralize the country through federalism, and require a large U.S. military presence to protect them. In the second, the U.S. would withdraw and Iraq would fall apart into fiefdoms ruled by local warlords with no real central government power.

Finally, Said said that the U.S. should try to limit the rise of authoritarianism if Iraq were to go the way of Eastern Europe. His four points to achieve this were a 1) U.N. Resolution to solve the dispute over Kirkuk that would relieve tensions in northern Iraq, 2) A new oil law that shares revenues to try to build back Iraqi unity, 3) Free and fair elections that will allow new forces such as the Sunni Sons of Iraq a voice in Iraq, and challenge the rule of the exile elites that currently run the government, and finally 4) Get more countries and the U.N. involved in Iraq because the U.S. supports the ruling parties.

Said’s ideas are very original and depart from the major analogies that are usually made about Iraq. The Administration and war supporters have often used post-World War II Germany and Japan, and increasingly South Korea, as their models. There the U.S. fought wars, helped build the countries up into healthy democracies, and maintained a long-term troop presence. The Japan and German models ignore the fact that they had a history of democracy before the U.S. occupations and were also industrial nations with in tact bureaucracy and businesses to build upon after the war. South Korea went through years of autocratic rule supported by the U.S. before it became a democracy. That actually follows Said’s model, more than the one argued by the White House. None of the three had large scale fighting and insurgencies like Iraq either. Opponents of the war have said that Iraq could turn out like Yugoslavia or Vietnam. In Vietnam the U.S. sent troops under a questionable incident, the Gulf of Tonkin, and ended up being defeated by an insurgency and North Vietnam. Yugoslavia broke apart into separate countries due to sectarian and ethnic fighting. Like the supporters’ analogies, neither of these seems to fit Iraq. The Sunni insurgency was fought by a minority group that lost power after the invasion, and the majority has flipped sides to now work with the U.S. Islamism has failed to be as strong a motivator as communism proved in Vietnam. The Sunnis never got the kind of support the Viet Cong got from North Vietnam, Russia and China as well. The sectarian fighting in Iraq never got as bad as to threaten the break up of the country, as happened in Yugoslavia. Public opinion polls of Iraqis consistently show that they overwhelmingly object to the idea as well.


ABC, BBC, ARD, and NHK, “Iraq Poll March 2008,” 3/14/08

Said, Yahia, “Political Dynamics In Iraq within the Context of the ‘Surge,’” Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 4/2/08
- “Stability in Iraq, Putin Style,” Huffington Post, 4/7/08

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Troop Levels After The Surge

Source: New York Times
By July 2008 the surge will have ended. At its peak, there were 162,000 troops in Iraq in August 2007 after 30,000 additional ones in five brigades were sent in. Beginning in November 2007 the first unit began returning home. When the surge is over there will still be 142,000 American troops in Iraq. That’s 7,000 more than before. This is not the end of the influx of U.S. soldiers and Marines however. An additional 39,000 will be sent in October 2008. They will serve a twelve-month tour and leave in 2009. Troop levels have been a hotly contested issue within the military.
Since mid-2007 the top American commanders have debated how many soldiers and Marines to keep in Iraq after the surge. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace, Army Chief of Staff General George Casey, and former CENTCOM commander Admiral William Fallon argued that joint deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan were straining the military, and that after the surge only 100,000 soldiers should be left in Iraq. General David Petraeus, commander in Iraq and soon to be CENTCOM commander, and his second in command General Ray Odierno, soon to become overall commander in Iraq, wanted to keep as many soldiers in Iraq as possible to maintain the security gains. President Bush threw his support behind his Iraqi commanders, and overrode the concerns of those at the Pentagon.

Large numbers of American troops in Iraq until at least the end of the Bush administration might not be a bad thing. In October 2008 Iraq is planning on carrying out provincial elections. Various groups may try to disrupt them, and the U.S. can help secure voting places. Another reason why the U.S. presence is needed is that the Sunni Sons of Iraq that are attributed for improving security have cut deals with the Americans, not the Iraqi government. Soldiers and Marines are needed to monitor these groups. Third, despite Iraqi offensives in Basra, Sadr City, Mosul and Maysan province, the Iraqi security forces are not capable of standing alone for a few more years without U.S. support. What happens with U.S. troop levels in the long term will be up to whoever becomes president of the United States on January 2009.


Baldor, Lolita, “Army too stretched if Iraq buildup lasts,” Associated Press, 8/19/07
- “The U.S. And Iraq,” Associated Presss, 6/24/08

Baker, Peter, DeYoung, Karen, Ricks, Thomas, Tyson, Ann Scott, Warrick, Joby, and Wright, Robin, “Among Top Officials, ‘Surge’ Has Sparked Dissent, Infighting,” Washington Post, 9/9/07

Barnes, Julian, and Spiegel, Peter, “Top general to urge Iraq troop cut,” Los Angeles Times, 8/24/07

Burns, Robert, “What happens after ‘surge’ over is key,” Associated Press, 9/7/07

Oppel, Richard and Myers, Steven Lee, “Iraq Eases Curb for Former Officials of Hussein’s Party,” New York Times, 1/13/08

Reno, Jamie, “Troop Cuts: Which Unit Leaves First?” Newsweek, 9/14/07

Roberts, Kristin, “New Iraq deployments could maintain U.S. force level,” Reuters, 5/19/08

Spiegel, Peter and Barnes, Julian, “Top U.S. military brass in Iraq resist quick drawdown,” Los Angles Times, 12/6/07

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Diyala Province Backgrounder

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has announced that Diyala province, northwest of Baghdad, will be the focus of the next government offensive. Diyala is one of the country’s most divided areas with steep sectarian divisions, internal Shiite and Sunni rivalries, one of the few provinces where Al Qaeda in Iraq is still strong, a problematic Sons of Iraq program, Kurdish designs on the northern regions, and a struggling government. All of Iraq’s deep-seated problems are evident in Diyala, and will be a true test for the government.

A Troubled Province …

Recent events in the province show just how volatile Diyala can be. At the beginning of May 2008, 300 Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters had a march with 50 pick up trucks through the village of al-Asiwa. In mid-April an insurgent car bomb went off in the provincial capitol of Baquba killing 50. At the beginning of that month, a parliamentarian from the secular Iraqi National List said that Kurdish Peshmerga fighters should withdraw from Diyala or be labeled militias by the government and be disarmed. From March to April U.S. forces raided police offices that were suspected of kidnapping Sunnis. In March when the government launched its offensive against the Mahdi Army in Basra, Sadrists attacked U.S. forces in Diyala in retaliation, which brought on Iraqi Army raids on Sadr’s offices in Baquba. Also in March, a mass grave of 52 bodies was found in the Diyala River Valley. Al Qaeda in Iraq had tried to impose its strict form of Islam upon the area and killed those that didn’t follow their rules. In February, the U.S. killed 3 Sons of Iraq (SOI) fighters, which caused 1000 of them to go on strike. That same month there was a protest against the Shiite provincial police chief, whom Sunnis accused of kidnapping and torture. In January, the New York Times reported that in the last six months 200 SOIs had been killed and 500 wounded in an upturn in attacks on U.S. organized volunteer fighters in the province.

Ruled By Shiites …

Diyala is a mixed province of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. There are many tribes in the area that are both Sunni and Shiite. After the U.S. invasion, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) sent in its Badr Brigade militia to seize Diyala. They occupied government offices for 3 weeks and fought Baathists and Sunni tribes in the process. By late April 2003 U.S. marines moved in and disarmed the SIIC fighters, although they still held political sway. After the local elections in 2005 the SIIC and Dawa were able to take over the provincial council, with an SIIC governor.

The Shiite run government has not done well since gaining power. During the surge an extra American Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) was sent to Diyala with limited effect. The head of the PRT told the New York Times in September 2007 that the provincial government would promise anything to the Americans, but not delivery unless forced to. The constant violence in the province also made reconstruction difficult.

With Sectarian Tensions …

The Shiites also control the provincial police, which they have used against the Sunni population. During the sectarian war period, Badr controlled police carried out sectarian killings of Sunnis. By the fall of 2007 however, the rival Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr took over, with the same results. In August 2007 for example, the U.S. commander for Diyala complained that Iraqi security forces were targeting Sunnis and holding them for up to ten months with no trials. A U.S. general said that Diyala had one of the worst militia infiltrations in Iraq. In December there was a shoot out in the provincial capitol between Shiite police and a Sunni Sons of Iraq (SOI) unit. Things came to a head in February 2008 when hundreds of SOIs walked off the job and local Sunnis protested the provincial Shiite police chief they accused of kidnapping, raping, and killing two women. The protests eventually subsided, and the SOIs went back to work, but the sectarian divide still remains.

Fueled by The Insurgency …

Besides the security forces, another source of sectarian tension is that fact that many Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters fled to Diyala in late 2006. Many Shiites accuse the Sunnis of being Islamist sympathizers. It is one of the few areas where violence continued at a high level during the surge, and it has been used as a base for insurgent attacks. During early 2007 Al Qaeda in Iraq tried to impose its will on the province through threats and killings, even against fellow insurgents such as the 1920 Revolutionary Brigades and the Islamic Army. This caused a division in the insurgency, just as it did across Iraq. The 1920 Revolutionary Brigades largely switched sides as a result, and began joining the U.S. organized Sons of Iraq to fight Al Qaeda. Some of the tribes in the region also began working with the U.S. as a result. The two sides have seen bitter fighting since then. The U.S. has also launched several operations in the province to keep the insurgents off guard, but they haven’t been able to dislodge them.

And A Problematic SOI Program …

The U.S. organized Sons of Iraq (SOI) program has been credited with helping turning around security since the surge, but in Diyala it’s been a mixed bag. There are between 8,000-10,000 SOI fighters in the province. There have been constant clashes with not only the insurgents, but with the local police and with each other as well. In March 2008 for example, an SOI unit attacked a police checkpoint, while an SOI commander was killed by the U.S. That followed a report by the Provincial Reconstruction Team in February that rival SOI units were fighting each other for power. The government has also been reluctant to integrate the SOI. One frustrated SOI commander in Baquba threatened to rejoin the insurgency unless his fighters were allowed to join the police. In March however, Voices of Iraq reported that as part of the deal to end the SOI protests against the provincial police chief, 400 tribesmen were to be folded into the local security force.

With the Kurds On Top…

To add to the Sunni-Shiite problems, there is also the issue of Kurdish ambitions. The Kurds seek to annex portions of Diyala to Kurdistan. In November 2007 the Kurdish Minister for National Resources was on a trip to Washington where he gave a speech that included a map showing “liberated” and “non-liberated” areas of Kurdistan. Part of the non-liberated area included northern Diyala.

What Happens Next?

It’s into this fractious atmosphere that Prime Minister Maliki intends to send his forces next. Unlike in Basra, Sadr City, Mosul and Maysan province, he will not be facing one easy to identify foe. Rather, Diyala has Mahdi Army fighters, militia controlled police, Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgents, and Sons of Iraq, who are all fighting each other. How the government deals with this variety of groups will show whether Maliki is really capable of not only providing security, but whether he can fix some of the deep political divisions that continue to exist in Iraq.


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

Agence France Presse, “Anti-Qaeda fighters in street protest against city police chief,” 2/8/08
- “Seven killed as Shiite militants clash with Iraqi police,” 3/16/08

Ahmed, Hamid, “Iraq: Shiite cautions on ‘awakening,’” Associated Press, 12/21/07

Ali, Ahmed, “IRAQ: Sectarianism Splits Security in Diyala,” Inter Press Service, 8/7/07

Alsumaria, “Diyala council calls for military operation,” 4/4/08
- “Iraq awakenings threaten to halt cooperation,” 3/22/08

Associated Press, “Iraq drawdown to begin in volatile area,” USA Today, 10/17/07

Bakier, Abdul Hameed, “Al-Qaeda Adapts its Methods in Iraq as Part of a Global Strategy,” Terrorism Monitor, 12/20/07

Bennett, Brian, “Arming Iraq’s Future Street Gangs?” Time, 2/5/08

Bowen, Stuart, “Effectiveness Of The Provincial reconstruction Team Program In Iraq Statement Of Stuart W. Bowen, Jr. Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction Before The United States House Of Representatives Committee On Armed Services Subcommittee On Oversight And Investigations,” Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction, 10/18/07

Burns, John and Rubin, Alissa, “U.S. Arming Sunnis in Iraq to Battle Old Qaeda Allies,” New York Times, 6/11/07

Chon, Gina, “Under U.S. Pressure, AL Qaeda in Iraq Shifts Tactics,” Baghdad Life Blog, Wall Street, 1/20/08

Cordesman, Anthony, “The Evolving Security Situation in Iraq: The Continuing Need for Strategic Patience,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1/21/08
- “Iraq’s Insurgency and Civil Violence,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8/22/07
- “Iraqi Force Development: A Progress Report,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8/23/07

Dagher, Sam, “Will ‘armloads’ of US cash buy tribal loyalty?” Christian Science Monitor, 11/8/07

Daragahi, Borzou, “Security may trump ethnicity in Kirkuk,” Los Angeles Times, 9/28/07

Davidson, Christina, “KRG Governing ‘Liberated’ Iraqi Kurdistan,”, 11/27/07

Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” March 2008

DVIDS News, “Paramount Sheiks Sign Peace Agreement,” 5/2/07

Farrell, Stephen, “U.S. Attack in Iraq Is No Surprise to Many Insurgents,” New York Times, 1/9/08

Glanz, James and Kamber, Michael, “Shiite Militias Cling to Swaths of Basra and Stage Raids,” New York Times, 3/30/08

Gordon, Michael, “The Former-Insurgent-Counterinsurgency,” New York times, 9/2/07

Greenwell, Megan, “Villagers Battle Insurgents After Attack on Sheik Near Baqubah,” Washington Post, 8/24/07

Gumbrecht, Jamie and Yousse, Nancy, “In Iraq, U.S. airstrikes target insurgents near supposedly safe zone,” McClatchy Newspapers, 1/10/08

Hurst, Steven, “Violence lessens in Baghdad as it grows elsewhere,” San Francisco Chronicle, 8/26/07

Goldenberg, Ilan“Sunni Infighting Threatens Iraq’s Stability,” National Security Network, 2/12/08

International Crisis Group, “Iraq After The Surge II: The Need for a New Political Strategy,” 4/30/08

Kagan, Kimberly, “The Anbar Awakening: Displacing al Qaeda from Its Stronghold in Western Iraq,” Institute For The Sstudy of War and, 8/21/06-3/30/07

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

LaFranchi, Howard, “Iraq bombings target US-allied, anti-Al Qaeda groups,” Christian Science Monitor, 4/18/08

Lannen, Steve, “America’s Sunni allies go on strike in Iraq’s Diyala province,” McClatchy Newspapers, 2/8/08
- “U.S. soldiers helping pacify Iraq’s violent Diyala province,” McClatchy Newspapers, 4/3/08

Mohsen, Amer, “Iraqi Papers Thur: Sunni-Kurdish Pact,”, 12/26/07

Moore, Solomon and Oppel, Richard, “Attacks Imperil U.S.-Backed Militias in Iraq,” New York Times, 1/24/08

Nordland, Rod, “The Surge Draws Down,” Newsweek, 11/24/07

Nouri, Naseer and Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Bomb Kills Iraqi Police Chief Praised by U.S.,” Washington Post, 12/10/07

Oppel, Richard and Al-Husaini, “Suicide Bomber Kills Key Sunni Leader,” New York times, 1/8/08

Porter, Gareth, “Sunni Insurgents Exploit U.S.-Sponsored Militias,” Inter Press Service, 3/4/08

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “20 Die as Gunmen Descend on Village,” Washington Post, 12/2/07

Raghavan, Sudarsan and Paley, Amit, “Sunni Forces Losing Patience With U.S.,” Washington Post, 2/28/08

Ridolfo, Kathleen, “Iraq: Al-Qaeda Tactics Lead To Splits Among Insurgents,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 4/17/07

Roggio, Bill, “1920s Revolution Brigades turns on al Qaeda in Diyala,” Long War, 6/12/07
- “Al Qaeda establishes ‘a haven in Diyala,’” Long War, 12/30/07
- “Amariyah, the Anbar Salvation Council and Reconciliation,” Long War, 6/1/07
- “The Diyala Salvation Front,” Long War, 5/10/07
-“Pressure on Sadr and the Iranian-backed Special Groups continues,” Long War, 2/18/08

Rubin, Alissa and Cave, Damien, “Envoy’s Upbeat Tone Glosses Over Baghdad’s Turmoil,” New York Times, 9/11/07

Samuels, Lennox, “The Protection Business,” Newsweek, 1/11/08

Shahine, Alaa, “Qaeda changing tactics in Iraq’s Diyala: U.S. general,” Reuters, 12/8/07

Smith, Doug and Rasheed, Saif, “Sects unite to battle Al Qaeda in Irqa,” Los Angeles Times, 11/19/07

Steinberg, Guido, “The Iraqi Insurgency,” German Institute for International and Security Affairs, December 2006

Strobel, Warren and Youssef, Nancy, “Paltry results of Iraqi offensive silence U.S. withdrawal talk,” McClatchy Newspapers, 4/1/08

Tait, Paul, “Female suicide bomber kills Iraq tribal head: police,” Reuters, 3/10/07

Tarabay, Jamie, “Anbar Alliance May Not Translate to Other Provinces,” All Things Considered – National Public Radio, 9/25/07

Tavernise, Sabrina, “In Air Attack, U.S. Soldiers Kill 18 Gunmen,” New York Times, 8/25/07

Therolf, Garrett, “Sunni anger in Iraqi province,” Los Angeles Times, 2/14/08

Tomkins, Richard, “Iraq: Al-Qaeda Killing Field Found Near Farming Village,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 3/31/08
- “Iraq: U.S. Troops Target Errant Iraqi Police,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 4/18/08

Tyson, Ann Scott, “Iraq Is Criticized for Slow Hire of Police,” Washington Post, 10/27/07
- “Sunni Fighters Find Strategic Benefits in Tentative Alliance With U.S.,” Washington Post, 8/9/07
- “Tribal Members Join in Effort To Assist U.S., Iraqi Forces,” Washington Post, 9/30/07

UN Assistance Mission For Iraq, “Human Rights Report 1 April – 30 June 2007,” U.N., 10/12/07

Voices of Iraq, “300 al-Qaeda fighters hold military parade in Diala,” 5/3/08
- “Anti-Qaeda fighters return to HQ in Diala,” 3/2/08
- “Clashes leave 6 policemen, popular committees members killed in Diala,” 2/10/08
- “IED kills 3 governor bodyguards, wounds 2 in Diala,” 1/19/08
- “MPs, Islamic Party agree to pacify the situation in Diala – source,” 2/18/08
- “Ninewa MPs calls for dissolving Peshmerga fighters,” 4/8/08
- “Popular Committees’ fighters attack police checkpoint in Diala,” 3/23/08
- “Popular committee’s senior element killed by U.S. fire in Diala,” 3/24/08
- “Sunni, Shiite figures hold reconciliation conference in Diala,” 3/21/08

Yoshino, Kimi, “Unrest in Iraq’s Diyala province,” Los Angeles Times, 1/5/08

Youssef, Nancy, “Baghdad violence, U.S. deaths hit new lows for year,” McClatchy Newspapers, 10/31/07

Zavis, Alexandra, “A different kind of power struggle in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 3/24/08
- “Militants stake claim on Diyala River valley,” Los Angeles Times, 2/5/08

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Maliki Offensive Planned For Diyala Province

3. Diyala Province
Source: Wikipedia

Voices of Iraq reports today that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is preparing for his fifth military offensive this year. The first was Operation Knight’s Charge in Basra, followed by operations in Sadr City, Mosul, and Maysan province. The fifth is aimed at Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said the operations are all aimed at securing the country before the planned October provincial elections.


Voices of Iraq, “Iraqi Gov’t prepare for Diala offensive – Defense advisor,” 6/24/08

Desperation Move By The Sadrists? Update II

Funeral procession for victims of the Hurriya bombing

Voices of Iraq provided some first hand accounts of the Hurriya bombing in Baghdad and a revision of the casualty numbers. Initially, newspapers reported that up to 60 people were killed in the bombing. Voices of Iraq reports that now the number is 42 dead and 87 wounded according to the Iraqi military. The bomb was planted in a cargo truck. One witness said that the explosion was so powerful that the driver’s body was thrown onto a nearby roof. Immediately after the explosion the scene was chaotic with people unable to identify bodies. Buses driving through the area refused to carry the wounded, and a mob formed breaking the windows in protest. One man Qassim al-Mozani lost 11 relatives. They had come to Hurriya for a wedding proposal and all died inside their mini bus. Another family lost four daughters and three grandsons who had come for a family visit.


Kramer, Andrew, “U.S. Blames Shiite Leader for Deadly Baghdad Blast,” New York Times, 6/19/08

Voices of Iraq, “Al-Hurriya car bomb attack, a massacre,” 6/23/08

The Decline of Reporting on Iraq

On June 23, 2008 the New York Times ran a story on the decline in press coverage on Iraq. That report coincides with a more in depth one in the journal American Journalism Review from their June/July 2008 issue. Both pointed out the sharp drop in the number of stories in the American media about the war, and how that is shaping U.S. public opinion about Iraq.

Both stories started off with surveys documenting the drop in war coverage. Those numbers came from the Project for Excellence In Journalism (PEJ), Andrew Tyndall who monitors the nightly TV news, and the Associated Press. PEJ found that in the first ten weeks of 2007 Iraq accounted for 23% of the stories on TV news. That dropped to around 3% in 2008. On cable news, the coverage went from 24% of stories to only 1%. Andrew Tyndall looked at the three major networks ABC, CBS and NBC and found a similar decline. The number of minutes dedicated to Iraq went from over 4,100 minutes in 2003, to 3,000 minutes in 2004, to around 2,000 minutes from 2005-2006, and then dropped to 1,157 by late 2007. In the first half of 2008, only 181 minutes have been shown on the war. The Associated Press conducted a survey of 65 newspapers. It found a peak of 457 stories on Iraq in September 2007 when General Petraeus reported to Congress. In the following months stories on the war dropped to a low of 49.

Editors provided a number of reasons for their coverage. These included the cost of maintaining a reporter in Iraq, war fatigue by the U.S. public, the importance of local over international stories, and the presidential campaign and economy dominating news coverage. Many networks and newspapers are also cutting back their reporters in Iraq. CBS for example, no longer has a full time correspondent in Iraq, and reporters from the other two networks told the New York Times that they were worried that many if not all of them might be recalled after the presidential election was over.

Mark Jukowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism authored a March 2008 report on press coverage and believes the turning point occurred in May 2007. On May 24, 2007 Congress voted for war spending without including a withdrawal clause. After that the political debate in Washington ended and so did much of the press coverage. For example, the PEJ study found that from January to May 2007 20% of news coverage was about Iraq. From May to March 2008 however, war stories dropped 50%.

Editors and reporters said that the American public simply isn’t interested in the war anymore as another cause for the drop in stories. The American Journalism Review article found the opposite. As the media decreased coverage for other stories, so did the public’s knowledge and interest in Iraq. The Pew Research Center for example, found that 54% of Americans knew how many U.S. soldiers had died in Iraq in July 2007. By March 2008 only 28% were aware.

As the Iraq war continues into its fifth year reporting on it can only be expected to decline. Even when new fighting erupts such as recently happened in Basra and Sadr City, stories rarely make it onto the front page of newspapers. Weekly news surveys by the Project for Excellence in Journalism show that the war has dropped to 5% or less of news coverage since early April, and for some weeks isn’t even a top ten story. Jukowitz believes that the war will return if Obama and McCain make it a campaign issue, but that seems unlikely with the economy tanking and gas prices skyrocketing. Rather than being news leaders, the American press are turning out to be news followers, failing to do their job to inform the public about one of the pressing news stories of the day, the war in Iraq.


Jurkowitz, Mark, "Why News of Iraq Dropped," Pew Research Center's Project For Excellence In Journalism, 3/26/08

Project for Excellence in Journalism, “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index, April 7-13, 2008: McCain Gets Least Coverage But Best Media Narrative,” 4/14/08
- “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index, April 14-20, 2008: Obama and Clinton Debate the Debate,” 4/21/08
- Project for Excellence in Journalism, “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index, April 21-27, 2008: Post-Pennsylvania Spin Drowns Out McCain,” 4/28/08
- Project for Excellence in Journalism, “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index, April 28-May 4, 2008: The Pastor’s Press Tour is the Week’s Big Newsmaker,” 5/5/08
- Project for Excellence in Journalism, “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index, May 5-11, 2008: The Media Hear The Fat Lady Humming,” 5/12/08
- Project for Excellence in Journalism, “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index, May 12-18, 2008: Clinton Wins W. Virginia, Obama Wins the Headlines,” 5/27/08
- Project for Excellence in Journalism, “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index, May 19-25, 2008: While Democrats Battle on, McCain Makes News,” 5/27/08
- Project for Excellence in Journalism, “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index, May26-June 1, 2008: Iraq Roars Back as a Campaign Issue,” 6/2/08
- Project for Excellence in Journalism, “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index, June 2-8, 2008: Clinton Drives the Media Narrative the Week Obama Wins,” 6/9/08
- Project for Excellence in Journalism, “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index, June 9-15, 2008: Obama Makes More News Than McCain, But It’s Not All Good,” 6/16/08

Ricchiardi, Sherry, “How the Media Abandoned Iraq,” American Journalism Review, June/July 2008

Stelter, Brian, “Reporters Say Networks Put Wars on Back Burners,” New York Times, 6/23/08

Desperation Move By The Sadrists? Update I

As reported earlier, on June 17, 2008 a group of Mahdi Army fighters set off a bomb in the Hurriya district of Baghdad that killed over 60 people. According to the U.S. military, the main motivations behind the attack were to maintain control of the neighborhood and attempt to reignite the sectarian fighting by trying to get the residents to blame Sunnis for the car bomb. This was not the first time Sadrists had resorted to such tactics. In November 2007 a four man group of militiamen carried out a similar attack, setting off a bomb in another market in the capitol. The purpose of the attack was the same as the recent one, to sow fear and make Shiites look towards Sadr’s militia for protection.

The Sadrists were at their peak during the 2006-2007 period when Sunnis and Shiites were fighting for control of central Iraq. Thousands of Shiites flocked to their cause either out of fear, looking for revenge, religious motivations, or simply to take advantage of others in the process. It’s estimate that the Mahdi Army swelled to 60,000 at the time. Sadr’s group was never well organized and began factionalizing at the same time they were growing. Today his military wing is in tatters after the series of government operations that are still on-going.


International Crisis Group, “Iraq’s Civil War, The Sadrists And The Surge,” 2/7/08

Reid, Robert, “U.S. Blames Shiites in New Iraq Violence,” Associated Press, 11/24/07

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vali Nasr: Iranian Policy In Iraq At A Crossroad

Iranian expert Vali Nasr of the Council on Foreign Relations just got back from a trip to Iraq. (See interview with Nasr, Stephen Biddle from the Council on Foreign Relations, and Michael Gordon of the New York Times about their time in Iraq on the Charlie Rose Show posted earlier) Nasr wrote an op. ed. piece for the Washington Post on his observations about Iran and Iraq on June 19, 2008. Nasr’s general opinion is that Iran is at a crossroads in its Iraq policy.

Since the U.S. invasion Iran has wanted a friendly Shiite government running Iraq, but also supported militias to attack the United States and Coalition forces. Following that policy, Iran supported the government of Prime Minister Maliki as well as Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Iran’s stance was at cross purposes however because they wanted both a stable government, but also a chaotic security situation. It was easier to implement their policy during the sectarian war period when Shiites were united against the Sunnis. Everything seemed to be going fine until it came apart in 2008.

The contradictions in Iran’s policy came to the fore when Maliki launched his offensives against Sadr’s militia. Maliki came to see Sadr as a rival and threat to this government, and has systematically moved to disband his movement. As a result, Iran lost much of its influence in Basra, Iraq’s main point, and Sadr City that could threaten the Green Zone.

Nasr believes that Iran now needs to decide upon which part of its policy it will continue with. Will it support Maliki’s government or will it maintain its backing of Shiite militias? Nasr points to the fact that the head of Iran’s Supreme Council for National Security, the mayor or of Tehran, and some in the press have suggested that the government cut ties with Sadr and back Maliki as signs of the debate now going on within Iran.

Nasr ends his op. ed. suggesting that Iran’s setbacks allows an opportunity for the U.S. to negotiate. Secretary of Defense Gates has said that the U.S. needs to build up leverage before it can talk to Iran. The Iraqi government’s success against Sadr, combined with the threat of U.S. bases in Iraq under the Status of Forces Agreement that is now being negotiated are the beginning of that pressure upon Iran, but they don’t seem enough to begin talking to Iran. The Iranian leadership also probably sees Bush as a lame duck that they can wait out until the next administration. That means it will be up to the next administration to decide what the U.S. will do about Iran.


Carter, Sara, “Iran called primary threat to progress in Iraq,” Washington Times, 5/21/08

Nasr, Vali, “Iran on its Heels,” Washington Post, 6/19/08

Iranian Influence In Iraq Update I

According to the Mathaba News Agency the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce believes that trade between the two countries will total approximately $4 billion by the end of 2008.

Trade between the two has skyrocketed since the 2003 U.S. invasion. In 2004 it stood at $800 million, and by 2007 it was at $2.8 billion. Trade has increased due to a $1 billion credit deal singed between the two countries in 2005, a free trade zone between southern Iraq and Iran, as well as the formation of a joint Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce. In southern cities such as Basra, many businesses have signs in Persian and Iranian money is even accepted in many cities there. When Iranian President Ahmadinejad visited Iraq in March 2008 the two governments signed a series of agreements, many of which were aimed at deepening the economic ties between the two.

After the U.S. invasion in 2003 there was a huge increase in demand amongst Iraqis who had lived for years under United Nations sanctions. Iraqi companies however were not able to keep up as they had been weakened by those same sanctions and the fighting. The flood of Iranian goods is so high that many Iraqi businesses have been forced to close because there are no tariffs to protect domestic producers. Much of the trade goes through the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who control the border.


Alsumaria, “Militias and neighbors loot Iraqi South Oil,” 2/9/08

Al Bawaba, “Iran, Iraq sign new trade deal; Iranian exports expected to hit US$1 billion per year,” 7/18/05

Beehner, Lionel, Bruno, Greg, “Iran’s Involvement in Iraq,” Council on Foreign Relations, 3/3/08

Mehr News, “Iran, Iraq sign seven pacts,” 3/3/08

Press TV, “Iran-Iraq 2007 trade $1.5b,” 5/7/08

Reuters, “Ahmadinejad to oversee series of Iran-Iraq deals,” 3/3/08

Roug, Louise and Daragahi, Borzou, “Iraq Edges Closer to Iran, With or Without the US,” Los Angeles Times, 1/16/07

Wong, Edward, “Iran Is Playing a Growing Role in Iraq Economy,” New York Times, 3/17/07

Friday, June 20, 2008

Operation Promise of Peace in Maysan Province

On June 19, 2008 Prime Minister Maliki launched his fourth military operation since March. The offensive is aimed at Maysan province, the only one in Iraq that is controlled by the Sadrists. The province also borders Iran and is the main hub for its military operations in Iraq. Operation Promise of Peace, like those in Basra and Sadr City, is aimed at breaking up the power of Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement, and limiting Iran’s interference.

Maliki’s Offensive

Operation Promise of Peace follows the script Maliki set with his March campaign in Basra. First additional police and army units were sent in, the borders of the province were sealed off, Maliki offered an amnesty to anyone that turned in their weapons, and the government has attempted to recruit new security forces loyal to Baghdad.

Unlike Basra and Sadr City however, Sadr changed his tactics. Rather than fight security forces and lose followers that he can’t quickly replace, Sadr called on his movement to cooperate as long as the security forces followed the law. The Sadr office in Amara was turned over to the government and militiamen began turning in their guns or dumping them as a result. At the same time, many of his top fighters and Mahdi commanders fled the province to places like Iran to avoid arrest.

The agreement between the two sides was strained however when police arrested the Sadrist deputy governor, who also serves as mayor of Amara and two provincial council members. The Sadrists claimed the government was turning the military operation into a political one to weaken their movement in the province, something that was apparent from the beginning.

Amara is also a regional base for Iranian military operations in Iraq. The Revolutionary Guards uses it as a headquarters for their arms smuggling and planning within the country. Iraqi military officials say they are going to work throughout the province, including the areas along the Iranian border that are used by criminals and Iranian operatives. As the government has cracked down on the Mahdi Army they have found more and more Iranian weapons in their possession. The Maysan operation therefore, is also aimed at breaking up the Iranian supply lines to the militia.


Maysan province has been both a stronghold and battleground for Sadr’s forces. In January 2005 Iraq held local elections. Unlike in other provinces, Maysan was the only one where Sadrists openly participated. They gained control of the provincial council and the governorship. Norwegian researcher and writer Reidar Visser has claimed that it has been the best run of Iraq’s 18 provinces because it provides services to its public.

At the same time the Sadrists and their main rival the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) have often fought for control there. In 2006 for example, there was open fighting in the streets of Amara between Mahdi militiamen and the SIIC controlled police.

The Sadrists were also accused of trying to impose a strict Islamic code upon the populace, shutting down music shops, dictating the clothes of young people, etc. It took the city’s local tribes to end the moral police and stop the fighting.


Prime Minister Maliki seems intent on dismantling his main rival the Sadrists. He has promised further operations after Promise of Peace is finished. The Mahdi Army has been put on the defensive as a result. Its commanders and fighters are either fleeing to other parts of Iraq or to Iran to escape arrest. Many political leaders of the Sadrist movement have also ended up in jail. At the same time, Sadr’s decision not to fight as happened in Basra and Sadr City shows that he is adapting to the new circumstances. The governor of Maysan and the majority of the provincial council are still Sadrists, so perhaps he is hoping they can keep their positions and co-exist with the government forces, thus preserving some of his power. This all comes before the planned provincial elections in October 2008 where the Sadrists were hoping to spread their control beyond Maysan. What will really determine whether Maliki will be successful in his plans is whether he comes though his promises of money for reconstruction, jobs and services for these cleared areas. He has promised $100 million for Basra and $150 million for Sadr City. So far reports are that only the U.S. military has spent any real large amounts of money on winning over the population. Security is an important step in stabilizing Iraq, but until Maliki can actually provide for his people his government will not have their support.


Burns, John, “Precarious Cease-Fire in Amara Holds,” New York Times, 10/22/06

Gamel, Kim, “Al-Sadr followers warn against arrests,” Associated Press, 6/16/08

Reid, Robert, “Iraq to expand crackdown,” Associated Press, 4/3/08

Ridolfo, Kathleen, “Iraq: Al-Sadr Refuses to Meet Baghdad Delegation In Iran,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 5/4/08

Roggio, Bill, “Iraqi offensive underway against the Mahdi Army in Maysan,” Long War, 6/14/08
- “Iraqi security forces ramp up for Maysan operation,” Long War, 6/17/08

Tavernise, Sabrina and Mizher, Qais, “In Iraq’s Mayhem, Town Finds Calm Through Its Tribal Links,” New York Times, 7/10/06

Visser, Reidar, “The Sadrists of Basra and the Far South of Iraq,” Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, May 2008

Voices of Iraq, “Sadrists show conditional support to Missan offensive,” 6/20/08
- “Security operations in Missan turns into political process against Sadrists – MP,” 6/20/08

Overview of Iran’s Influence In Iraq

It’s a common saying these days that Iran was the winner of the Iraq war. While not quite true, it is very apparent that Iran has wide ranging influence and power in Iraq that it never had before. Most of the media focuses upon Iran’s support of violence in Iraq, but it also has extensive political, economic and cultural ties as well. Together they form a multi-faceted approach towards Iraq. On the one hand they want a Shiite led government that is friendly to Iran and hope to build up its economic ties, on the other, they want to ensure that the Sunnis never return to power and hope to make the U.S. pay for its occupation of Iraq.

Iran’s Policy Towards Post-Saddam Iraq

Iranian President Khatami, on the right, originally offered to work with the U.S. in Iraq, but was rejected by the White House. The succeeding President Ahmadinejad, on the left, believes that Iran should confront the U.S. Policy however was ultimately decided to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamanei

Saddam Hussein was Iran’s long-term enemy, and his removal in 2003 opened up new opportunities for Iran. At first, Iranian President Khatami offered to work with the U.S. in Iraq just as it had done with the invasion of Afghanistan. The Bush Administration however, rejected the idea, believing that it could go it alone in Iraq and saw Iran as another country that needed regime change. Under President Ahmadinejad, Iranian policy became more ideological. He believed that the U.S. could be defeated in Iraq. Either way, it was ultimately up to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei to decide policy. He and Ahmadinejad saw the U.S. invasion as an opportunity to expand Iranian influence. That policy had two facets. On the one hand they wanted a Shiite friendly government to come to power that would open up the economy and cultural sites to Iran. On the other, they wanted to tie down U.S. forces and punish them, while having the ability to retaliate if Iran was ever attacked, and make sure that Iraq never became a threat again.

Iran’s Military Stance Towards Iraq

Most American reports focus only upon Iran’s military policy because it has a direct impact upon U.S. forces. Right after the U.S. invasion, dozens of Iranian intelligence and Revolutionary Guards Qods Force operatives flooded the country. They also sent in the Badr Brigade, the militia of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) that was formed by the Revolutionary Guards during the Iran-Iraq War made up of Iraqi exiles and Iraqi POWs. Together, these forces carried out a wave of assassinations of Iraqi intelligence and military officers, and Baathists that were opponents of Iran. Iranians also established safe houses, front companies and humanitarian groups to shelter their operatives throughout southern and central Iraq.

By 2004, Iran had established its long-term military stance. It continued to support the Badr Brigade that took over much of the Interior Ministry and police after the 2005 elections. It also began recruiting Iraqi Shiites, who increasingly came from Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, and organized them into what became known as Special Groups by the U.S. military. A special unit of the Revolutionary Guards Qods Force called the Ramazan Corps, carried out training and financing in both Iran and Iraq. Iran also used Hezbollah for assistance, sending hundreds of Mahdi Army fighters to Lebanon for training. They were provided RPGs, mortars, Katyusha rockets, anti-aircraft missiles, and the most deadly device, Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFPs) bombs that were capable of destroying any Coalition vehicle. The Special Groups were then used to carry out harassing attacks on U.S. forces in Baghdad and British troops in Basra. Beginning in 2008 they had a new target, the Sunni Awakening/Concerned Local Citizen groups that the U.S. had organized to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq, probably in an attempt to stop the Sunnis from ever regaining power.

Iran’s Political Connections

Before the 2003 invasion, Iran had extensive ties with many of the anti-Saddam forces, all of which have gained influence since then. The Shiite SIIC and Badr Brigade were formed in Iran in the 1980s. They, along with Iraqi President Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Kurdish President Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, all fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq War. Both the Kurds and the SIIC have become the backbones of Prime Minister Maliki’s ruling coalition. Many members of Maliki’s Dawa Party including former Prime Minister Jaafari, went into exile in Iran during Saddam’s rule as well. Since 2006 Iran has also built up close ties with Moqtada al-Sadr who is currently doing his religious training in Iran. All of these parties gained seats in parliament and positions of power after the 2005 elections that were supported by Iran.

Iran’s Growing Economic Role In Iraq

Iranian goods in Baghdad shop

Iran has also been able to build up large economic ties with Iraq since the invasion. Iraq is the number one trade partner for Iran’s non-oil goods. In 2008 it’s estimated that Iraq will import over $2 billion in goods from its neighbor. There is a free trade zone between Iran and southern Iraq as well as a joint Iraqi-Iranian chamber of commerce. Iranian products are everywhere in Iraqi markets except for Sunni areas. Iran also supplies electricity to all parts of Iraq, and has plans to build new power plants in Iraq. Iran refines Iraqi oil, while sending gas and kerosene to Iraq, which are always in short supply. Iran is also paying for reconstruction projects, and in Kurdistan gains many of the government contracts. A huge tourism industry has also emerged with Iranian pilgrims going to the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala that is estimated to earn up to $25 million a year for Iraq.

U.S. Policy: Attempting to Contain Iran

The U.S. has become increasingly worried about Iran’s role in Iraq. That comes with fears that Iran is expanding its power in the Middle East, supports terrorism, and is working on a nuclear program. Some in the administrations such as Vice President Cheney are known to support regime change in Iran. Since late 2006, the Americans have mostly focused upon rolling up Iranian military networks within Iraq, while carrying out a series of negotiations with Iranian diplomats.

On the diplomatic side U.S. policy has appeared to be haphazard. Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Khalizad was twice given permission to hold discussions with Iran, but was then stopped by the White House. It wasn’t until 2007 that the U.S. finally met with Iran, the first time in 28 years. The talks haven’t produced much either with the U.S. continually accusing Iran of supporting militias, and Iran denying it, with not much else happening. The next round of talks has been indefinitely suspended as Iran has objected to the recent U.S. operations in Sadr City.

The military side has seen much more action. Beginning in 2006 the U.S. launched a military campaign to arrest Iranian agents and kill or capture Special Groups in Iraq. They currently hold several Iranian operatives in jail. In 2007, when the surge started, the number of raids increased with hundreds of Special Group members either detained or killed.

Conclusion: Iran’s Opportunity and America’s Pardox

Iran has been able to take advantage of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Initially, from 2002-2005 Iran and the U.S. had the same goals, overthrowing Saddam, holding elections, and empowering the Shiites and Kurds. Since then, Iran has been maintaining military pressure on the U.S. with attacks by the Special Groups. At the same time, it has increased its ties with the Iraqi government and expanded its economic influence. The U.S. originally claimed that overthrowing Saddam would make dealing with Iran easier because it would be intimidated by U.S. power. It has had the opposite affect.

The U.S. now finds itself in a paradox. It wants to diminish Iran’s role in Iraq, while supporting a government that is made up of two Iranian allies, the SIIC and Kurds that the U.S. also sees as its best friends. At the same time, Iran has not won the war. It now has the U.S. military right on its doorstep. That being said, Iran has been able to benefit from the situation in Iraq with little cost to itself. Pres. Ahmadinejad believes that the U.S. is on the verge of defeat, and Iran is able to play a role in its humiliation. That means while the U.S. is the dominant power in Iraq, it will continue to have to deal with the influence of Iran.


Government Reports

Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2007

Katzman, Kenneth, “Iran’s Activities and Influence in Iraq,” Congressional Research Service, 12/26/07

MNF-1, “Iranian Support for Lethal Activities in Iraq,” 2/11/07

Think Tank Reports

Beehner, Lionel, “Iran’s Goals in Iraq,” Council on Foreign Relatoins, 2/23/06
- Bruno, Greg, “Iran’s Involvement in Iraq,” Council on Foreign Relations, 3/3/08

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

Gwertzman, Bernard, “Cordesman: U.S.-Iran Talks on Iraq Useful, But Unlikely to Produce Immediate Results,” Council on Foreign Relations, 5/14/07
- “Sewer: Iraqis Beginning to Show Signs of Political Compromise,” Council on Foreign Relations, 3/14/08

International Crisis Group, “Iraq’s Civil War, The Sadrists And The Surge,” 2/7/08

Phillips, James, “Deter Iranian and Syrian Meddling In Postwar Iraq,” Heritage Foundation, 4/4/03

Rahimi, Babak, “The Hakim-Sadr Pact: A New Era in Shiite Politics?” Jamestown Foundation, 10/25/07
- “Moqtada al-Sadr’s New Alliance with Tehrn,” Terrorism Monitor, Jamestown Foundation, 3/1/07

Tanter, Raymond, “Iran’s Threat to Coalition Forces in Iraq,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1/15/04


Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “U.S.-Iran Talks Resume in Baghdad,” ABC, 7/24/07

Agence France Presse, “Bush Iraq strategy shifts towards containing Iran,” 2/4/07
- “Iran agents ‘sabotaging’ anti-Qaeda groups: Iraq intel chief,” 2/27/08
- “Rare US-Iran talks ‘positive,’” 5/28/07

Alani, Dr. Mustafa, “Iran’s presence in Iraq,” Khaleej Times, 10/24/06

Ali, Fadhil, “Iran Charged with Infiltration and Sabotage of Iraq’s Awakening Councils,” Terrorism Focus, Jamestown Foundation, 4/9/08

Allam, Hannah, Landay, Jonathan, and Strobel, Warren, “Is an Iranian general the most powerful man in Iraq?” McClatchy Newspapers, 4/28/08

Alsumaria, “US: Iranian-backed attacks increase in Iraq,” 2/8/08

Associated Press, “Shiite militia may be disintegrating,” 3/21/07

Aswat Aliraq, “Iranian power station in Najaf,” 3/3/08
- "U.S. official: Attacks against joint forces down by 60%," 2/17/08

Badkhen, Anna, “The Iranian factor in Iraq insurgency,” San Francisco Chronicle, 8/21/05

Carter, Sara, “Iran no longer aids Iraq militants,” Washington Times, 1/3/08

Cockburn, Andrew, “In Iraq, anyone can make a bomb,” Los Angeles Times, 2/16/07

Collins, Chris, “U.S. says Iranians train Iraqi insurgents,” McClatchy Newspapers, 8/19/07

Cooper, Helene, “In Bush Speech, Signs of Split on Iran Policy,” New York Times, 9/16/07

Dagher, Sam, “Iran’s growing presence in Iraq,” Christian Science Monitor, 7/25/07
- “U.S., Iran dial down tensions in Iraq,” Christian Science Monitor, 11/7/07

Daragahi, Borzou and Gerstenzang, James, “Tehran’s Iraq role unclear, U.S. now says,” Los Angeles Times, 2/15/07

Deshmukh, Jay, “Qaeda losing support but Iranians arms still problem in Iraq: US military,” Agence France Presse, 11/11/07

DeYoung, Karen, “Iran Cited In Iraq’s Decline in Violence,” Washington Post, 12/23/07
- “The Iraq Report’s Other Voice,” Washington Post, 9/10/07
- “Iraqi Prime Minister Says That Civil War Has Been Prevented,” Washington Post, 9/25/07

Dreyfuss, Robert, “Is Iran Winning the War in Iraq?” The Nation, 2/26/08

Fadel, Leila, “U.S.: Iran reneged on pledge to quit supporting Iraqi militias,” McClatchy Newspapers, 3/5/08

Frayer, Lauren, “US general: Roadside bombs down in Iraq,” Associated Press, 11/15/07

Fresh Air, “'Fiasco' Author Reports On the Petraeus Report,” NPR, 9/12/07

Gerstenzang, James, “Bush says Iraq exit would bolster Iran,” Los Angeles Times, 10/4/07

Glanz, James, “Iranian Reveals Plan to Expand Role in Iraq,” New York Times, 1/29/07

Glanz, James and Oppel, Richard, “U.S. Says Raid in Iraq Supports Claim on Iran,” New York Times, 2/26/07

Gordon, Michael, “Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says,” New York Times, 2/10/07
- “Hezbollah Trains Iraqis in Iran, Officials Say,” New York Times, 5/5/08
- “U.S. says Iran – supplied bomb is killing more troops in Iraq,” New York Times, 8/7/07

Gordon, Michael, Filkins, Dexter, “Hezbollah may be helping militias,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11/28/06

Gordon, Michael, Shane, Scott, “U.S. Long Worried That Iran Supplied Arms in Iraq,” New York Times, 3/27/07

Guardian, “Smbolic shift for the doves,” 5/29/07

Gulf News, “Al Sadr aiming for Ayatollah degree,” 3/10/08

Hersh, Seymour, “Shifting Targets,” New Yorker, 10/8/07

Ignatius, David, “Post-Iraq Strategy,” Washington Post, 8/26/07, “Casualties Attributed to EFPs,” 2/17/07

Jelinek, Pauline, “General: Iraq groups supported by Iran,” Associated Press, 11/26/07

Kukis, Mark, “Has US Ceded Southern Iraq?” Time, 10/8/07

LaFranchi, Howard, “After historic talks, US seeks action by iran,” Christian Science Monitor, 5/29/07

Levinson, Charles, “Iran may now be cooperating with U.S. in Iraq,” USA Today, 12/16/07

Linzer, Dafna, “Troops Authorized to Kill Iranian Operatives in Iraq,” Washington Post, 1/26/07

Mazzetti, Mark, “U.S. Says Powerful Iraqi Cleric Is Living in Iraq,” New York Times, 2/14/07

Mehr News, “Iran, Iraq sign seven pacts,” 3/3/08

Michael, Jim, “General says U.S. has proof Iran arming Iraqi militias,” USA Today, 1/31/07

Monsters and, “Basra security worsened by uncontrolled border, say Iraqi officials,” 3/9/08

Murphy, Kim, “Iran seen as key to untangling Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 2/13/07

Oghlo, Maher, “Border point with Iran turned into international crossing,” Azzaman, 4/17/08

Oppel, Richard, “Iran to Join Iraq Talks in Highest Contact With U.S. in 2 Years,” New York Times, 3/1/07

Parker, Ned, “Iraqi militia leader’s death shatters truce,” Los Angeles Times, 9/23/07

PBS Newhour, “Iran’s Role in Iraq, Nuclear Ambitions Cloud U.S. Policy,” 4/16/08

Peterson, Scott, “Could Iran Help The US Stabilize Iraq?” Christian Science Monitor, 12/15/06
- “For Iran, Iraq is a two-edged sword,” Christian Science Monitor, 3/18/08
- “US and Iran spar ahead of Iraq report,” Christian Science Monitor, 8/31/07

Peterson, Scott and Blanford, Nicholas, “A gauge of Iran’s hand in Iraq,” Christian Science Monitor, 7/5/07

Porter, Gareth, “US Briefing on Iran Discredits the Official Line,” Inter Press Service, 2/14/07
- “US Military Ignored Evidence of Iraq-Made EFPs,”, 10/26/07

Pound, Edward, “The Iran Connection,” U.S. News & World Report, 11/22/04

Press TV, “Iran-Iraq 2007 trade $1.5b,” 5/7/08

Price, Jay and Taha, Yaseen, “Kurds denounce U.S. detention of Iranian,” McClatchy Newspapers, 9/20/07

Rahima, Ahmad, “Iraq urges Iranian firms to help ‘modernize’ Baghdad,” Azzaman, 2/29/08

Reuters, “Iran Offers $1 Billion Loan for Iraq Projects,” New York Times, 3/1/08

Reynolds, Paul, “Iran bombs link: retraction or non-retraction?” BBC News, 1/10/06

Richter, Paul and Spiegel, Peter, “Wider Iranian threat is feared,” Los Angeles Times, 10/31/07

Roggio, Bill, “Captured Iranian agent identified, 15 Special Groups operatives captured in Iraq,” Long War, 9/30/07
- “GMLRS strike knocks out Special Groups command center in Sadr City,” Long War, 5/3/08
- “Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq,” Long War, 12/5/07
- “Iranian involvement in Iraq: an old or a new case?” Long War, 10/15/07
- “Mahdi Army trains with Hezbollah,” Long War, 8/20/07

Roug, Louise and Daragahi, Borzou, “Iraq Edges Closer to Iran, With or Without the US,” Los Angeles Times, 1/16/07

Sands, Phil, “Claims of training insurgents inside Iran,” San Frnacisco Chronicle, 4/15/07

Sanger, David, “Opening a New Front in the War, Against Iranians in Iraq,” New York Times, 1/15/07

Schmitt, Eric, “Some Bombs Used in Iraq Are Made in Iran, U.S. Says,” New York Times, 8/6/05

Simon, Steven and Takeyh, Ray, “Iran’s Iraq Strategy,” Washington Post, 5/21/06

Sly, Liz, “Iranian influence soaring in Iraq,” Chicago Tribune, 3/8/07
- “U.S. wary of Iran’s growing activity in Iraq,” Chicago Tribune, 2/29/08

Spiegel, Peter and Barnes, Julian, “Iran still fuels Iraq violence, U.S. says,” Los Angeles Times, 3/5/08

Stolberg, Sheryl Gay and Santora, Marc, “Bush declares Iran’s arms role in Iraq is certain,” New York Times, 2/15/07

Tavernise, Sabrina, “Cleric Said to Lose Reins of Parts of Iraqi Militia,” New York Times, 9/28/06

Ware, Michael, “Inside Iran’s Secret War for Iraq,” Time, 8/15/05

Wong, Edward, “Iran Is Playing a Growing Role in Iraq Economy,” New York Times, 3/17/07
- “Iraq Dances With Iran, While America Seethes,” New York Times, 7/31/05

Wright, Robin, “As U.S. Steps Up Pressure on Iran, Aftereffects Worry Allies,” Washington Post, 8/16/07
- “Iranian Flow Of Weapons Increasing, Officials Say,” Washington Post, 6/3/07

Wright, Robin and Tyson, Ann Scott, “Iraqi official: Iran supplying arms to insurgents attacking U.S. forces,” San Francisco Chronicle, 10/6/07

Yates, Dean, “Petraeus says Iran stoking Iraq violence,” Reuters, 10/7/07

Zavis, Alexandra, “Al-Maliki says Iran has vowed to halt weapons,” San Francisco Chronicle, 9/30/07

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Look Who The Los Angeles Times Dug Up – CURVEBALL

Los Angeles Times reporter interviewing Curveball, Rafid Ahmed Alwan, in Germany

On June 18, 2008 the Los Angeles Times ran a story based upon interviews with the famous Iraqi defector Curveball. Curveball was almost single-handedly responsible for the story that Iraq had mobile labs capable of producing biological weapons. The story eventually got into Pres. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s U.N. speech. Despite the certitude of those pronouncements, Curveball’s story was actually highly disputed within the U.S. intelligence community. They just never told the higher ups. Afterwards Curveball’s entire story was proven to be false. The whole incident was a perfect example of the shoddy intelligence work that helped lead to the war.

Origin Of Curveball’s Story

Two Los Angeles Times reporters tracked down Curveball, real name Rafid Ahmed Alwan, in Germany. Alwan lived with his family and was struggling through a number of low paying service jobs. When asked about his story that Iraq had mobile WMD labs, he was unrepentant claiming that what he said about Iraq was true, and that he should be treated “like a king” for everything he did.

Alwan’s story begins in Iraq. He grew up in the capitol Baghdad where he attended University. When he came to the West he claimed that he finished top of his class, but he was actually last with a D average. He had a number of jobs until he ended up in a warehouse that inoculated seeds for farmers. This was the plant he later claimed was actually a secret WMD facility. He would later tell German intelligence that the warehouse was used to build mobile labs and his job was to check the equipment. He only worked at the seed house until 1995, but he told the Germans that in 1997 he helped build a mobile lab, and in 1998 he witnessed a biological weapons accident. In reality, at that time he was working for a film studio where he tried to steal money. When an arrest warrant was issued for him he fled the country and ended up in Germany in 1999.

It was his attempt to gain official entry into Germany that led to his stories about the mobile labs. In 2000 he asked for political asylum. Instead he was placed into a refugee camp. It was then that he started talking about Iraq’s WMD program. The Germans interviewed him 52 times. That information was passed onto England’s MI6 and America’s CIA. During the whole time Alwan was in Germany, they never checked out his story. Rather as time passed they grew to believe that Alwan was unstable and making up his claims, but still stood by him officially. It didn’t help that once he got asylum in 2001 he stopped cooperating.

The American’s Embrace Curveball

Alwan’s story was embraced by U.S. intelligence. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) for example, wrote over 100 reports based upon him. The DIA had a whole set of experts, analysts and satellites working to prove his story. At almost the same time questions began being raised about him. For example, in 2001 the CIA station chief in Berlin said the German’s couldn’t find Alwan, and that they had never verified his story. The head of the CIA’s European Division’s Directorate of Operations told CIA headquarters that the Germans believed that Alwan was crazy, while British intelligence told the CIA that they didn’t think his story was reliable. The CIA analyst in charge of the mobile labs story however, stood by Alwan through thick and thin.

Even with all the questions regarding his reliability, Alwan’s story was used more and more by the Americans. The October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq said that Saddam had an active and larger biological weapons program than before the Gulf War, largely based upon the mobile labs claim. In December when the State Department and CIA met to draft Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations, all of the doubts and questions about Alwan were brought up. Unfortunately none of these concerns were passed upon to Powell and the mobile labs story became a major part of his presentation. President Bush also used Alwan’s story in his 2003 State of the Union address.

A slide from Powell’s February 2003 presentation to the United Nations showing U.S. intelligence’s rendering of what an Iraqi mobile lab looked like, largely based upon Curveball’s description

U.S. Intelligence Sticks By Curveball Until The Very End

Even before the U.S. invasion, Alwan’s story began falling apart. The first public crack happened when U.N. weapons inspectors went to Alwan’s former work in Iraq in February 2003, and found nothing. During the invasion the U.S. found trailers that they believed were Alwan’s labs. When shown a picture, he claimed those were the ones that he had worked on. The first U.S. reports said that they were mobile labs, but that story soon changed until they eventually reversed course and said they were not. It took years for U.S. intelligence to finally abandon Curveball and say they were wrong however. By 2004 CIA officials came under increasing pressure to drop Alwan’s story. Instead, CIA Director George Tenet and others were worried that if they backed off, it would only damage their already battered reputation as no WMD had been found in Iraq. It wasn’t until May 2004, more than year after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that the CIA officially said that Curveball’s story was all a lie.

In 2005 the Robb-Silberman committee that was assigned by President Bush to investigate U.S. claims about WMD said that the Curveball incident was a sign of the dysfunctionality of American intelligence. They believed that the DIA should’ve interviewed Alwan in the beginning, CIA analyst’s were quick to accept the mobile weapons lab claim because it fit their preconceived views of Iraq’s weapons program, and the intelligence community failed in their main duty to inform the country’s leaders when they didn’t to tell the White House about their doubts about Curveball. Saddam Hussein had frustrated U.S. intelligence analysts for so long, that they came to believe just about anything negative about Iraq. The entire Curveball incident was a perfect example of this rush to judge Saddam as a threat to America’s security because of his WMD programs. What’s even more important is that this one man’s story played a leading role in America advocating the invasion of Iraq.


Drogin, Bob and Goetz, John, “How U.S. fell Under the Spell of 'Curveball',” Los Angeles Times, 11/20/05

Goetz, John and Drogin, Bob, “’Curveball’ speaks, and a reputation as a dinsinformation agent remains intact,” Los Angeles Times, 6/18/08

Isikoff, Michael and Corn, David, Hubris, Crown, 2006

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Postwar Findings About Iraq's WMD Programs And Links To Terrorism And How They Compare With Preware Assessments,” U.S. Senate, 9/8/06
- “Report On The U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq,” United States Senate, 7/7/04

Silberman, Laurence and Robb, Charles, “Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons Of Mass Destruction, 3/31/05

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