Friday, July 29, 2011

U.S. Decides To Hold Onto Hezbollah Commander Captured In Iraq In 2007

In July 2011, Iraq announced that it would not be taking control of a Hezbollah commander, Ali Mussa Daqduq, being held by the Americans. That was because several U.S. Senators complained about turning him over. Daqduq was captured by U.S. forces in 2007 along with leaders of an Iranian-backed Special Group. Daqduq was the highest ranking Hezbollah operative captured within the country. The Lebanese organization began operating in Iraq just months after the U.S. invasion in coordination with Iran to spy on the Coalition, and work with Shiite militants. Daqduq is a symbol of how Hezbollah and Tehran tried to influence post-Saddam Iraq.
U.S. soldier posts picture of Daqduq after his capture in 2007 (Agence Presse France/Getty)
On July 22, 2011, Baghdad said that the United States was not going to be transferring Ali Mussa Daqduq to their control. This came a day after Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta received a letter from 20 Senators, which included Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John McCain, and Senator Joe Lieberman. The lawmakers said that they were afraid that Daqduq would be released by Iraq or escape if he was handed over. Daqduq was going to be turned over to Iraq as part of the U.S. withdrawal process. Even though the Americans are still going to detain him, he will eventually have to be given to the Iraqis. That’s because the Obama administration and Congress have ruled out the alternatives. The Congress vetoed a White House plan to have terror suspects tried in the United States, while the Supreme Court has ruled that Guantanamo Bay can only be used to hold Al Qaeda members, and those involved in 9/11. Daqduq is neither. The U.S. has to release all the prisoners it holds by the end of the year as part of the Status of Forces Agreement signed in 2008 between Washington and Baghdad.

Daqduq was at the head of Hezbollah’s operations in Iraq. Immediately after the U.S. invasion in March 2003, Lebanese operatives began moving into Iraq from Iran to collect intelligence on the Coalition forces. This information was passed onto Tehran. As early as July, there were reports that Hezbollah was trying to reach out to Moqtada al-Sadr, who was quickly making himself an early opponent of the occupation. By the end of the month, it was alleged that 30-40 Hezbollah advisers were operating in Najaf to help with his Mahdi Army militia. By the end of 2003, that had increased to a 90-man team. There were also unconfirmed reports that Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, had begun providing financial aid to Sadr as well. By Late 2004, it was said that up to 800 Hezbollah agents were in Iraq.

Hezbollah’s operations quickly began branching out. Some of the Hezbollah agents were organized into assassination squads to eliminate enemies of Tehran. The Lebanese introduced one of their deadliest weapons, the explosively formed projectile (EFP) anti-armor device, which they had perfected in their fight with Israel. Hezbollah also began training Shiite militiamen. This was a great relief to Iran, because Hezbollah were fellow Arabs, while many Iraqis complained about the haughtiness of their Persian trainers. The training took place several different ways. The most common was for a small group of Iraqis to travel to Iran, and be trained by the Lebanese and Iranians. Afterward, some were sent to Lebanon, via Syria for more advanced lessons. Iran also created two training camps within Iraq, east of Basra city in southern Iraq by 2006 that included up to 10 Hezbollah operatives. In late-2006, it was said that 1,000-2,000 militiamen had been trained by Hezbollah. All of this showed that Hezbollah was working hand in hand with Iran to spread its influence in Iraq. Both took advantage of the ascendancy of the country’s Shiites to power after Saddam Hussein was deposed. They found many friends amongst the more militant elements of that community that came to oppose the U.S. and foreign presence, and wanted to fight them.

By 2007, Moqtada al-Sadr openly praised his group’s connections with Hezbollah. He told England’s Independent that, “It is natural that we would want to improve ourself by learning from each other. We copy Hezbollah in the way they fight and their tactics, we teach each other, and we are getting better through this.” Elements of the Mahdi Army also admitted to being trained by Hezbollah

Ali Mussa Daqduq was at the head of Hezbollah’s operations in Iraq. Daqduq was originally in charge of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah’s bodyguards, and a top commander within the movement. He then joined Department 2800 to assist the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force efforts in Iraq. In 2005, he went to Iran to help train Iraqis, and in 2006 he began traveling through Iraq to observe their activities. He also worked with Abu Yaser Mustafa Sheibani, a former commander in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council’s Badr Brigade, who became one of the earliest conduits of Iranian arms to Iraq, and with Qais Khazali, a former leader in the Sadrist movement who eventually broke away, and formed his own organization, the League of the Righteous. Daqduq’s activities mirrored the escalation of Hezbollah and Iran’s work in Iraq. They went from collecting intelligence and training, to providing arms, organizing militant groups, and then finally, carrying out attacks.
Daqduq's fake papers he was captured with (Long War Journal)
It was just one such lethal operation that led to Daqduq’s arrest in 2007. In January, the League of the Righteous carried out a bold attack upon a U.S. base in Karbala. A large contingent of fighters drove into the compound in SUVs, dressed in American uniforms, and carrying U.S. weapons. They went on to kill one U.S. soldier, and kidnapped four others, who were later found dead. This eventually led to the arrest of Daqduq and Qais Khazali in Basra in March. They were found with documents that showed Daqduq was distributing up to $3 million a month of Iranian money to Special Groups Tehran supported, and they all eventually admitted to their involvement in the Karbala attack. As a result of their capture, the League of the Righteous and Hezbollah masterminded another raid, this time on the Finance Ministry in Baghdad in May 2007, which led to the kidnapping of five British nationals who were going to be held hostage until the U.S. agreed to release Daqduq and Khazali. Khazali was eventually released in a prisoner swap in 2010, but Daqduq remains in U.S. custody.

Iran saw the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein as both a great threat and opportunity. On the one hand, it removed Tehran’s existential enemy, and placed friendly parties in power in Baghdad. On the other, it placed a large number of American troops right on its border. Daqduq’s history in Iraq recounts how Iran tried to deal with the latter. Iran decided to militarily confront the United States in Iraq, wanting to make them pay for their occupation. This included supporting, training, and arming Shiite militias like Sadr’s Mahdi Army and the League of the Righteous. Hezbollah was brought in to facilitate these operations, since it had a long history of guerrilla warfare against the Israelis, and was a close ally and funded by Iran as well. The fact that they were Arabs also helped them work better with Iraqis rather than the Iranians who are Persian. Daqduq was at the middle of this military cooperation between Iran, Hezbollah, and Shiite militants. That eventually led to his capture by the Americans in 2007. He is now due to be released to Iraqi control. That will happen eventually since the U.S. can’t hold him past December 31 when U.S. forces are supposed to withdraw. If he ends up in Iraqi hands he could very well be released unless he’s charged with attacking Iraqis. Given Baghdad’s desire to have friendly relations with Tehran, that’s unlikely to happen, so he’ll probably be released by them, unless Washington comes up with some kind of exception that will allow it to keep him locked up. If released, and there are still U.S. troops in Iraq he can be expected to go right back to his lethal work. If the Americans do withdraw, Daqduq could end up back in Lebanon, waiting to be assigned his next job by Hezbollah since he is one of their top foreign operatives.


Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Report: Deal close to free Britons seized in Iraq,” Associated Press, 3/29/09

Cochrane, Marisa, “Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Khazali Special Groups network,” Institute for the Study of War, 1/13/09
- “The Fragmentation of the Sadrist Movement,” Institute for the Study of War, January 2009

Colvin, Marie, “Families told release of UK hostages not a done deal,” Times of London, 3/29/09

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

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

Harari, Michal, “Status Update: Shi’a Militias in Iraq,” Institute for the Study of War, 8/16/10

Hendawi, Hamza and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Hezbollah said to train Shiite militiamen in Iraq,” Associated Press, 7/1/08

Jakes, Lara, “Iraq delays taking militant custody amid US fear,” Associated Press, 7/22/11

Kagan, Kimberly, “Iran’s Proxy War against the United States and the Iraqi Government,” Institute for the Study of War, 8/20/07

Latif, Nizar and Sands, Phil, “Mehdi fighters ‘trained by Hizbollah in Lebanon,’” Independent, 8/20/07

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

Risen, James, “A Region Inflamed: The Hand Of Tehran: Hezbollah, in Iraq, Refrains From Attacks on Americans,” New York Times, 11/24/03

Roggio, Bill, “Mahdi Army trains with Hezbollah,” Long War Journal, 8/20/07

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

UPI, “Iraq: Return of Sheibani’s killer squads,” 9/30/10

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Head of Iraq’s Military Complains About Premier Maliki’s Interference

An Iraqi paper reported that the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Zebari (saluting in the center) is unhappy with Premier Maliki encroaching upon his authority (DVIDS)

A source in the prime minister’s office told the National Iraqi News Agency that the head of country’s military, General Babaker Zebari, was thinking of resigning because Nouri al-Maliki was attempting to usurp his power. Currently, the premier is the acting Defense and Interior Minister as he argues with his political rivals over finishing off the cabinet. That has given him the opportunity to increase his hold on the security forces, something he started to do years ago.

In November 2010, the National Coalition made up of Maliki’s State of Law, the Sadrists, and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement signed off on the Irbil agreement orchestrated by Kurdistan’s President Massoud Barzani. Under that arrangement, the National Coalition was to get the Interior and National Security ministries, and the National Movement was to name the Defense Minister. Until then however, Maliki was to control all three. Since then, Maliki named his National Security Adviser Faleh al-Fayadh as the acting National Security Minister, and appointed another one of his allies, Adnan Asadi as the deputy Interior Minister. That leaves the prime minister still as the Interior and Defense Minister until he works out his differences with Allawi.

What that has meant is that Maliki has been able to place his operatives further into the security bureaucracy, something that he’s been doing since he first came to office in 2005. The prime minister’s Dawa party, which is the base of his State of Law list, has always been a rather small organization that lacked a popular base. (1) To make up for that, it has tried to take over the offices of the state by placing as many of its followers within it as possible. Nibras Kazimi of the Hudson Institute once compared this process to the Leninist model of infiltrating the government. On top of that, the premier has tried to gain direct control of the security forces. There are operation commands in the most important provinces of the country, which answer to Maliki, not the military leadership. He also has the Counter Terrorism Unit and the Baghdad Brigade that are not part of the Defense Ministry, but rather his prime minister’s office, and he recently dismissed 600 officers for political reasons. These types of moves are likely the ones behind any discontent by General Zebari. He has been in office since 2005, and for almost all of that period, he has had to deal with Maliki moving in on his turf.

Iraq is full of baseless rumors, and the article in the National Iraqi News Agency was from an unnamed source. That means it cannot be taken at face value. At the same time, there is plenty of history of Maliki encroaching upon the security sector, and now that he is temporarily in charge of all the important ministries there’s no reason to believe he is not trying to grab more power. These moves can only annoy career officers such as General Zebari who see their authority being encroached upon by the prime minister. Given the relatively young age of the Iraqi state it can be expected that institutions are still weak, and interference by politicians would be common. How the security forces are able to maintain their integrity against leaders like Maliki is of outmost importance because it could determine whether the country continues to develop as a democracy or slips into becoming an autocracy.


1. Kazimi, Nibras, "Maliki's Plurality Adds to His Woes," New Majority, 2/6/09


Alsumaria, “Allawi accuses Iraq government of working secretly over security ministries issue,” 5/11/11
- “Maliki names Iraq acting National Security Minister,” 6/8/11

Davis, Aaron, “In Iraq, military still seen as dysfunctional,” Washington Post, 6/9/11

Kazimi, Nibras, "Maliki's Plurality Adds to His Woes," New Majority, 2/6/09

National Iraqi News Agency, “Babacar Zebari, intend to resign as his power taking away as Military Chief of Staff by al-Maliki,” 7/21/11

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No, 18,” 7/14/11

Van Heuvelen, Ben, “The Man Who Would Be King,” Foreign Policy, 6/13/11

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Iraq's Al Qaeda Wives


PRESS TV VIDEO: Iraq Against US Presence Beyond 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Problems With The American Wastewater Reconstruction Project In Iraq’s Fallujah

In early 2011, Anbar's Governor Qasim Abdi Mohammad Hammadi al-Fahadawi was speaking with U.S. officials from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The Governor observed that the British were in Iraq for twelve years following World War I, and left behind the railway system and the University of Baghdad, both of which remain important institutions in the country. Fahadawi asked the Americans what would they leave behind after their occupation of Iraq. The officers said that there were many projects that were built, but many of them did not have their name on it, so the public was unaware of their contributions to the nation. The largest remaining U.S. reconstruction project in Anbar is known, and that is the Fallujah Wastewater Treatment plant. It was supposed to be a model for the entire province, but it may never operate, marking the disappointing reconstruction legacy the Americans are leaving behind in Iraq.

Work on the Fallujah facility started in May 2004. This was just after the United States military had launched the first of two offensives there, both of which left the city in tatters. The initial $32.5 million project was supposed to win the hearts and minds of the population after these devastating battles. Fallujah remained a stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the insurgency until the Surge of 2007 however, so the work was delayed as costs skyrocketed. By 2010 the contract for the facility had risen to $104 million. Along with that, the timetable for its completion was constantly pushed back. Originally, it was to be finished in 18 months. The fighting delayed that one year after another after another. Even after the governorate became more secure, work was still behind. In 2008 for example, it was supposed to be finished by April 2009. In 2009, it was supposed to be working by April 2010. By the first quarter of 2011, one half was to be operating in April 2011, and the entire project by May 2012. The April deadline has come and gone. The reasons for the setbacks are many, ranging from not contracting for specific jobs to residents dumping their waste into the system even though it’s not up and running, which then has to be cleared out. 

Work on the sewage pump system (Danube Engineering & General Contracting)
The remaining work is broken up into two parts. The first is the treatment system, worth $4.6 million, which is supposed to connect to 9,300 out of 24,500 homes in Fallujah. That was supposed to be done by the fist quarter of 2011, but was pushed back to May 2012. Originally, the system was to connect to the entire city, but that was abandoned, probably because of the costs involved. The second half is the Fallujah Sewer Collection Area B, worth $3.3 million. That was scheduled for completion in April, but didn’t happen. There was also supposed to be a ceremony in June to mark the facility, but that didn’t become a reality either. Even more frustrating is that despite seven years of work, not a single resident is being served by the sewage system. If the work is ever done, it may not become operational. That’s because the municipal Iraqi workers have not been trained on its operation because the Americans cut off their funding, it has no spare parts, and there’s no contract with the government to provide fuel to run it.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction considers the U.S. rebuilding effort in Iraq a failure. The water treatment plant in Fallujah is a perfect example. It was started in one of the most dangerous cities in the country, in between two major military operations that made the residents even more resentful of the Americans. Any serious planner should’ve rejected this idea from the get go. Instead, the U.S. command pushed the idea as a means to win over the city. Subsequently, the contractors couldn’t do much of their work because of the violence, and after that subsided the remaining parts of the job were mismanaged. The result is a facility grossly over budget, which is going to serve only a fraction of the homes it was supposed to, that continues to face delays, and may never operate. The whole project has become a fiasco, and a perfect example of all the problems the Americans ran into trying to rebuild Iraq after its 2003 invasion.


Glanz, James, “Report Finds Iraq Water Treatment Project to Be Late, Faulty and Over Budget,” New York Times, 10/27/08

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/10
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/11

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How The CIA Ignored Hard Evidence That Iraq No Longer Had Any WMD Programs In 2002

In 2000, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began a secret program to contact relatives of scientists working on Iraq’s nuclear and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs living in the United States. For years, U.S. intelligence had struggled to get any agents into Iraq, and this was seen as a new way to make contacts within the country. What the Agency was told was that Saddam Hussein no longer had any active weapons program since the 1990s. That didn’t fit the CIA's pre-conceived view of Iraq, so the reports were ignored, and never shared within the Agency or with the rest of the government. Instead, U.S. intelligence stuck with its previous assessment that all of Iraq’s WMD and nuclear operations were up and running, and were even larger than they’d been before. After the 2003 invasion, it turned out that the family members were right, and the Agency was wrong. This successful intelligence operation was a perfect example of how the CIA was convinced that Iraq had WMD, and ignored anything that contradicted that belief.

For decades, the United States had struggled to recruit or infiltrate agents into Iraq. Saddam Hussein had a near totalitarian hold upon the country. He used several methods to achieve this, starting with the Baath Party, which reached down to every community, and the largesse of the state, both of which were used to create patronage systems to maintain both support and tabs on the public. There were also several different intelligence agencies that kept track of different sectors of the country. On top of that, Saddam created a complex network of family and clan members that came from his hometown of Tikrit in Salahaddin province that made up his internal circle. He also carried out constant purges, used a divide and conquer strategy with both his opponents and allies, and increasingly turned to tribal sheikhs for additional support after the Gulf War. Many Iraqis then, were dependent upon the state for support, and fearful of Saddam’s repression, which greatly curtailed the likelihood of anyone cooperating with the United States.

In the 1990s for example, the CIA tried and failed to penetrate Iraq. First, before and after (1) the 1991 Gulf War, President George H. Bush ordered U.S. intelligence to try a coup, but with no success. In 1994, a CIA base was established in Kurdistan to work with the Kurds and Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). The next year, Chalabi led a failed revolt. The year after that, Saddam launched a campaign in northern Iraq that largely expelled the INC from the region. In 1996, the CIA backed a failed coup that involved Iyad Allawi and his Iraqi National List. (2) From 1997-1998 Jack Downing, the Agency’s Deputy Director of Operations launched a campaign to recruit sources within the country, but with no success. Around the same time, CIA Director George Tenet created a committee that covered the nations considered the biggest threats to the Unites States that were also the hardest to penetrate. That included North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. The group went over the lack of resources America had in Iraq, but failed to gain any success. During the decade, Saddam also launched waves of repression, executions, and purges. All together these events made the 1990s a disappointing period for the CIA and U.S., as it failed to establish a foothold in Saddam’s Iraq. The Americans didn’t have much more success in the 2000s before the U.S. invasion either.

When it came to Iraq’s WMD programs, the U.S. became almost completely dependent upon the United Nations inspectors that were in the country from 1991 to 1998. The U.N. team had unprecedented access to Iraq, and went to every major suspected site. Despite Saddam’s best effort to stifle them, they proved to be highly effective, and put an end to his programs by the time they left. The problem for the U.S. was when the inspectors departed, the intelligence agencies had to depend upon satellites and defectors, neither of which proved reliable. In turn, their reporting on Iraq got spottier and spottier, and became largely based upon the assumptions that Saddam must have restarted all of his programs after the U.N. exited. This theory eventually became the conventional wisdom within the Agency, and shaped all of its studies in the 2000s.

Into this information vacuum stepped Charlie Allen. Allen was the CIA’s Assistant Director of Collection. In 1998, he began looking for new ways to collect data on Iraq. Two years later he hatched a scheme to contact family members of scientists working on Iraq’s weapons programs. He got in touch with around 30 of them, and James Risen of the New York Times talked to one, Sawsan Al-Haddad. Haddad was a doctor living in Cleveland, Ohio when in May 2002 a CIA officer contacted her. She was asked to go back to Iraq and talk to her brother, Saad Tawfiq. Tawfiq was a British trained engineer who lived in Baghdad, and worked on the nuclear program. The Agency wanted to know whether Tawfiq would defect, and if not whether he would answer questions about Saddam’s weapons operations. Haddad agreed. She went through weeks of training, going through the things should would ask her brother. In September, she set off to Iraq. When she met her brother, and they initially talked he said that it would be impossible for him to leave the country. Then she started going over the questions the CIA had prepared for him. Tawfiq said that the nuclear program was ended in the 1990s after the Gulf War. He said there was no more funding, no one was working on it, that Iraq lacked the equipment and material to restart it, and that there was no drive to even revive it. Tawfiq also refuted the story that Iraq tried to buy uranium yellow cake from the African country of Niger, which had just been released in the British dossier on Iraq’s WMD. Haddad asked her brother about Khidir Abdul Abbas Hamza, the former Iraqi nuclear scientist who defected in 1994, and then wrote a book in 2000, Saddam’s Bombmaker, claiming that Saddam had restarted his effort to build an atomic bomb. Tawfiq stated that Hamza knew nothing, and was just talking to making money. At the end, Haddad’s brother told her that he hoped his interview would stop the war. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

When Haddad returned to Cleveland and was debriefed, her brother’s testimony was rejected. The CIA officer who originally contacted her told her that the Agency thought her brother was lying. The 29 other scientists in Iraq that were talked to by family members also claimed there were no WMD or nuclear programs in Iraq. The CIA took this information, and did nothing with it. None of it was believed because they thought the scientists were trying to hide Saddam’s weapons. Therefore the reports were not disseminated within the Agency or to any other part of the government. In fact, the Directorate of Operations that was also trying to find spies within Iraq, was mad at Allen, and shut down his program. Instead, the CIA and the rest of the American intelligence community continued on with their claims that Iraq’s nuclear and WMD programs had been restarted, and were larger than before the Gulf War largely based upon assumptions rather than hard evidence. That was the story portrayed in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s weapons program, which was presented to Congress to help convince them for the necessity of war. Tawfiq on the other hand, was hoping that he could change minds in Washington about Iraq, but when he saw Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations in February 2003 about Iraq’s weapons programs, he was discouraged.

The CIA leadership in fact, was so wedded to their hypothesis about Iraq’s programs that it went on to ignore other on the ground intelligence before and after the 2003 invasion. In November 2002, international weapons inspectors returned to Iraq. By January 2003, they reported that the nuclear facilities they had visited were basically untouched since the last time they were there in 1998. (3) At the end of the month, and then in February, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the U.N. inspectors issued their official reports to the Security Council saying there was no active weapons programs in the country.  That was dismissed. Then after the 2003 invasion, when no weapons showed up, CIA Director Tenet continued to believe that they were going to be found. The head of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, who led the search for Iraq’s WMD and nuclear programs in post-Saddam Iraq, met with Tenet and told him that there was nothing in Iraq just before he resigned in January 2004. Kay claimed the Director still thought the U.S. was going to turn something up. It took around a year after the war had started for Tenet to finally change his mind. That obstinacy in the face of growing evidence even into 2004, showed how reports like those from Tawfiq who was in Iraq, and had worked on the nuclear program, could be dismissed by the Agency. It was so firmly wedded to its ideas about Iraq that anything that did not fit its view was discarded.

Saddam Hussein believed that a nuclear bomb was the path to making Iraq a world power. The 1991 Gulf War, United Nations inspectors, and sanctions put an end to his dreams. Facilities were taken apart, documents were found, and eventually Baghdad decided to shut down its program, and shift its scientists to other work. The United States knew nothing of his because they were largely blind about what was happening within Iraq after the inspectors left in 1998. Attempts to get spies within Iraq failed, but when Charlie Allen contacted 30 scientists from Iraq’s weapons programs, the U.S. finally had hard evidence that there was nothing suspicious going on in Iraq. Rather than analyzing these stories, and using them for further research, they were dismissed because they didn’t fit the Agency’s assumptions. That wasn’t because intelligence was lying about Saddam, but rather it believed all the programs were up and running, and nothing was going to shake them from that image. The CIA and others just could not fathom that Iraq would give up on obtaining nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons given its past history. This was a missed opportunity, and highlighted the huge intelligence failure that the U.S. experienced, which helped lead to the 2003 invasion.


1. Waller, Douglas, “Bush’s Rude Surprise,” Newsweek, 4/22/91

2. Shrader, Katherine Pfleger, “Nominee linked to U.S., CIA by decades of anti-Hussein work,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5/29/04

3. Jansen, Michael, “Inspectors states no banned weapons found in Iraq so far,” Irish Times, 1/2/03


Anderson, Jon Lee, “A Man Of The Shadows,” New Yorker, 1/24/05

El Baradei, Mohamed, “The Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq,” IAEA, 2/14/03

Broder, Jonathan, “U.S. policy on Iraqi chaos: Cold, hard – and wistful,” San Francisco Examiner, 3/31/91

Gordon, Michael and Risen, James, “Report’s Findings Undercut U.S. Argument,” New York Times, 1/28/03

Hersh, Seymour, “The Iraq Hawks,” New Yorker, 12/24/01
- “Selective Intelligence,” New Yorker, 5/12/03

Hoffman, David and Balz, Dan, “Bush Plans Effort Aimed at Destabilizing, Toppling Iraqi Leader,” Washington Post, 8/6/90

Iraq Survey Group, “Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCIA on Iraq’s WMD,” 9/30/04

Jansen, Michael, “Inspectors states no banned weapons found in Iraq so far,” Irish Times, 1/2/03

MacLeod, Scott, “Live From Baghdad: What the Iraqis Told Blix,” Time, 11/21/02

Overseas and Defense Secretariat, “Iraq: Options Paper,” 3/8/02

PBS Frontline, “Khidhir Hamza,” Gunning For Saddam, 11/8/01

Priest, Dana and Pincus, Walter, “Bush Certainty On Iraq Arms Went Beyond Analysis’ Views,” Washington Post, 6/7/03

Risen, James, “C.I.A. Held Back Iraqi Arms Data, Officials Say,” New York Times, 7/6/04
- State of War; The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Free Press, 2006

Risen, James, Sanger, David and Shanker, Thom, “In Sketchy Data, White House Sought Clues to Gauge Threat,” New York Times, 7/20/03

Rose, David, “Iraq’s Arsenal of Terror,” Vanity Fair, May 2002

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Report On the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments On Iraq,” U.S. Senate, 7/7/04

Shelburne, Elizabeth, “Weapons of Misperception,” Atlantic, 1/13/04

Shrader, Katherine Pfleger, “Nominee linked to U.S., CIA by decades of anti-Hussein work,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5/29/04

Tripp, Charles, A History Of Iraq, Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Dehli: Cambridge University Press, 2007

Waller, Douglas, “Bush’s Rude Surprise,” Newsweek, 4/22/91

Whitelaw, Kevin and Mazzetti, Mark, “Why War?” U.S. News & World Report, 10/14/02

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Musings On Iraq Down But Not Out

I was suffering from chest pains starting on Monday. Wednesday I finally went to the hospital and had some emergency surgery to remove my gall bladder, which was infected. I'm now recovering, but hope to get back to blogging soon. Thanks to everyone that reads Musings.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Iraq Wants Its Own Defense Policy, Not The One Fashioned By Washington

The U.S. has equipped and planned the future of the Iraqi security forces, but Baghdad is now exerting its own priorities over its military (Arab
The United States and some defense analysts have big plans for Iraq’s security forces. Washington would like to see Iraq have a large and modern military capable of defending itself against external threats with U.S. tanks, assault rifles, artillery, and fighters. They are especially concerned about Iran. Iraq however, has its own ideas, which may not match what the U.S. wants. Michael Knights in his June 2011 report, “The Iraqi Security Forces: Local Context and U.S. Assistance,” notes that Iraq’s history, politics, and economics will shape how it develops its military more than America’s priorities.

The United States set out a three-stage plan to develop Iraq’s security forces. The first was to put the Iraqis in charge of internal security. That started in 2006, and was completed in 2010. The second was to put the police in charge of internal security, a job that is now done in conjunction with the Iraqi Army. That was to happen by the end of 2011. The last part was to have Iraqis take charge of their external defense. The Iraqi military has plans to achieve that by 2020. 
Premier Maliki has tried to exert direct control over the Iraqi military, which complicates America's strategy for Iraq (Shatt al-Arab)
Those last two steps may take much longer than the Americans planned. Having the police take over control of the country may never happen as long as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is in power. That’s because the police are recruited locally,  and are therefore under the sway of municipal and provincial authorities. Maliki wants the central government, which he is the head of, to be in charge of security. He therefore prefers to use the Army instead. In the most important governorates, such as Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, Ninewa, and Anbar, the military is organized into operation commands that skip the traditional chain of authority, and are under the direct control of the prime minister. Some politicians have also been voicing concerns that Maliki has been attempting to directly control the military, especially now that he is the acting Defense and Interior Minister, by placing his followers within the ranks and bureaucracy. Not only that, but the Army is much more capable of carrying out anti-insurgent activities than the police. Being self-reliant in national defense may also be delayed. Although the Iraqi forces are in the process of buying modern tanks and artillery, this may not be completed by 2020. Also the ability to maintain and supply these sophisticated pieces of equipment may take even longer as those are major deficiencies in the Iraqi forces. These are all signs of Baghdad setting its own priorities rather than simply following what the Americans want. As U.S. influence continues to decline, and its troops are drawn down, Iraq’s politicians can be expected to do this more and more.
The Kurdish rebel group the PKK is based along the Iraq-Turkish border and invites annual military retaliation from Ankara. Baghdad has no means to stop these actions because of its weak border forces (IraqSlogger)
Other example of the growing autonomy by Iraqis over security involves strategies and tactics. For one, border enforcement is extremely weak. There is large amounts of smuggling, militants going back and forth between Syria and Iran and Iraq, and there are two Kurdish guerrilla organizations, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), which are based out of northern Iraq, but carry out operations against the Turkish and Iranian governments respectively. Every year their operations incite shelling and sometimes military incursions by those two countries. The PKK for example, just killed thirteen Turkish soldiers,  and both Turkey and Iran are firing artillery barrages along the border, and might have even encroached into Iraqi territory. Border control is almost non-existent in Kurdistan except at official trading points. This is actually nothing new. Saddam Hussein was forced to give up control of Kurdistan beginning in the 1970s. Another issue is internal defense. In terms of strategy, the Iraqi army is increasingly acting more like a conventional army with raids and arrests, instead of conducting population centric counterinsurgency operations as the Americans initiated during the Surge. Baghdad also shows no enthusiasm for integrating the Sons of Iraq to help maintain protection in the areas they operate in. This has all happened despite American efforts to build up a border guard, and to make the Iraqis a competent counterinsurgency force.
Iranian weapons are regularly captured in Iraq, but Washington and Baghdad have different ways of dealing with it (Arkenstone)
The biggest difference between Iraq and the Americans is over the southern border and relations with Iran. In southern Iraq, there is a constant flow of weapons and militiamen from Iran, which has gone on since the 1980s. Recently this has increased as Tehran and the Special Groups it backs have started a campaign to attack U.S. troops to give the impression that they were responsible for their withdrawal. The Iraqi government has done nothing about these operations since 2008, despite growing complaints by American officials that their soldiers are dying in larger numbers this year, and that Baghdad needs to do something about it. The U.S. defense plans for Iraq are also largely based upon deterring Iranian power. The problem with that is that the Shiite and Kurdish ruling parties in Iraq do not see Iran in those terms. Many have had friendly relations with Tehran since the time of Saddam, and do not want to return to an adversarial relationship. In fact, many think there is an unofficial non-aggression pact between the two. That means the Iraqi military cannot fully address any of these problems along the Iranian border. Not only that, but the security forces consider border problems a diplomatic affair, and leave any incident up to the Foreign Ministry and politicians. That means the military has no clear policy on how to deal with Iran, despite U.S. pressure to treat them as a threat.
Iraq's Kurdish parties and Iran both complained about Baghdad's plans to buy F-16 fighters from the United States showing the internal and external problems Iraq has outfitting its forces
Another part of the U.S. plan that is likely to become complicated is the drive to make Iraq capable of defending itself. This faces six problems. First, Iraq has uneven officers and Defense Ministry. Some of Iraq’s officers are veterans of the Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars, while others are political appointees with no military training. The new officers also have no combat experience fighting other countries, just militants. They will require a large transition from internal to external defense operations. Second, different political parties have run the Defense Ministry, each of which has placed its followers in positions of authority. These officials are more interested in serving their leaders than defending the country. Third, there is also massive corruption within the Defense Ministry involving people buying commissions, and taking kickbacks in weapons procurement deals, sometimes for defective equipment. Fourth, politically, the Kurds have protested about some of the weapon systems the military wants to buy. Fifth, Iran may also use its influence to stop some military programs. In February for example, the deputy head of the security committee in Iraq’s parliament complained that Tehran was trying to block a proposed deal to purchase 18 F-16 fighters from the United States. Last, Iraq’s government has to be committed to spending the necessary money to purchase all of the new equipment needed. There is no guarantee this will happen. When protests started in early 2011 for instance, Maliki temporarily cancelled the F-16 deal, claiming he would use the money for social programs instead. Oil is the backbone of the Iraqi economy, and the current high prices caused by the unrest in the Middle East is bringing in record profits, but if those were to collapse, Baghdad may have to cut back its spending for the armed forces. This presents a daunting number of issues that Iraq has to overcome before it can be ready to defend itself. It has institutional barriers, political differences, outside interference, and possible financial limitations that it must all deal with.

Given all of these problems, Michael Knights presented three paths that Iraq could follow in developing its military. First, it could have a small military that was mostly for posturing against other countries, but not one really capable of defending itself against a serious attack. This would consist of 5-6 heavy brigades, and perhaps a dozen light infantry divisions. That path would largely depend upon diplomatic relations with Iraq’s neighbors to maintain security. Second, Iraq could build up its armed forces so that they could deter other countries. That would mean 3-4 armored and mechanized divisions with light divisions and heavy equipment. This would still be a small force that would also be affordable. Finally, Baghdad could embark upon a full-scale rearmament program to try to at least match Iraq’s previous standing as a military powerhouse in the region when Saddam Hussein was in power. That would require the government to appoint Iran its major rival, and fund 7 armored/mechanized divisions, 14 light infantry divisions, at least 10 internal security divisions, along with building up the federal police. This is the force that the Americans have envisioned for Iraq with tanks, artillery, air defense, offensive air power, logistics, etc. This is also the least likely to happen because of Iraq’s friendly relationship with Iran. That leaves something along the first two paths. Those can also be bolstered by a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq, or a security agreement between the two that would allow the Americans to come to the aid of Iraq if requested using the extensive bases that the U.S. maintains in other Middle Eastern countries. The problem with the former is that American troops are unpopular in Iraq, and growing more so day-by-day. There is an open question whether they will even get an extension to stay past the December 31, 2011 deadline for them to withdraw.
Iraq has ordered 140 M1A1 Abrams tanks from the U.S, but doesn't have the ability to maintain them, which will require U.S. service contracts (2Space)
Even though Washington and Baghdad have increasingly divergent views of what Iraq’s security forces should look like there is still ample room for cooperation. The United States is the largest supplier of military equipment to Iraq, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Buying U.S. arms requires training and maintenance, which means U.S. advisers and contractors. That allows the U.S. defense establishment at the minimum to give Iraq friendly advice on what to do on security.

After the 2003 invasion, the United States disbanded Iraq’s military. They then set about rebuilding it from scratch. That meant the Americans came up with all of the plans on how to develop the forces. Like too many things, this was based upon U.S. ideas rather than Iraqi ones. Now that the Americans are on their way out, and their influence is lessoning every day as a result, Baghdad is asserting its authority over its defense priorities as it should have from the beginning. That probably means many of the original U.S. ideas will be scrapped or modified. Iraq is likely to run into financial, political, and corruption problems buying all of the equipment it wants. As long as the current ruling parties are in power, the policy along the border will also be ambiguous at best. That means Iraq will end up with a brand new armed forces, but it will look and act a lot different than how Washington originally envisioned them.


Agence France Presse, “US shows evidence in Iraq rocket attacks it says leads to Iran,” 7/14/11

Craig, Tim, “With ‘big gun’, Iraqi soldiers see hope,” Washington Post, 6/19/11

Gompert, David, Kelly, Terrence, Watkins, Jessica, “Security in Iraq; A Framework for Analyzing Emerging Threats as U.S. Forces Leave,” RAND, 2/17/10

Al-Hasani, Mustafa, “Maliki’s allies are worried about the dominance of his party in the Iraqi military,” Shatt al-Arab, 7/14/11

International Crisis Group, “Loose Ends: Iraq’s Security Forces Between U.S. Drawdown And Withdrawal,” 10/26/10

Al-Jaff, Wissam, “Source: Iran presses on Iraq to replace US weapons deal with French,” AK News, 2/8/11

Knights, Michael, “The Iraqi Security Forces: Local Context and U.S. Assistance,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, June 2011

Press TV, “’Iraqi Kurds uneasy at US arms sales,’” 1/17/11

Rahim, Hemin Baban, “MP: Iraq Corruption “Tremendous,”” Rudaw, 7/16/11

Sabah, Bakhtiyar, “Iran setting up bases on Kurdistan border, says village chief,” AK News, 7/17/11

Saifaddin, Dilsahd, “PKK: Iranian troops on Iraqi soil,” AK News, 7/17/11

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Female Activists Claim Abuse At Iraq Rallies

Interview With Harry's Place Middle East Blog

I was recently interviewed by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi for the Middle East blog Harry's Place. We discussed a number of issues about Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion. You can find the interview here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government Prevents Return Of Protests

Sulaymaniya in Iraq’s Kurdistan saw the largest and most consistent protests at the beginning of the year. Thousands of young people turned out every day in the city’s central square beginning in February 2011. In April, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had enough, and sent out the security forces to break them up. Since then things have been relatively quiet, until July 15 when organizers called for a new round of demonstrations. The regional government acted quickly to suppress it before it even happened.
(United Nations)
On July 14, a youth group in Sulaymaniya called for new protests in the city. It used Facebook to promote its plan for an assembly on Friday, July 15. Other activists had differing opinions on the idea. Some warned that the government would repress any new activity. The Livin Press, which has been critical of the government, added to this by reporting that large numbers of security forces were deployed throughout the city. The KRG used force back in April to break up protests in Sulaymaniya, so this threat had to be taken seriously.

The security forces were out in large numbers to deter any protests
When July 15 came around, the security forces were ready. There were checkpoints in and around the city, and a large number of officers were deployed in Saray Square where the previous protests were held. As soon as people approached downtown they were swept up or deterred from continuing. Ten organizers were arrested, (1) along with two reporters. Later, one of the protest organizations claimed that their followers were abused and beaten. They claimed the director of the Metro Center to Defend Journalism was picked up, and whipped, and that people who were trying to film the arrests with their cell phones were also detained. The government was obviously not going to tolerate a new round of demonstrations starting in Sulaymaniya. They had just broken up the last ones two months before, and were not willing to have more people out in the street questioning their authority. They thus wanted to nip these activists in the bud by a strong show of force meant to scare and intimidate them.

Demonstrations originally began in Sulaymaniya on February 17, when thousands of young people came out to Saray Square calling for a number of reforms such as a new government, and an end to corruption. Things quickly got out of hand when they headed for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headquarters, one of the two ruling parties, and started throwing stones. That led guards to fire into the crowd, killing two people and wounding 47 others. That did not deter activists who came out to the square again the next day, and started a sit-in that lasted two months. In May, the government decided to end them, by sending in the security forces to beat and arrest the protesters, and push them out of the square. Since then, there had not been any activity in any part of Kurdistan until July 15.

After May, the demands of the protesters were taken up by the Kurdish opposition parties, but nothing came of it. In fact, the three opposing parties recently walked out of talks. Some of the activists objected to the negotiations to begin with, claiming that only they spoke for the Kurdish people. Because the two months of protests and the discussions with the ruling parties have not brought about any concrete change, a new wave of protests could’ve been predicted. The KRG’s response with the security forces was also something that could have been foreseen. Whether the organizers can break through the security forces is the question now, because without outside pressure, the regional government is unlikely to make anything but cosmetic reforms, while they hold onto power.


1. Alsumaria News, “Kurdish security forces arrested ten people who were preparing to break a demonstration in Sulaimaniya,” 7/15/11


Alsumaria News, “Kurdish security forces arrested ten people who were preparing to break a demonstration in Sulaimaniya,” 7/15/11

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

Aswat al-Iraq, “Strict security measures in Sulaimaniya to face new demonstration,” 7/16/11

Hennessy-Fiske, Molly, “IRAQ: At least two protesters dead,” Babylon & Beyond, Los Angeles Times, 2/17/11

MESOP, “Stop the Whipping in Sulaimaniah / The Federation of Civil Society Organizations,” 7/16/11

Saifaddin, Dilshad, “Kurdistan’s ruling parties to voice stance on opposition’s suspension of talks,” AK News, 7/14/11
- “Sulaimaniya: Youth group calls for revival of protests,” AK News, 7/14/11

Monday, July 18, 2011

A False Offensive In Iraq Against Special Groups, May Have Served A Political Purpose

At the end of June 2011, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that a military offensive would be launched in southern Iraq against Special Groups. In the last couple months, the number of attacks upon U.S. forces throughout Iraq had dramatically increased, and the number of casualties along with it. The Americans were constantly pressuring Baghdad to do something about it. The Premier finally agreed to conduct an operation, but it appeared to be more for show than anything else, and might have been a warning to Moqtada al-Sadr who Maliki is increasingly having problems with.

Maysan province (Wikipedia)
On June 30, the Iraqi government said that it would begin a crackdown on Iranian-supported Special Groups in southern Iraq. 2,000 soldiers and police would be deployed to Maysan province, wanted persons would be rounded up, weapons caches would be searched for, and patrols around U.S. bases would be stepped up to prevent attacks by militants. Maysan has historically been a center for arms smuggling and infiltration by Shiites-supported by Tehran. In 2008, Maliki conducted the last of his military operations of the year there to break up the Sadrists who controlled the provincial government. 

By mid-July, the U.S. military complained to the New York Times that nothing had come of Baghdad’s effort. The top U.S. army spokesman in Iraq said that nothing substantive came of the campaign, with only a few low-level fighters detained. He told the Times that the Iraqi government could be doing more.

Since nothing of military value came of the campaign, its real purpose might have been a warning to Moqtada al-Sadr from Maliki. Sadr’s bloc in parliament was the main reason why Maliki was able to return to the premiership. As part of that deal, the Sadrists regained controlled of Maysan where the operation was announced. Since then, the Sadr movement has begun to be a thorn in the side of the prime minister. They have increased their attacks upon American forces, and are constantly bragging about it. On July 14 for example, they claimed that have carried out nine attacks upon U.S. military bases in a week in Baghdad, Maysan, Qadisiyah, and Diyala governorates. The stepped up violence, while aimed at foreigners, damages Maliki’s claim to have improved security in the country. Sadrists in parliament are also the main opponents of American troops staying in the country. They’ve called for Americans to be banned from entering parliament, condemned the opening of a U.S. consulate in Basra, and have pushed provincial councils to bar American forces from operating there. None of these actions are legal or binding, but they show how the Trend is attempting to win over public opinion to its side. That appears to be partially working as more and more parliamentarians from a variety of parties have recently said they would oppose any extended stay for the Americans. This too annoys Maliki as he appears to want to give them an extension. Finally, Sadrists on the integrity committee in parliament are constantly threatening to expose corrupt officials including members of the premier’s Dawa party, (1) which of course Maliki would not like either. While the two parties are part of the National Coalition, that is an alliance in name only. Both agreed to work together so that they could take power, but now the cracks are becoming more and more apparent. Sadr, especially needs to be wary of any threats from Maliki as he has used military force against him before.

Maliki’s move appeared to have had its intended affect. Sadr recently announced that he would not mobilize his Mahdi Army militia again, even if the U.S. army stayed in the country. This was a major reversal for Sadr who had been threatening to bring his men back on the street for months. His followers told the press that Moqtada made the decision partially because he angered political parties, meaning the prime minister’s State of Law. That still leaves differences over a troop extension and in parliament, but for now the prime minister looks like he has gotten the upper hand.


1. Alsumaria News, “The issuance of arrest warrants for two of the leaders of the Dawa Party, on charges of corruption,” 6/30/11


Alsumaria, “Sadr Front launches campaign to prevent Americans from entering Parliament,” 7/14/11

Alsumaria News, “The issuance of arrest warrants for two of the leaders of the Dawa Party, on charges of corruption,” 6/30/11

Arango, Tim, “In Shadow of Death, Iraq and U.S. tiptoe Around a Deadline,” New York Times, 7/14/11

Mohammed, Muhanad, “Iraq military cracks down on militias and arms smuggling,” Reuters, 7/3/11

National Iraqi News Agency, “Muqtada Al Sadr denounces the opening of U.S. Consulate in Basra,” 7/6/11

Al-Rayy, “Islamic Resistance confirms implementation 9 operations against U.S. occupation forces in a week,” 7/14/11

Reuters, “Iraq cleric pursues U.S. troop ban in strongholds,” 6/30/11

Schmidt, Michael, “Iraq Begins Cracks Down on Shiite Militias,” New York Times, 7/1/11

Friday, July 15, 2011

Iraq Thinks Its Politicians And Parties Are Failing Them According To New Opinion Poll

In early June 2011, the Greenberg Quinland Rosner Research company in conjunction with the National Democratic Institute released their latest public opinion poll of Iraqis. The survey was conducted from February to March, and consisted of 2,400 in-person interviews of people 18 years or older. 1,436 of them were weighted to reflect the populations of each region. They were asked eleven questions total, and there was +/- 2.0% margin of error. This poll was a follow up to a much larger one held in November 2010. The new survey showed that Iraqis are losing confidence in the direction the country is going in and in their leaders.

The first question asked was whether the participants felt that Iraq was going in the right or wrong direction. 49% said that Iraq was heading in the wrong direction, while 42% said that it was doing fine. That was a slight reversal from November when 45% thought the country was going in the right direction, and 44% thought it was going the wrong way. That change was due to a reversal in mood in southern Iraq. There, 37% said that Iraq was on the right track, and 52% said the opposite. In November, 57% said it was going in the right direction. Baghdad and northern Iraq had the most positive views with 54% and 66% respectively stating that the nation was doing good. Western Iraq was the opposite with 67% saying that things were going wrong. Not only that, but those that felt strongly that Iraq was on the wrong track in that part of the country went from 17% in November to 43% in March. The situation in the country has slightly changed from the last poll. Attacks have inched up, and the political parties are still deadlocked over forming the government. Those could be the reasons why respondents turned slightly more pessimistic in the latest survey.
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When broken down by ethnosectarian identity, Sunnis had overwhelmingly negative views about the country, 71% saying that Iraq was doing badly, while Kurds were the most positive, 67% said the nation was on the right track. Turkmen were like Sunnis with 53% telling surveyors that Iraq was going down the wrong path. Shiites were almost evenly divided with 43% telling the company that Iraq was doing fine, and 48% saying the opposite. The poll showed that Sunnis still felt the most marginalized in the country. The Kurds are relatively safe and prosperous by Iraqi standards in their own region, which is why they had positive views. Finally, the Shiites were split, because despite being the majority, many of them live in the poorest parts of the country.
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Young people and the poor were the most pessimistic, while the elderly and wealthy were evenly split. 49% of young women said that Iraq was on the wrong track, and 54% of young men stated the same thing. That compared to 43% of older women and 45% of older men who had positive views. In the survey, people under 35 were designated as young. In terms of class, 60% of the poor, and 52% of the middle class claimed that the country was on the wrong path. 46% of the rich said Iraq was doing fine. The young probably have higher aspirations of the new Iraq, and the poor are obviously suffering, which is why those two appear to be disappointed.

The next question was what issue had improved the most. Security and education were at the top, while corruption and the electrical supply were at the bottom. 62% felt that security was better, up 4% from November. 61% also thought education was improving. Conversely, only 38% said that the power was doing better, and 32% said that of corruption. Elements of the economy were seen to be positive, with 52% saying jobs and 50% stating the cost of living had gotten better. When asked about the economy specifically, 56% thought it was weak, however 38% believed their personal finances were strong. Attacks continue in Iraq, but the civil war is over. Violence has become more impersonal for many Iraqis, and they are able to go out more, which is why the improvement in security is perceived to be the greatest achievement. More and more children are also attending schools. Despite having an oil dependent economy during a period when the industry is booming, little of this wealth is seen to have trickled down however. That’s probably why the economy was at the bottom in the survey. Corruption is also endemic, and is reported on almost every day in the media, yet there is no perceived change in the situation.
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As a follow up question, participants were asked what two issues were the most important for the government to address. Jobs were number one at 63%, followed by services at 47%. Security was the third most important in November at 36%, but it dropped 20% to fourth by March. Education, 8%, sectarianism, 6%, and housing 1% were considered the least pressing. In western Iraq, 73%, and southern Iraq, 65%, jobs were the most important, while services were even more important to the south at 76%. Iraq suffers from high unemployment and even higher underemployment, and services like electricity have never met demand. With security greatly improved, these quality of life issues have now come to the fore in the public’s mind.
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Iraqis from all regions felt that democracy was the best form of government for the country, but were a little divided over whether it really was one or not. 71% said that democracy would make life better, and only 16% thought it would make it worse. Baghdad, 58%, western Iraq, 67%, northern Iraq, 76%, and southern Iraq, 80%, all felt the same. On whether Iraq was a real democracy, the responses were much closer with 42% saying yes, and 39% saying no. Baghdad, 40%, and western Iraq, 51%, said no, while northern Iraq, 45%, and southern Iraq, 56%, said yes. After living for decades under a dictatorship, it’s no surprise that people have a positive view of democracy. Whether it’s working appears to be much more mixed with the country almost evenly split on the matter.

One problem with Iraq’s democracy is its political parties, not one of which had a 50% approval rating. 43% had a warm or favorable opinion of Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List, 37% said that about the Sadr Trend, 32% felt that way about Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq’s Iraqi National Dialogue Front, followed by 31% for the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), 30% for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, 26% for the Iraqi Islamic Party, 14% for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi’s Renewal List, 14% for President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and 13% for the Fadhila Party and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party. All the Arab parties, except for Dawa, improved their standing from November 2010, while the Kurdish parties both went down. Only Allawi’s Iraqi National List had a more favorable rating, 43%, than negative, 40%. The Dawa for example had a 30% favorable opinion, and 52% unfavorable, and two-thirds had bad views of the Kurdish parties.
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Those feelings carried over to people’s views of individual politicians. Iyad Allawi, 48%, and Moqtada al-Sadr, 45% finished at the top of the poll, and were the only two with more favorable than unfavorable responses. They were followed by Speaker of Parliament Osama Nujafi, 39%, Premier Maliki, 35%, SIIC head Ammar al-Hakim, 35%, Vice President Hashemi, 33%, head of the National Coalition Ibrahim al-Jaafari, 30%, Deputy Premier Mutlaq, 29%, President Talabani, 17%, and Kurdish President Barzani, 16%. All of those had more negative than positive opinions. One base of support for Sadr and Allawi appeared to be the lower-middle class and poor, 52% of which had a favorable opinion of Sadr, and 45% had one of Allawi. After that, all the other politicians had a more unfavorable view than positive. The same thing was expressed amongst young men with 54% supporting Sadr and 48% supporting Allawi. In comparison, 44% of the lower class and 48% of young men had an unfavorable opinion of Maliki. Also, while Kurdish leaders Talabani and Barzani were seen negatively in the country in general, they still held strong support in Kurdistan with 66% having a good view of Talabani and 62% saying that about Barzani. This was despite large protests that occurred in Sulaymaniya that started in February against the Kurdish regional government.
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Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was right in the middle of the pack. The poll showed that he had his strongest support in Baghdad and the South, but that his numbers were slipping in the latter. Overall, 35% said they felt positive about Maliki, while 45% were cool to him. In Baghdad the premier had a 50% approval rating, and 42% in the south, although that dropped 23% from November. In Western Iraq only 15% had a favorable view of him, and in the North 30% did, but that was a 17% increase from the last survey. When asked directly about his performance 39% said they approved, and 54% said the opposite. Again, 52% in Baghdad and 47% in the south said they thought Maliki was doing well, while in the West, 24%, and north, 27%, that opinion was not shared. Oddly enough the prime minister’s approval rating went up 22% in the South, which contradicted the first question about him personally. Maliki has strenuously held onto power, and outmaneuvered his main rival Iyad Allawi after the 2010 elections. He has not improved the government’s performance however, which could account for the negative views people have of him. The opposing views of Maliki himself on the one hand, and his job on the other in the south is an oddity.
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On the local level the provincial councils were seen negatively, while there was still strong support for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). When asked about the job performance of the councils, 34% approved, down 13% from November, while 62% disapproved, up 15%. Western Iraq had the most favorable opinion with 40% approving, and 59% disapproving. Baghdad was in the middle with 38% approving, and 58% disapproving, while the South had the lowest rating at 27% approving and 67% disapproving. In Kurdistan 69% approved and 30% disapproved. That was down from November when the KRG had an 85% favorability rating. The south is the poorest part of the country. The provincial councils have been in power since 2009, but have not been able to improve services or the quality of life, which accounts for their poor showing in the poll. Western Iraq also has its problems, but perhaps the closer connection between the tribes and political parties there has kept some of the discontent in check. Baghdad contains all of the contradictions in the country with some of the poorest and richest districts of the country. It also has the most daily attacks and casualties, and a huge internally displaced population. Kurdistan on the other hand, is the most stable part of the nation, and the ruling parties have a vast array of tribal ties and a large patronage system to maintain support.

The main thing to take away from this new poll is that Iraqis felt that their country was heading in the wrong direction. Sunnis, the poor, and the young were the most pessimistic about the future. Based upon the questions asked, Iraq’s political class was the main culprit behind the negative views. All of the major parties and leaders, with the exception of Allawi and Sadr, were seen badly. Politicians are increasingly thought to be more involved with their own personal squabbles than running the country. In the sixteen months since parliamentary elections, very little has been accomplished as Maliki and Allawi are still arguing over finishing off the cabinet. The provincial councils have been in power even longer, and people’s opinions of them are just as negative with the exception of the Kurdish region. The question is the next time a survey is conducted, will the negative views increase even more or will they remain relatively stable? If the numbers continue to decline it will show that the public has lost even more faith in the government to improve its lot. The sad thing is that the elite do not show any concern for this. In Iraq, the parties insist upon national unity governments where everyone gets a seat at the table instead of being punished for their poor performance.


Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, “Relative Stability in Iraq Despite Unrest,” National Democratic Institute, 6/2/11

Iraq’s Oil Exports And Revenue Drop In May

In May Iraq suffered a drop in international oil prices. Its exports dipped as well.