Monday, April 30, 2012

Russia’s Lukoil Begins Drilling At Iraq’s West Qurna 2 Oil Field

On April 25, 2012, Iraq’s Oil Ministry held an official ceremony to mark the beginning of drilling at Basra’s West Qurna 2 oil field. It is the second largest undeveloped bloc in the world, and contains an estimated 12.9 billion barrels of oil. Originally Russia’s Lukoil and Norway’s Statoil won a contract for West Qurna 2 in Iraq’s second energy auction, held in December 2009. Costs, the difficulty of the country’s business environment, and opportunities in other parts of the world eventually led Statoil to pull out of the deal, and sell its shares in the joint venture to their Russian partners in 2012. Statoil has signed deals with the America’s Baker Hughes and South Korea’s Samsung Engineering to complete the drilling and other services at the bloc. Lukoil plans on investing $25 billion into the field during its 20-year contract. When it reaches 150,000 barrels a day in production, it will begin being compensated by Iraq’s Oil Ministry. That’s supposed to be achieved by the end of 2013. By the second half of 2014, Lukoil plans on reaching 500,000 barrels a day. By 2015, it hopes to achieve 1.8 million barrels in production. This is all part of Iraq’s plans to become one of the largest petroleum producers in the world. Already, its deals with foreign energy companies are paying dividends as exports from southern Iraq, where most of the country’s energy resources reside, are taking off. By mid-April, they were up an estimated 400,000 barrels a day, going from 1.91 million barrels in March to 1.95 million. March’s overall export numbers were already a 15% jump from the previous month. With a planned five new oil terminals to be opened in Basra, two already operating, the country will finally have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of this huge boom in the industry.

The problem for Iraq is that it is already the most oil dependent country in the region, with around 90% of its revenue coming from the business. These new developments will make it even more reliant upon energy with Baghdad only giving lip service to diversifying the rest of the economy. As with many nations in this situation, Iraq is suffering from the resource curse, because its largest business provides only 2% of jobs. That usually results in a large and corrupt government bureaucracy, and a citizenry dependent upon public sector jobs. Iraq will be under even greater pressure, because it has one of the youngest and fastest growing populations in the Middle East and North Africa. There’s simply no way the government can provide enough jobs for this booming populace, which will lead to greater unemployment and public discontent. Its short-term success with oil may lead to long-term problems for its society.

Two Lukoil workers standing besides a boulder, which will eventually be included in a new processing facility at West Qurna 2 (Reuters)
Lukoil workers on a platform watching drilling begin at the field (Reuters)
A view of West Qurna 2 field (Reuters)
Opening of the drilling rig at the field (Reuters)

Hafidh, Hassan, “UPDATE: Iraq’s Southern Oil Exports At Record Rates In April,” Dow Jones, 4/23/12

Mohammed, Aref, “UPDATE 2-Iraq West Qurna 2 output seen at 500,000 bpd in 2014,” Reuters, 4/25/12

PanAremnian.Net, “LUKoil launches production drilling at Iraqi West Qurna-2 oilfield,” 4/25/12

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “LUKoil Begins Pumping From Major Oil Field Near Basra,” 4/25/12

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

Blast Walls Being Taken Down In Iraq’s Capital

On April 28, 2012, the Baghdad Operations Command began taking down concrete blast walls throughout Iraq’s capital. The Iraqi security forces have been talking about doing this as far back as 2008, (1) and some were removed in the Fadel district that year. (2) The barriers were originally erected by the United States to section off certain neighborhoods in Baghdad to stop insurgent and militia attacks. By limiting movement, business was also hampered, prices went up in the capital as a result, and the sectarian cleansing of Baghdad, which was caused by the conflict, was solidified. Now with security greatly improved, the government feels safe enough to take down more of the blast walls. That doesn’t mean daily attacks don’t still occur in Baghdad, but there is no more civil war, and violence is more like terrorism, which these barriers can’t stop. Iraqi citizens have often complained about the walls despite their positive affects, so many in the capital will likely welcome this change.

A checkpoint at a break in blast walls in Baghdad's Sadr City, Jun. 2008. (AP)
Blast walls being removed from Shurja market in central Baghdad, Apr. 28, 2012 (Reuters)

1. Lannen, Steve, “Militia in 2nd province ends cooperation with U.S.,” McClatchy Newspapers, 2/16/08

2. Alsumaria, “Iraq removes separation wall,” 10/8/08


Hendawi, Hamza, “Baghdad’s walls keep peace but fell like prison,” Associated Press, 6/27/08

Lannen, Steve, “Militia in 2nd province ends cooperation with U.S.,” McClatchy Newspapers, 2/16/08

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Security Forces Pull Down Hundreds Of Baghdad Blast Walls,” 4/28/12

Roberts, Dustin, “Some Baghdad blast walls removed,” Stars and Stripes, 4/24/09

PRESS TV VIDEO: Iraq: Deadly Blasts Target Cafe In Diyala Province Killing At Least 8 People

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Oil Row With Kurds Stirs Iraq Tensions

CNN VIDEO: Iraq's Oil Economy

Thursday, April 26, 2012

National Conference To Resolve Iraq’s Political Disputes Dies A Slow Death

In December 2011, the Kurds came up with the idea of a national conference to be attended by all of Iraq’s ruling parties to resolve the country’s political problems. These disputes have been going on since the March 2010 elections, and have only gotten worse since then with various provinces calling for autonomy, a wave of detentions of alleged Baathists, an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, and an attempt to unseat Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq, amongst other events. Within days however, the idea of actually pulling off a meaningful meeting seemed dim, and has only gotten worse with the passage of time. With Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continually outplaying his rivals the Iraqi National Movement there is no reason for him to compromise, meaning there is little chance for a substantive meeting to happen.

In April 2012, the realization that a meaningful national conference could be pulled off was apparent to all the major parties in Iraq. On April 23, the Iraqi National Movement (INM) announced that it would not attend the preparatory meetings for the conference on the grounds that it would be a waste of time. The lists could not agree upon an agenda, so the meetings were going nowhere. The Kurds held the same view with Parliamentarian Mahmoud Othman telling the press that it wasn’t a good time to hold the conference due to the lack of consensus, and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani questioning whether the conference could achieve anything even if it was ever held. Barzani blamed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the impasse. He was correct. Since the March 2010 parliamentary elections, the premier has been able to consistently out maneuver his rivals in the INM. He got a second term in office, while his competitor for prime minister Iyad Allawi was shut out of government. He was able to split the National Movement during its boycott of the cabinet that started in December 2011, and has been able to put off almost all of the Kurdish demands like resolution of the disputed territories and a new oil law. Being in such a strong position means that there is no reason for the premier to compromise with any of the other parties, let alone hold the national conference.

The idea for a national conference originated with the Kurds in December 2011. President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Barzani originally made the suggestion during the latest blow up between the INM and Maliki’s State of Law. At the time, Maliki was attempting to remove Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq from office, and an arrest warrant had been issued for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges, and he had fled to Kurdistan as a result. The two Kurdish leaders had been trying to mediate the crisis, and came up with the idea of a gathering of all of Iraq’s parties as a way to solve the latest problem. The INM was the first to support the idea, saying that all of the national leaders should attend as well such as President Barzani, Moqtada al-Sadr, and Ammar al-Hakim from the Supreme Council. It also demanded a set of principals be developed beforehand. The conference was originally supposed to happen in January 2012, but it never did. That’s because the negotiations over the meeting have been just as contested as everything else in Iraqi politics. The various parties have made demand after demand of each other, traded accusations, which has led to deadlock, a problem the conference was supposed to solve.

There are various examples of why the conference has not happened so far. The INM for one, has flip flopped on some issues, and made impossible demands at other times. One lawmaker from the list said in January that the Hashemi case would not be included, only to have another member demand that it should be in February. The list then called for an end to random arrests, the cessation of tensions in Diyala where the provincial council was under siege for attempting to declare itself an autonomous region, and the removal of security forces from outside the homes of the party’s leaders. The conference was supposed to be a place where these issues would be brought up and discussed, but the INM was trying to get parts of its agenda fulfilled before it even occurred when there was absolutely no reason for the prime minister to do so. Then President Barzani began calling for the meeting to occur in Kurdistan, nominally so that Vice President Hashemi could attend since he was residing there and wanted in the rest of the country. Allawi threw his support behind the change in location, but again, Maliki would not agree and there was nothing the INM nor Kurdish Coalition could do about it since the meeting would be meaningless without the prime minister. Around the same time, Moqtada al-Sadr said he would not attend, because he was not a politician, again putting a damper on things. The only positive event to come out of the new year was Maliki and Speaker Osama Nujafi who is from the National Movement agreeing upon creating a joint committee of all the leading parties that would go over the issues before the national conference occurred, and try to set the agenda. These initial moves were signs that the meeting would never come off, and if it did, nothing substantive would come of it. The INM has a bad tendency to overplay or mishandle its strategies. Hence its indecision over whether to include Hashemi or not, and making numerous demands be met before the conference was to even happen although they had absolutely no leverage to gain any of them. The Kurds proved little better, because while they were attempting to be honest brokers they too could not convince Maliki to come to the negotiating table in good faith, and trying to get the venue changed from Baghdad to Kurdistan perhaps in the hopes that it would be a neutral location never got off the ground. Maliki was in a position of power being the prime minister, and had no reason to compromise on any of these issues.

With January having come and gone, the conference was then pushed back to after the Arab Summit held in Iraq in March, but that didn’t mean there was any more likelihood that it would be pulled off. There were some demands that the meeting happen before the Arab League came to Baghdad, but again the prime minister was not willing to talk to the other parties when he was more concerned about showcasing the new Iraq to regional leaders and diplomats as they travelled to the country. President Talabani then suggested April 5 as a new date. By the time April had rolled around, there had been several planning committee meetings, but nothing had been achieved. Allawi and Barzani said they would not attend as a result, and eventually the INM stated it would no longer go to the planning sessions, because the conference would not mean anything. Again, Maliki played his hand well, while the others did not. He could sit back and remain prime minister, while the various parties argued about the details of the national conference. A three-month delay from its original date of January was sign enough that he could wait them out even more.

The national conference seemed a pipedream from the get go. Prime Minister Maliki was able to get the Kurds’ backing for his second term, and the National Movement to join his coalition while leaving out Allawi. From that moment on he has been in the drivers’ seat, and shows no sign of relinquishing it to the other lists. They can call for a meeting of all the parties, make various demands about what will be included, but there’s no reason for Maliki to comply. He can send his State of Law members to every meeting, and hear every complaint and argument, and drag out the process for months. All the while, he will remain in power. As long as the Sadrist, Supreme Council, and Badr Organization led National Alliance stands behind the premier there are not enough seats in parliament to threaten Maliki with a no confidence vote. If that coalition of Shiite parties stands together, and the Sadrists and Badr have been some of the prime minister’s strongest supporters, he can stave off any attempts by the Kurdish Coalition or the Iraqi National Movement to negotiate with them. In the meantime, talk of a national conference will likely drag on for several more months. One might even happen eventually. Maliki’s position will not change however, because he’s holding all the cards.


Ahmed, Hevidar, “National Convention to Be Boycotted By Major Players,” Rudaw, 4/3/12

AIN, “Breaking News….Allawi, Barzani agree to hold national meeting before Summit,” 3/13/12
- “IS adheres to forming Policies Council, says MP,” 2/4/12

AK News, “National Conference – route to solutions,” 12/19/11

Ali, Mandy Samira, “Signs of easing in the Iraqi political crisis,” Radio Free Iraq, 1/6/12

Ali, Omer, “President Talabani selects date for national conference,” AK News, 3/26/12

Alsumaria, “Sayyed Muqtada Al Sadr refuses to participate in Iraq National Conference,” 1/27/12

Aswat al-Iraq, “Article 140, oil and gas law are in our demands – Kurdish MP,” 2/11/12
- “Barzani will not participate if national conference held in Baghdad – Kurdish Presidency Divan,” 1/10/11
- “Al-Iraqiya to make new alliances – says MP,” 4/9/12
- “National Alliance threatens to boycott national conference,” 2/17/12
- “National conference expected mid of this month – MP,” 1/4/12
- “Nat’l Conference Agenda completed,” 2/20/12

Brusk, Raman, “Leaders won’t discuss Hashemi’s issue in meeting,” AK News, 1/1/12

Hussein, Adnan, “Iraqi Parties Submit Proposals for National Convention,” Rudaw, 2/16/12

Ibrahim, Haider, “SLC will accept Talabani’s invitation to hold national conference, says aide,” AK News, 4/15/12

Mohammed, Fryad, “NC-Iraqiya tensions render meeting unlikely,” AK News, 1/4/12

National Iraqi News Agency, “BREAKING NEWS Jumaily announces Preparatory Meeting failure in setting date for the National Meeting,” 4/4/12
- “Iraqiya calls for stopping random arrests, ending armed manifestations, create suitable environment to make National Conference successful,” 1/12/12
- “Iraqiya slate says it will not deal with the invitation to it on the Preparatory Committee’s meeting for the National Meeting,” 4/23/12
- “IS calls for a set of principles before holding the national conference,” 12/28/11
- “Mahmoud Othman conditions inconvenient to hold the National Meeting,” 4/25/12
- “Parliamentary source unveils reasons for IS approval of not including Hashimi’s, Mutlag’s cases in the national Conference,” 2/12/12

Rasheed, Ahmed and Chaudhry, Serena, “Boycott, walkout mar Iraq parliament session,” Reuters, 1/3/12

Rudaw, “Massoud Barzani: Dictatorship Threatens Iraq’s Territorial Integrity,” 4/23/12

Al-Salhy, Suadad, “Iraq’s Sunni-backed bloc to end parliament boycott,” Reuters, 1/29/12

Al-Shemmari, Yazn, “Sadrists reject holding the national conference outside Baghdad,” AK News, 1/11/12
- “VP Hashemi’s movement to boycott national conference,” AK News, 4/4/12

Yusif, Mortedha, “Government calls for crisis meeting,” AK News, 12/21/11
- “No talks without Barzani and Sadr, says Allawi,” AK News, 12/28/11

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Exxon’s Banning From Iraq’s Fourth Energy Auction Will Not Stop Its Work In The Country

In April 2012, Iraq’s Oil Ministry banned Exxon Mobil from its fourth auction for oil and gas fields in the country. At the same time, the Iraqi government has allowed the company to continue working on its existing contract in southern Iraq. The oil giant is also moving ahead with a deal that it signed with the Kurds. All together, that means that the exclusion will not seriously affect Exxon’s business in Iraq.

The Iraqi government has been threatening sanctions against Exxon Mobile for an oil and gas deal it made with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The company signed the contract for six oil and gas blocks in October 2011, and it became public in November. It includes three fields in Kurdistan, and three in disputed territories of northern Iraq. As a result, the Oil Ministry banned the company from its fourth energy bidding round to be held in May. Baghdad has called all the Kurds’ energy deals illegal, because they did not go through the central government. The Oil Ministry and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have been trying to concentrate power in Baghdad, and controlling the country’s natural resources is part of that policy. It’s for that reason that they sanctioned Exxon, hoping to dissuade it from going through with its work in Kurdistan.

At the same time, there have been no other actions taken against the company. The Oil Ministry has warned Exxon that its dealings with the Kurds could threaten its contract for the West Qurna 1 field in Basra, but that has not happened. In fact, in April, the Ministry said that it could continue work there. Deputy Premier Hussein Shahristani who is in charge of the country’s energy policy, also said that the central government is open to talks about the three blocks that Exxon signed for in Kurdistan, but not those in the disputed areas. Those were both reversals for Baghdad. It has consistently objected to any contracts with the Kurds, and Deputy Premier Shahristani has been at the forefront of that effort since he was the Oil Minister in the first Maliki administration. It seems like despite the threatening rhetoric, the Iraqi government is willing to find some kind of compromise with Exxon.

This also comes on top of contradictory statements about Exxon’s work in Kurdistan. On April 2, Oil Minister Abdul Karim Luaibi said that the company sent two letters to the Oil Ministry saying that it would halt its work in Kurdistan. That day, the KRG Natural Resource Minister Ashti Hawrami denied that claim, saying that Exxon was in daily contact with his ministry. KRG President Massoud Barzani also met with the company’s CEO Rex Tillerson on a trip to Washington in April. The previous month, Tillerson said that he wanted to work in both parts of Iraq. That has been the strategy of Exxon all along. The Oil Ministry controls the largest petroleum fields in the country, but its terms severely limit profits, it has been slow in paying Exxon, and its red tape makes doing business difficult at best sometimes. Kurdistan on the other hand, has much smaller energy deposits, but its contracts, bureaucracy, and environment are much more favorable. Exxon wants to take advantage of both, which is why it signed for West Qurna 1 in 2009 with Baghdad, and the six blocks in 2011 with the Kurds.

Despite the press that Exxon’s banning from the next energy auction received, the Iraqi government’s action is not a real damper to the company’s plans. There was no real news that the company was interested in the bidding round to begin with. It also got the Oil Ministry’s approval to continue working on West Qurna 1, and it is moving ahead with its contacts with Kurdistan as well. There appears to be no real barriers to the corporation’s goal of working in both the southern and northern portions of Iraq. That could be a real game changer, because if Exxon can pull off these deals, other major companies will likely follow suit. That will be a major challenge to Maliki’s policies of concentrating authority in Baghdad. This battle is not over yet however, because the Oil Ministry still has control over the pipelines that are used for exports, which is the only way that foreign companies can make money from investing in Iraq’s oil and gas. The Kurds have extensive smuggling operations to Iran and Turkey, but there’s no way those can generate enough revenue to satisfy businesses, especially ones as large as Exxon. That means some kind of compromise will have to be worked out between Baghdad and Kurdistan out of political necessity. The question now is how long that will take, because Iraq is not known for acting fast, especially on very important issues like energy policy.


Bloomberg, “KRG Denies Exxon has ‘Frozen’ Oil Contract,” Iraq Business News, 4/4/12

Fordham, Alice and Morse, Dan, “Exxon Mobil dispute deepens Arab-Kurd split in Iraq,” Washington Post, 4/5/12

Iraq Business News, “Exxon Mobil Rumoured to Abandon West Qurna,” 4/5/12

Al-Jurani, Nabil, “Iraq boosts oil export capacity in Gulf,” Business Week, 4/20/12

Lawler, Alex and Mackey, Peg, “UPDATE 2-Iraq seen sustaining southern oil exports surge,” Reuters, 4/16/12

Reuters, “Iraq’s Luaibi says Exxon freezes Kurdish oil deals,” 4/2/12
- “UPDATE 1-Iraq says Exxon won’t move on Kurdish oil blocs,” 4/18/12

Schreck, Adam, “Iraq suggests Exxon deals with Kurds could stand,” Associated Press, 4/12/12

UPI, “Exxon committed to Iraqi Kurdistan,” 4/6/12

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Sadrists’ Double Game: Criticizing Iraq’s Prime Minister, While Supporting Him At The Same Time

Recently there were reports that the Sadrists were joining with other groups who opposed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to unseat him in a no confidence vote. While it is true that Moqtada al-Sadr and his followers have increased their public criticisms of Maliki recently, the bloc remains loyal to the premier. Their statements appear to be part of an attempt to maintain a populist image demanding better services and governance, while all the time backing the premier.

In April 2012, Iraqi papers began reporting that the Iraqi National Movement, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Kurdish Coalition, and the Sadrists were going to depose Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. To dispel those stories the National Alliance met on April 21, and confirmed their support for the premier. Parliamentarians from Sadr’s Ahrar bloc came out of the conference saying that they were still a united list. Two weeks before that, the Sadrists were already saying that withdrawing confidence from Maliki would not be a good move. They repeated a remark made by the prime minister himself, that the parties that are complaining about being shut out of the government have their own ministries, and are part of the cabinet. These rumors were probably based upon statements from the Trend that have been increasingly critical of the prime minister’s job. However, those public statements overlook Sadr’s continued support for Maliki, and his refusal to confront him in any meaningful way.

For the last several months the Sadr Trend has seemingly acted in contradictory ways, criticizing the premier, while giving them his full support at the same time. In February 2012 for example, an interview with Sadr was published in Asharq al-Awsat, in which he accused Maliki of becoming a dictator, and trying to take credit for everything positive that happened in Iraq. Those remarks were repeated by a staff member at Sadr’s offices in Najaf. On March 13, a parliamentarian from the Ahrar bloc said that not only was Maliki acting unilaterally, and not consulting with anyone else when making decisions, but also compared him to Saddam Hussein. Finally, on April 8, Sadr responded to a question by one of his followers by issuing a statement that called the prime minister an autocrat once again. On other occasions however, the Sadr Trend has stood by Maliki. In December 2011, it defended the prime minister from his critics who said that he was behind the arrest of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, when it was obvious that he was. The movement has also stated that Hashemi’s Iraqi National Movement has to follow the laws and courts in the vice president’s case, and that it rejected any political deal to solve the matter. These are all positions called for by Maliki’s State of Law list. On March 19, Sadrists held a demonstration in Basra called “Day of the Oppressed” that called for better services, jobs, and governance, plus fighting corruption. Earlier, the Trend had threatened to bring up those issues at the Arab League summit held in Baghdad, but instead backed down. The fact that it marched in Basra, far away from the capital showed their compliance with Maliki’s warning not to disrupt the regional conference. While the Sadrists have rhetorically bashed the prime minister more and more, in action they have stood by his side. The Trend wants to portray itself as standing up for the poor and oppressed in Iraq, and that obviously includes criticizing the government for its lack of providing basic necessities for the public, and its failure to adequately govern the country. At the same time, the Sadrists are a prominent party of the ruling coalition that they are criticizing. They hold important posts such as the Ministry of Planning that is supposed to help develop the country’s infrastructure and services. They were able to gain these positions by swinging their seats in parliament behind Maliki after the 2010 elections, so that he could hold onto his office for a second term. Since then, they have become some of his most ardent backers. That’s shown in the fact that they may have more critical words for the prime minister, but in action, they have not wavered in their support of him.

The critical statements by the Sadr Trend led some to believe that they would switch allegiances, and push for a no confidence vote to get rid of Prime Minister Maliki. A closer examination of their position showed that the movement was still in the premier’s camp, and backed him in his drive against his political rivals such as the Iraqi National Movement. This is critical, because as long as the Sadrists with their 40 seats in parliament stand with Maliki, there is virtually no way his opponents can gain enough seats in the legislature to depose him. The Sadrists continue to benefit from this position, with their slew of ministries that give them power over jobs and contracts, which can be used in their vast patronage system. That doesn’t mean that Sadr will stop trying to play both sides with his calling the prime minister a dictator every now and then to keep up his popular image. When it comes to anything substantive however, he has not shown any willingness to change his stance.


Abdul-Rahman, Mohammed, “Sadr: Maliki is a dictator,” AK News, 2/26/12

Agence France Presse, “Iraq’s Sadr attacks PM Maliki as a ‘dictator,’” 2/25/12

AIN, “Sadrist MP: Withdrawing confidence from Maliki to affect Iraqi people,” 4/10/12
- “Urgent …. INA supports Maliki’s cabinet rejects foreign interferences,” 4/22/12

Brosk, Raman, “Maliki is not responsible for the arrest warrant against Hashemi,” AK News, 12/20/11

Al-Haffar, Hassoun, “Islamic Supreme Council and Sadrists deny existence of talks to withdraw confidence from PM Maliki,” AK News, 4/22/12

Al-Jurani, Nabeel, “Iraqis demand better services on war anniversary,” Associated Press, 3/19/12

National Iraqi News Agency, “K A confirms seeking to rescue the political process by renewing a partnership government,” 4/20/12
- “MP from Sadr Trend accuses Maliki of applying the former regime policies,” 3/13/12

Al-Saadi, Ahmed, “Sayyed Moqtada Sadr attacked Maliki violently and dub again dictator,” Shatt News, 4/8/12

Al-Shummari, Yazn, “Barzani’s call for political solution to Hashemi a “blow,”” AK News, 2/22/12

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 35,” 3/27/12

Monday, April 23, 2012

Kurds End Their Boycott Of Iraq's Ninewa Provincial Council, But Divisions Within Province Likely To Continue

In April 2012, the Kurdish Brotherhood List ended its two year plus boycott of the provincial council in Ninewa, northern Iraq. The list and the ruling Al-Hadbaa party had been at odds since 2008 over the future of the province, positions on the council, and the role of the Kurds. Immediately after the 2009 provincial elections, the Kurds even threatened to split the governorate in two, saying that all of the districts under their control would refuse to cooperate with the council. Now the Kurds have returned, but there are still major differences with Al-Hadbaa, and within the party itself, showing that the province is nowhere near solving all of its problems.
Governor Nujafi of Ninewa succeeded in getting the Kurdish Brotherhood List to end their boycott, and return to the provincial council (Rudaw)
On April 4, 2012, the Kurdish Brotherhood List ended their two-year long boycott of the Ninewa provincial council, and came back to their posts. Ninewa’s Governor Atheel Nujafi took credit for their return. He had been holding talks with them for at least two years. (1) That included meeting with top officials such as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani. The Kurds hold twelve out of 37 seats on the council. In January 2009, Nujafi’s Al-Hadbaa party won a majority in the governorate elections, and then proceeded to take all of the posts in the local government. That led to the Brotherhood List to walk out. The situation got so bad, that the Kurds said that all of the districts that they controlled in the province would no longer cooperate with the council, effectively splitting Ninewa in two. The two lists could not get along, because al-Hadbaa ran on an Arab nationalist agenda that opposed most of the Kurds’ objectives. Those included opposition to Article 140 of the Constitution that is to decide the fate of the disputed territories, demanding that the peshmerga withdraw from the governorate, and that Arabs being held by the Kurds be release. Ninewa includes many areas, which the Kurds wish to annex, because they were at one time either part of Kurdistan before Saddam changed the boundaries or have large Kurdish populations. They are hoping that Article 140 will allow them to add these districts. Until then, they have administrative authority over most of them, and have deployed the peshmerga to protect their interests there. Al-Hadbaa was a direct threat to those goals when it came to power.
Ninewa province is in northwest Iraq (Wikimedia)
Immediately after the Brotherhood List made their announcement, members of Al-Hadbaa began attacking the event. Some criticized Governor Nujafi for lobbying the Kurds to return, and accused him of cutting a secret deal with them. Some speculated that he wanted to win over the Brotherhood List to ensure himself of a second term in office after the 2013 provincial elections. Sheikh Faisal Abdullah Hameedi Ajeel al-Yaware for instance, of the Justice and Reform Movement within Al-Hadbaa claimed that Nujafi broke his agreement with them when he talked with the Kurds. Members of the Iraqi Islamic Party said that Nujafi acted unilaterally in his negotiations, and did not consult with others. These comments highlighted the internal divisions within Al-Hadbaa. Some factions have been calling for Nujafi to resign. One of the major causes has been his talks with the Kurds. Now that they have come back to the provincial council, these splits within the governor’s party will only come to the fore more. In effect, he has ended their carte blanche rule over the province. 

The differences within Al-Hadbaa were seen in more than just public statements, but in actions as well. On April 11, Al-Hadbaa suspended going to a council meeting, because they claimed the Brotherhood List wanted to make it a secret session. Four days later, six out of the 12 Kurdish councilmembers were stopped at an Army checkpoint north of the provincial capital Mosul, and not allowed to pass. It appeared that some parts of Al-Hadbaa did not want to welcome their council brethren back with open arms. They were determined to make it as difficult as possible to carry on with business as usual.

The rapprochement with the Brotherhood List did not appear possible with the moves that Al-Hadbaa had been making immediately preceding their return. In March 2012, the council voted to freeze Article 140. The local government has absolutely no power over the constitution, but it was a symbolic gesture meant to show their opposition to Kurds annexing any area of the province. The Brotherhood List predictably condemned the move, and demanded that the council be dissolved. Foreshadowing where Governor Nujafi would be heading, he did not approve of the vote, and later said that there were some members of his party that were causing needless problems with the Kurdish list. In late-2011, there was talk that the province would become an autonomous region after Salahaddin said it would wanted to become one. Members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Baghdad, said that Ninewa could not become its own region without consulting with them first. Again, Governor Nujafi said that the two sides needed to reconcile, compromise, and work with each other, rather than constantly argue. Finally, in July 2011, an official from the KDP said that their peshmerga and Asayesh would not withdraw from the province, quoting security as the reason. As noted before, Al-Hadbaa had asked for the peshmerga to leave as a way to gain greater control of the province, and push back Kurdish hopes of annexing the disputed areas. Altogether, the two parties were continuously bickering with each other for the last year. Neither side could agree upon anything, and were intent on taking actions that would anger the other. It was this deep animosity, which made the Brotherhood’s decision to come back to the council all the more surprising.

Since the 2009 provincial elections, Ninewa has been one of the most deeply divided governorates in Iraq. The Brotherhood List not only left the council, but threatened to break away the sections of the province that they controlled. The disputes between it and Al-Hadbaa continued right up to 2012 with each taking a tit for tat approach to each other. It seemed like both sides were waiting out until the 2013 elections came around, to try to change the status quo. Governor Nujafi was not content with that however, and facing a loss of support within his own party, decided to make a concerted effort over several years to get the Kurds back to their positions. It was a political coup for him to have finally succeeded in April. The problem is that it appears to have increased the internal divisions with his own list, which will likely make governing Ninewa all the more difficult in the future, because now there are factions of Al-Hadbaa that not only do not want to work with the Kurds, but with the governor as well.


1. Radio Free Iraq, “Citizens: fed up with the exchange of accusations between Hadbaa and Nineveh List,” 7/3/11


AIN, “Arab members of Nineveh PC suspend their attendance,” 4/11/12
- “Kurds resume attending Nineveh PC session after three years,” 4/11/12

Ali, David, “Al-Hadbaa and Brotherhood List late Magistrate to refer the dispute to the leaders of Baghdad,” Al Mada, 7/4/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Hadba’ Bloc’s Crises Threaten Change of Political Map in Ninewa,” 5/20/11

Elias, Saleh, “mosul governor: baghdad’s sectarian policies causing ‘the country to become unstable,’” Niqash, 7/21/11

Fantappie, Maria, “IRAQ: Nouri Maliki attempts to bolster his power by looking to the provinces,” Babylon & Beyond, Los Angeles Times, 7/13/11

Kamal, Adel, “a secret deal? Ninawa council reunites – but critics fear hidden agenda,” Niqash, 4/12/12

Khallat, Khudr, “Six members of Nineveh List banned from entering Mosul,” AK News, 4/15/12

Muhammad, Barzan, “Nineveh Provincial Council Makes Controversial Decision on Article 140,” Rudaw, 3/26/12

National Iraqi News Agency, “Kurdish MPs from Nineveh demand dismantling its PC,” 3/15/12
- “Kurdish official: Peshmirga, Asaish will not withdraw from Nineveh unless residents of disputed areas ask for it,” 7/14/11

Radio Free Iraq, “Citizens: fed up with the exchange of accusations between Hadbaa and Nineveh List,” 7/3/11

Rudaw, “Nineveh Governor Talks Of Warming Ties With Kurdistan,” 1/3/12
- “Salahaddin’s Federalism Declaration Makes Waves,” 11/16/11

Friday, April 20, 2012

Iraq’s Baghdad Struck By Sand Storm, April 19, 2012

Summer is almost upon Iraq, and the temperatures are rising. As a sign of the change in season, a sand storm hit the capital Baghdad on April 19, 2012, covering the city in fine reddish dirt. 

A bicyclist rides through the storm in Baghdad, Apr. 19, 2012 (Getty Images)
Two women walk through the dust (Getty Images)
Several bombs went off in the capital on Apr. 19. One of those was on Haifa Street, which was soon enveloped by the sand and dirt (AP)
A traffic cop and vehicles in Baghdad's Karrada district (Reuters)
A man at a stop light in Karrada (Reuters)
A man walks through traffic attempting to sell masks to protect people during the storm (Reuters)
Traffic at Kahramana Square (Reuters)

VIDEO: University of Baghdad, School of Engineering, Petroleum Department Having Fun

VIDEO: University of Baghdad

VIDEO: Streets Of Iraq

VIDEO: Jet Skiing In Baghdad

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fifth Year In A Row Iraq Ranked Most Dangerous Country In World For Journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists released its yearly report on press freedom around the world. It looks at violence and murders of reporters, and whether those cases are prosecuted or not by authorities. For the fifth straight year, Iraq was ranked the worst country in the world in terms of protecting the media.

In 2008, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) started releasing its Impunity Index that ranks countries on whether reporters are protected or not by their governments. For the fifth straight year Iraq was ranked the most dangerous place for journalists around the world. Since 2003 there have been 93 unsolved murders of members of the press. None of the cases have been solved, and no one has ever been punished. The CPJ noted that the number of deaths has gone down since the heyday of the sectarian civil war, which lasted from 2005-2008. In 2011 for instance, there was only one death, Hadi al-Mahdi. He was a radio host who criticized the government and was participating in protests that broke out at the beginning of that year. In February 2011, he was picked up in Baghdad at a café after demonstrating, taken to a camp run by the 11th Army Division, interrogated, beaten, faced electric shock, and threatened with rape. That didn’t stop his work at the radio station, and he received daily death threats until he was murdered in his home in Baghdad. That compared to four journalists who were killed in 2010. It’s the accumulation of cases over several years however that placed Iraq at the bottom of the CPJ report.
Activist and radio host Hadi Al-Mahdi was murdered in his home in Baghdad in 2011 (BBC)
On the Impunity Index, Iraq ranked almost three times as bad as the number two country on the list. Iraq had a rating of 2.906, which represented the number of unsolved murders per million inhabitants of the nation. That was a slight improvement from 2010 when it had a rank of 2.921. In second place was Somalia with 1.1813, showing that Iraq was a far worse place for the safety of the media. After that was the Philippines at 0.589, Sri Lanka at 0.431, Colombia with a score of 0.173, Nepal at 0.167, Afghanistan with a 0.145, Mexico at 0.132, Russia at 0.113, and Pakistan rounding out the top ten with a 0.109. Many of those countries have gone through civil wars, insurgencies, or narco-trafficking in the last several years, but they have no where near the number of unsolved cases against journalists as Iraq. That’s a strong sign that the Iraqi security forces are not seriously looking into these cases, and that the judiciary is not pushing to investigate or prosecute them either.

The dramatic decline in journalists’ deaths in Iraq should be a positive sign for the country. Unfortunately the authorities are still trying to establish their relationship with the media. It is common for reporters to be sued by politicians for libel if they publish a critical article. Some issues are considered off limits, because journalists fear that they may be arrested or attacked if they discuss them. During the protests that broke out at the beginning of the year, many media outlets were also assaulted. The fall of Saddam Hussein has opened up a plethora of newspapers and magazines, some of which are directly run by political parties, while some are independent. That range of choices offers Iraqis a wide range of opinions to read. Their ability to report on what they want is not fully protected however, as the number of unsolved murders of journalists shows, plus the common attacks upon them, both violent and legal. The government has yet to decide how much press freedom it will allow, and how much protection it will give the institution. That will mean more insecurity for the foreseeable future until all of these issues are played out.


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

Committee to Protect Journalists, “Getting Away With Murder,” 6/1/11

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Iraqi Kurds Discover Valued Trading Partner

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Iraq’s Prime Minister Takes On Election Commission Once Again

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has an adversarial relationship with the Election Commission since the 2010 parliamentary elections. He has gone to the courts to assert his authority over it, had his list try to unseat its members, and now the commission head and one of its members were just arrested, and released from jail. The main theme of the premier and his State of Law list has been that the Commission is corrupt, and therefore needs to be replaced. That was the basis for the recent detentions in April 2012. Almost all of the other political blocs have taken the latest move as an attempt by the prime minister to once again take over the commission, and perhaps dictate the terms of the upcoming voting.
Election Commission head Haydari was arrested April 12, 2012 on corruption charges (Al Arabiya)
On April 12, 2012, the head of the Election Commission and one other member was arrested on corruption charges. Commissioner Faraj al-Haydari and Karim al-Tamimi were accused of having six Election employees buy real estate for them in Baghdad, and paying three to four other employees bonuses of around $85 each. All the funds were said to come from the Commission. State of Law parliamentarian Hanan al-Fatlawi announced the warrants were being issued before the courts did. Haydari and Tamimi were held for three days, before being released on April 15 after paying $12,900 in bail each. The fact that Fatlawi was the first one to talk about the arrest even before the judiciary did, raised concerns about the case from the get go. The lawmaker is a longtime critic of the Commission making many believe that the case was political in nature, and that the courts were working at State of Law’s behest.

Commission head Haydari made just that accusation. He told reporters while he was in jail that the arrests were aimed at not only the Commission’s integrity, but democracy in Iraq as well. He said the case was to block the extension of the Commission’s work. The current nine commissioners’ terms are due to expire on April 28. In 2011, parliament gave them extra time to conduct provincial elections in Kurdistan, which are to occur in September. Haydari accused Fatlawi of being responsible for the arrests. He went on to say that the charges against him were brought up by the lawmaker in 2011, investigated, and dismissed. Haydari’s remarks were followed by a barrage of others by Iraq’s leading political parties, all accusing Fatlawi, Maliki, and State of Law of trying to hijack the Commission’s work, and threatening the country’s fragile government.

Almost every list in Iraq condemned the arrest of the Commission members. Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement saying that Maliki was responsible for the detentions, and was trying to corrupt future elections in Iraq. The deputy head of the Kurdish Coalition in parliament called on the country’s political parties to oppose the arrests. The Coalition said that they would investigate the role of Fatlawi in the whole affair. The President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Massoud Barzani accused the premier of trying to centralize power, control the government, undermine democracy, and threaten the future of elections in Iraq. Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq of the Iraqi National Movement complained that there were many other officials who were charged with corruption who were still walking free, questioning why the two Election Commission figures were singled out. He also mentioned that he believed the arrests were meant to stop the appointment of new officials to the Commission. Finally, White Iraqiya stated that the arrests seemed like a “vendetta” against Haydari, and that his detention would affect the 2013 provincial elections. These comments represented the full range of Iraqi political parties. The Iraqi National Movement has been Maliki’s greatest rival since the 2010 elections, but the Sadrists and White Iraqiya have been some of his biggest supporters. The Kurds were early supporters of the prime minister’s second term, but have become increasingly critical since then. All of the criticisms showed that the country’s major parties believed that the arrests were political in nature, and placed Maliki solely responsible for them. That’s largely because State of Law has repeatedly gone after the Commission since 2010.

From 2010-2011, Maliki and his State of Law consistently challenged the standing of the Election Commission. After the March 2010 parliamentary election, the prime minister demanded a recount when his list came in second place to the Iraqi National Movement. The Commission ended up only holding a partial re-tallying of the ballots in Baghdad, but it did not change the outcome. Then in January 2011, the Federal Supreme Court ruled that the Election Commission and all the other independent bodies in the government such as the Central Bank of Iraq were under the control of the cabinet, despite the 2005 Constitution explicitly saying that they were under the prerogative of parliament. The Commission and the United Nations both worried that the decision would lead to interference in future elections. That seemed to play out right afterward, when an Election Commission member accused Maliki of holding up the assignment of 29 general managers, claiming that their qualifications had to be checked. Then another story emerged that the prime minister tried to stop the appointment of 38 low level election officials. The Commission refused to follow the orders. In May, State of Law began accusing the Commission of corruption. Members of Maliki’s list called up election officials including Haydari in front of parliament for questioning about their salaries, special allowances, trips, and paying overtime. Hanan al-Fatlawi was the main lawmaker pushing the issue. In June, Maliki ordered the Commission to halt its work, which was again ignored, and the next month, State of Law issued a report laying out all of its accusations. That same month, Fatlawi got a no confidence vote against the Commission before the legislature. Only 94 out of a total of 325 parliamentarians voted in favor of the motion, which mostly came from State of Law, White Iraqiya, and the Change List. The Sadrists, the Supreme Council, the Kurdish Coalition, and the National Movement all voted against it. Afterward, Fatlawi went as far as to say that the defeat of the no confidence vote was a victory for corruption in Iraq. During all of these moves, State of Law was virtually alone. The no confidence vote in parliament showed that few believed any of the attacks upon the Election Commission, and in fact proved the exact opposite, that most were happy with its conduct. All of the charges against the Commission were largely taken as partisan and personal, as Maliki was upset with losing the 2010 balloting, and most believed he wanted to punish the Election officials as a result.

Iraq’s political system is still very immature. The rules of conduct are still being decided, and powerful individuals are largely able to do what they want despite what might be written in the Constitution or in legislation. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his State of Law’s constant attempts at controlling and undermining the Election Commission are just the latest examples of that. It was obvious that after State of Law came in second after the 2010 voting that Maliki was being vindictive, and led to his unleashing of a barrage of assaults upon the Commission. Given the fact that State of Law parliamentarian Fatlawi announced the warrants before the court even did in April just leads to the widespread suspicion that Maliki is once again trying to get rid of his opponents by manipulating the system. So far, he has been able to get away with these acts, because the other parties are weak and divided. The widespread condemnation of the arrests of the Commission members however, shows that they may unite to stop this latest move, but it’s unlikely to be the last time it happens.


AIN, “Mutleg: Arresting Haidiri, Timimi raises doubts over independence of judicial systems,” 4/14/12

AK News, “Head of elections’ commission arrested over corruption,” 4/13/12
- “UN Assistance Mission calls for due process in detention of electoral commission members,” 4/14/12

Arango, Tim, “An Arrest Casts a Shadow Over Elections in Iraq,” New York Times, 4/16/12

Aswat al-Iraq, “Arrest of Haidari, attempt of vengeance, MP,” 4/14/12

Brosk, Raman, “Kurdish Blocs Coalition investigates MP’s relation to arrest of electoral commission members,” AK News, 4/15/12

Dunlop, W.G., “Maliki’s ‘calculations’ plunge Iraq deeper into political tension,” Middle East Online, 4/14/12

Harissi, Mohamad Ali, “Iraq political blocs accuse PM of dictatorship,” Agence France Presse, 4/14/12

Reuters, “Iraq election commission chief released from jail-official,” 4/15/12

Review Unrevealed Milestones in the Iraqi National Nuclear Program 1981-991

Selbi, Dhafir, Al-Chalabi, Zuhair, Co-authored and edited by Dr. Khadduri, Imad, Unrevealed Milestones in the Iraqi National Nuclear Program...