Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tons Of Expired Medicine Confiscated In Iraq Highlighting Institutional Corruption Within The Country

In May 2012, Iraq’s Health Ministry announced that it found several tons of expired medicine, and had closed down dozens of unlicensed pharmacies across the country over the last several months. What was not reported was that the Ministry itself was probably responsible for these problems. Due to rampant corruption throughout the government, bureaucracies regularly buy cheap imports rather than high quality goods, because money is being skimmed from the contracts. Not only that, but they often use middlemen connected to Iraqi politicians and high officials who take their share as well. The result is that Iraq is awash in low quality products that often cheat the public.

On May 14, 2012, it was reported that the Health Ministry had clamped down on a series of pharmacies that had bad medicine. Around one hundred unlicensed businesses were shut down in April, and four tons of expired medicine was confiscated in the process. That followed another 200 closings the previous month, and another six tons of bad products being destroyed. This was just not an isolated incident, but a sign of the institutional corruption endemic in Iraq. A pharmacist that worked for the government for instance, told Ned Parker, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, that he would regularly see cheap medicine being bought from abroad with no quality control checks. They usually involved kickbacks for bureaucrats as well in the deals. Not enough supplies were purchased either, with hospitals complaining about a lack of drugs and medicines. The situation was so bad, that some asked their patients to go buy supplies for their own procedures. The Health Ministry was supposed to take care of these matters, but it often did not fill orders placed with it. Instead, Ministry workers would steal drugs to re-sell on the black market, take bribes, and as stated before, buy expired medicine instead of new ones as another way to make money.
Iraq's hospitals often lack medicine and supplies because of inefficiencies and corruption at the Health Ministry (Washington Post)
These problems exist in all parts of Iraq. In Kurdistan for example, President Massoud Barzani set up a committee to look into government corruption in April 2011 as a response to public protests there. (1) It found the exact same set of circumstances with the Kurdish Health Ministry buying large amounts of counterfeit and expired medicine from abroad. The committee reported that nothing substantive was being done about the issue either, and that the top leadership was partly responsible. The president’s office and cabinet signed many contracts without ever going through the relevant ministries. The ruling Kurdish parties like to portray themselves as the “other Iraq,” which is better off than the rest of the country. When it comes to corruption and inefficiency due to a state-run economy it is no better than Baghdad.

Iraq has consistently been ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Because it is the most oil dependent nation in the region it has huge amounts of cash, which makes it unaccountable to the public. The only thing politicians need the people for is their votes every couple years. Otherwise they do not depend upon them for taxes and revenue. The citizens are instead reliant upon the government for food, services, and jobs. Given that position, top officials to the lowest bureaucrat feel that they can take from the system what they can get. The result is hospitals without supplies, bad medicine being handed out to patients, and people lining their pockets with public funds in corrupt deals. Instead of serving their country, the government is only serving itself.


1. Zebari, Abdel Hamid, “Report: Corruption is rampant on a large scale in Kurdistan,” Radio Free Iraq, 3/13/12


Dazzayi, Saman, “100 unlicensed Iraqi pharmacies closed last month,” AK News, 5/14/12

Parker, Ned, “The Iraq We Left Behind,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2012

Reilly, Corinne, “Iraq’s once-envied health care system lost to war, corruption,” McClatchy Newspapers, 5/17/09

Zebari, Abdel Hamid, “Report: Corruption is rampant on a large scale in Kurdistan,” Radio Free Iraq, 3/13/12

RADIO FREE IRAQ VIDEO: End Of Academic Year In Iraq

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why The Talk Of A No Confidence Vote Against Iraq’s Premier Maliki Remains Just Talk

News from Iraq has been filled with headlines about a possible no confidence vote against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. His main rival, the Iraqi National Movement (INM) has been talking about such a move for quite some time, but Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani and Moqtada al-Sadr have recently joined it. That gave the impression that Maliki’s opponents might have finally turned the corner, but it was fool’s gold. The National Movement has not been able to stick together, the Kurdish Coalition is also divided, and the Sadrists have been more talk than action. Iran has also tried to reconcile some of the parties. This all shows that Premier Maliki still has the upper hand.
Iraqi Pres. Talabani (left), Moqtada al-Sadr (center), and Kurdish Pres. Barzani (right) at Irbil meeting, Apr. 2012, which discussed what to do about Premier Maliki (
The call to unseat Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seemed to gain momentum in April 2012 as more parties were joining the chorus for him to step down. Maliki’s main rival the Iraqi National Movement (INM) had been talking about a no confidence vote against him more and more recently. On April 27, its leader, Iyad Allawi joined Moqtada al-Sadr, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and Speaker Osama Nujafi, who is also from the INM, in a meeting in Irbil to discuss strategy. Sadr’s attendance seemed like a game changer, because he had been one of the prime minister’s main supporters. The group came up with a 15-day ultimatum for Maliki to follow the Irbil Agreement, which put together the current government, but which the prime minister has only partially followed. Speaker Nujafi said that this was a last chance for Maliki to share power or suffer the consequences. Those demands were put together in a letter sent to the National Alliance head Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The National Alliance is made up of the Sadrists, the Supreme Council, the Fadhila Party, the Badr Organization, and other smaller parties, and joined with Maliki’s State of Law to assure him a second term in office after the 2010 parliamentary elections. On May 19, there was another meeting, this time in Najaf, which included Sadr, Speaker Nujafi, Ahmed Chalabi of the National Alliance, former prime minister of Kurdistan Barhem Saleh, Deputy Premier Rowsch Nouri Shaways of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and others. On paper, the National Movement, Kurdish Coalition, and Sadrists had more than half of the seats in parliament, which could call for a no confidence vote against Maliki. That as what led to all the press reports. The INM has been feuding with Maliki since before the 2010 elections even took place. President Barzani has joined the fray in the new year. Sadr has occasionally criticized Maliki as well, but his attendance at the Irbil and Najaf meetings seemed like he really meant it this time. It appeared that the prime minister was really in trouble, but all the press coverage obscured just how fractious a group this was.

The major problem for Maliki’s opponents has been that they are not united. Before the Irbil meeting for instance, a Sadrist spokesman said that they would not support a no confidence vote against the premier. During the meeting they remarked that they were not looking to replace him, and then repeated that after the Najaf affair. At the same time, they were discussing possible replacements for him. These seemingly schizophrenic statements have been typical of the Sadr Trend for months now. The Kurdish Coalition was also divided, with President Barzani saying that he was done with Maliki, while President Talabani has called him a partner. Officials from their two parties have also been snipping at each other behind the scenes. The National Movement has barely stuck together since the March 2010 election. There were reports that 20 to 30 parliamentarians from the list were ready to leave, because they were disillusioned with their leadership. Many lawmakers from northern provinces like Ninewa, Tamim, and Diyala that have disputed territories were upset that Allawi and others might be making deals with the Kurds, who they ran against, in order to facilitate their opposition to Maliki. Some members of parliament from the INM even issued a statement on May 20 that they stood by Maliki for his stance towards the Kurds. One legislator claimed that only around 20 from the list, which is less than a third of its total, would support a no confidence vote. Altogether that meant while the prime minister’s opponents might have more than half of the seats in parliament, in reality they had far less. The futility of the situation was apparent to some. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Aref Tayfour from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) for instance was quoted in the press saying that the parties would probably decide to keep Maliki in office until the next elections in 2014. Another member of the Kurdish Coalition remarked that his list hadn’t even decided to support a no confidence vote or not, and said that the Supreme Council, the Fadhila Party, the Badr Organization, parts of the Iraqi National Movement from the north, President Talabani and his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Free Iraqiya, and the White bloc all supported the premier. That meant Maliki was facing no real threat despite all the talk and news stories. His opposition has been big in rhetoric, but has never been able to present a united front. They make grand announcements, make plenty of demands, hold meeting after meeting, but they do not have any power to apply real pressure on the prime minister to make him change.

The weakness of the opposition was shown in the response, or lack thereof of Maliki’s supporters. The Irbil letter was addressed to the National Alliance (NA). The Sadrists said that since the NA nominated Maliki back in 2010, it was up to it to replace him. The Alliance, with the exception of Sadr’s followers, however, has stood by Maliki. When the 15-day deadline set in the Irbil meeting expired, the NA didn’t reply. On May 23, it held a conference, but no decision was made about the premier. Those were all signs that Maliki’s opponents were not being successful in their strategy. The National Alliance was obviously feeling no pressure, which was why they let the ultimatum pass. With the opposition lacking the votes to move against Maliki there was no reason for the list to make a decision on him.

Iran has also come to the aid of the prime minister. Several Iranian officials have visited Baghdad and Irbil recently. Allegedly, they asked the Kurds to give Maliki another chance, and told the premier to compromise with them. Maliki also travelled to Iran and met with Sadr there. The two signed a letter of understanding, which was supposed to reconcile the two. Neither initiative worked, but it shows that Iraq’s longstanding political crisis is bringing in its neighbors into the fray. Iran’s strategy in Iraq is for it to be like a big brother, which Iraq turns to when it runs into problems. Before the 2010 elections for example, it helped push the Sadrists and Supreme Council together into the National Alliance, but failed to get Maliki to join it in a grand Shiite coalition. It was also thought to have played a hand in the deBaathification controversy that led to the banning of hundreds of Sunni politicians, which occurred prior to the voting. After the vote, it worked to block INM head Iyad Allawi becoming premier, by pushing Maliki’s State of Law and the National Alliance to join together as the National Coalition to keep the prime minister in office. Tehran has continued to play this role in Iraqi politics throughout the current crisis by consulting with Iraqi politicians, and trying to mediate some of the disputes.

The news out of Iraq continues to be dominated by reports about the differences between the country’s political parties. While there is much talk about unseating Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the reality is that he is comfortably holding onto power. Despite more leaders joining the chorus criticizing his rule, his opponents remain deeply divided, and lack the seats in parliament to do anything about him. These disputes are far from over however, and will drag on until the 2014 parliamentary elections. That will mean that the government will be deadlocked, with little to no major legislation being passed for the foreseeable future as neither side will be willing to compromise with the other. This is a perfect example of the zero sum game that debilitates Iraqi politics. As long as Iraq’s lists are caught up in this battle over the prime minister they will not be doing much else in terms of governing the country, which means the public is the one really paying the price.


Abdul Raman, Muahmad, “Talabani wants Maliki to stay, say sources,” AK News, 5/13/12

Abdulla, Mufid, “Cracks appear in the PUK-KDP strategic relationship,” Kurdistan Tribune, 4/28/12

Ahmed, Hevidar, “Kurdish Leaders Struggle to Remain United in Dealing with Baghdad,” Rudaw, 5/18/12
- “Maliki Given Ultimatum at Leaders Meeting in Erbil,” Rudaw, 4/29/12

AIN, “Araji: Attendants of Najaf meeting not to discuss withdrawing confidence from Maliki,” 5/19/12

Ali, Omar, “Kurdistan Blocs Coalition yet to demand withdrawing confidence from PM,” AK News, 5/27/12

Alsabawi, Jasim, “Sadr Movement Claims No Ulterior Motive to Leader’s Erbil Visit,” Rudaw, 5/9/12

Aswat al-Iraq, “Barzani convinced impossible to deal with Maliki, Kurdish government official,” 5/16/12
- “Iran’s presence in Iraq relies on NC’s existence – Shiite source,” 7/17/10
- “National Alliance supports Maliki’s govt. and NC, MP,” 5/15/12
- “No support for Nujaifi’s demotion – MP,” 5/25/12
- “Six Sadrist nominees if Maliki’s trust withdrawn, Sadrist Trend,” 5/6/12

Brosk, Raman, “Maliki’s avoidance of Erbil agreements will force blocs to withdraw confidence, says Iraqiya,” AK News, 4/25/12
- “National Alliance doesn’t need to implement all Erbil meeting demands within 15 days, says Ahrar leader,” AK News, 5/14/12
- “National Alliance won’t accept replacing Maliki, says MP,” AK News, 5/22/12
- “PM Maliki given two weeks to implement Erbil agreement,” AK News, 5/5/12
- “Political crisis might be resolved at today’s meeting, says Islamic Supreme Council,” AK News, 5/26/12
- “SLC MP: Four NA components support Maliki,” AK News, 5/25/12

Hussein, Adnan, “Will Barzani “Checkmate” Maliki?” Rudaw, 4/29/12

Ibrahim, Haidar, “President Barzani’s talks with leaders to last 10 more days,” AK News, 4/28/12

Jakes, Lara, “Iraq leaders call for solution to political crisis,” Associated Press, 4/28/12

Katulis, Brian, “An Iraqi View On Iraq’s Recent Elections,” Wonk Room, 4/19/10

Khallat, Khudar, “National Alliance didn’t discuss searching for Maliki replacement, says State of Law Coalition,” AK News, 5/23/12

Al-Mada, “Out more than 20 deputies of the Iraqi and the mass of “al-Mutlaq,” may join the dissidents,” 5/8/12

MEMRI Blog, “Iraq Votes – Part XI,” 3/29/10

Mohammed, Fryad, “Official: Three major blocs to discuss retaining Maliki tomorrow,” AK News, 5/22/12

Myers, Steven Lee, “Unity Is Rallying Cry Ahead of Iraq Elections,” New York Times, 10/1/09

National Iraqi News Agency, “Sadr’s visit to Arbil will not discuss the withdrawal of confidence from Maliki,” 4/26/12
- “SLC absent from leaders of blocs at Sadr’s house in Najaf,” 5/19/12

Qanon, “Iraq published a list of retreating .. Fragmentation and rupture splits the Iraqi List,” 5/9/12

Shadid, Anthony, “In Sign of Times, Alliances Shift Ahead of Iraqi Elections,” Washington Post, 9/30/09

Tohme, Abdul Wahid, “Expect new splits in the Allawi bloc,” Dar Al Hayat, 5/19/12

Visser, Reidar, “Iraqiya, the Kurds & Disputed Territories in Iraq: The Grassroots Reaction,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 5/21/12

Zahra, Hassan Abdul, “Sadr ‘against’ fall of current Iraqi government,” Agence France Presse, 4/27/12

Scenes From Iraq's Schools

Iraq’s education system is facing a huge deficit. In March 2012, the Education Minister Mohammed Tamim said that the country needed 12,000 new schools. Since 2003, only 2,600 had been built. Last year, only 200 additional facilities were added. The existing schools are severely overcrowded, and some are in need of repair. There are also problems with outdated curriculum, the lack of trained staff, and low scores for students. To top it all off, Iraq is on the verge of losing millions of dollars in grants and loans from the World Bank and foreign donors to help deal with some of these problems. That’s because the civil war from 2005-2008 prevented much work, and the Education Ministry lacks the capacity to finalize many of its plans. The result is that Iraq’s young are not getting an adequate education with little relief on the horizon. 


Jakes, Lara, “Millions in global aid for Iraq sits unspent,” Associated Press, 5/28/12

Girls at play at Alhambra Elementary School in Khalis, Diyala, May 15, 2012 (AP)
A girl running to a classroom at Alhambra (AP)
Because of the shortage of schools, many classrooms are overcrowded like this one at Alhambra (AP)
Another scene of kids at play at Alhambra (AP)
A schoolboy walks past the support beams of an abandoned school structure that was started in Basra in 2006, but never completed, Apr. 25, 2012 (AP)
A teacher and two students at Al-Amin Elementary School in Baquba, Diyala, May 13 (AP)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Iraq’s Kurds’ Gambit On Pipelines To Turkey May Not Pan Out

In May 2012, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced that it had signed a deal with Turkey to build one new pipeline in conjunction with the Iraqi Oil Ministry, and that it wanted to build two more independent of Baghdad. If completed, those latter two would be a major step towards Kurdish independence, because it would free it from depending upon Baghdad for money. The problem for the Kurds is that while they are making much fanfare over the proposal, Turkey is likely just using them to pressure Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which it is in the middle of a dispute with. Turkey would like Kurdish oil and gas to flow through it, but it is not ready for an independent Kurdistan.
Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz (left) and Kurdish Natural Resource Minister Ashti Hawrami (right) at an energy conference held in Irbil May 2012 at which the two countries signed a pipeline deal (Reuters)
On May 20, 2012, Turkey signed a pipeline deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The pipeline is already in the works. The first stage is supposed to be finished by October 2012, and carry oil from the Taq Taq field in Irbil. The second part would connect to the existing northern pipeline that is run by the Oil Ministry, and be completed by August 2013. It would have a capacity of 1 million barrels a day. More importantly, Natural Resource Minister Ashti Hawrami said that two more pipelines would be built to Turkey, one for oil and the other for natural gas, independent of Baghdad. The point of the other two lines would be to allow the Kurds to directly ship natural resources to Turkey, bypassing the central government. Minister Hawrami claimed that the KRG would take 17% of the profits from the two lines, which is its percentage of the national budget, and deliver the rest to Baghdad. Kurdistan has always wanted its own pipelines to further exploit its natural resources. Hawrami claimed that the region could easily produce 300,000 barrels a day of petroleum, and reach 2 million in a few years. Currently, Kurdistan is exporting no oil, because it is in a payment dispute with the central government. If successful, this deal would be a major coup for the KRG.

The Iraqi government is obviously upset with this news. It warned Turkey over the deal, and the Kurds. Officials have demanded that all contracts go through Baghdad. It already considers all the Kurdish oil deals illegal, because they have not included the central government. At the same time, Deputy Premier Hussein Shahristani, who is in charge of the country’s energy policy, threatened to cut petrol supplies to Kurdistan in retaliation. He held off on implementing that policy, only after consulting with President Jalal Talabani. Baghdad has been the greatest opponent of the Kurds’ oil policies, so it was no surprise that they have taken this stance. It wants one national energy policy for the country, and sees the Kurdish one as a threat. The dispute between the two is taking on added importance, because Irbil and Baghdad are in an argument over Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s administration. The Kurdish agreement with Turkey then, is seen not only as a challenge to the Oil Ministry, but the premier as well.

Having its own pipelines would be a major step towards Kurdish independence. Minister Hawrami stated that if the KRG had its own oil infrastructure, it would not be dependent upon Baghdad for funds. The region already smuggles oil and derivatives to Iran and Turkey, which provides it with its own revenue, but it is a small amount compared to the 17% of the national budget it gets each year. That money provides 95% of the KRG’s needs each year. That fact is something that the Iraqi government has held over the Kurds. It’s also a major reason why the Kurds have followed their own oil policy, because they eventually want their own sovereignty. It has signed oil contracts since 2002, even before the fall of Saddam Hussein, and passed its own oil legislation in 2007. It has also aimed at getting Turkish companies to enter its market to try to get their political support. In total, it has more than 40 petroleum contracts today. At the same time, it depends upon Baghdad to export, because it controls the infrastructure. It has come to two agreements to export petroleum, but both times they broke down over paying the energy companies. The problem for the Kurds is that with oil production taking off in the south, the Iraqi government does not need Kurdish petroleum exports as much. That poses a dilemma for the Kurds, because they can protest and end its shipments all it wants, but it won’t have much affect upon policy. If it ever got its own pipelines, it would be free from all these restrictions, and be a major step towards it becoming its own country.

The success or failure of the Kurdish oil strategy really depends upon Turkey. Turkey needs oil shipments, and would like to be a major transportation hub of energy from the Middle East and Asia to Europe, which is in the Kurds’ favor. At the same time, it does not want Kurdish independence. It has its own Kurdish problem, and a Kurdish state would not help with that. Unfortunately, the pipeline deal appears to be a political ploy by Ankara. It is currently in opposition to Premier Maliki’s rule in Iraq. It has called him sectarian, is siding with his rival Iraqi National Movement, and is hosting Vice President Tariq Hashemi who is facing terrorism charges at home. The Kurdish pipeline deal seems like part of this effort to pressure the premier. Until Ankara changes its position on Kurdish independence it is highly unlikely that the KRG will ever get its way on building its own oil infrastructure, and cuttings its ties with the federal government.


Arraf, Jane, “Iraq’s unity tested by rising tensions over oil-rich Kurdish region,” Christian Science Monitor, 5/4/12

Associated Press, “Iraq warns northern Kurdish region that its oil deals with Turkey must have Baghdad approval,” 5/21/12

Brosk, Raman, “Any attempt to deduct Kurdistan’s budget is “collective” punishment, says Kurdish Blocs Coalition,” AK News, 5/3/12
- “Shahrestani suspends order to stop petrol export to Kurdistan,” AK News, 5/22/12

Hadi, Hemn, “KRGs oil production could easily reach 300,000 barrels per day, says minister,” AK News, 5/14/12

Hassan, Rebin, “KRG will produce two million barrels of oil per day by 2013, says minister,” AK News, 5/20/12

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

Middle East Financial Network, “Turkey Aims to Contain Iraq, Iran,” 5/20/12

Rasheed, Ahmed, “UPDATE 2-Iraqi Kurdistan to push ahead with oil export plan,” Reuters, 5/20/12

Tree, Oliver, “Iraq Warns Turkey To Halt Kurdistan Pipeline Deal,” International Business Times, 5/22/12

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

VIDEO: Basra Iraq Demonstration Condemning Poor Services

VIDEO: Iraqi Cars 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012

Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki Heading To Mosul To Challenge Speaker Nujafi

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been a superb strategist when it comes to his rivals. He has consistently outplayed all of the other major lists since the March 2010 parliamentary elections, starting with remaining premier despite his State of Law coming in second to the Iraqi National Movement (INM). He is now challenging Speaker Osama Nujafi, who is part of the INM. The Speaker has both criticized Maliki, and tried to work with him. Recently, Nujafi joined a group of opposition leaders that issued an ultimatum to Maliki to either start cooperating with the other members of the coalition government or face a no confidence vote. The prime minister is now responding in kind by holding a cabinet session in the Speaker’s base, Ninewa province.

Ninewa province (PRT)
At the end of May 2012, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the cabinet will hold a meeting in Ninewa’s provincial capital of Mosul. It is supposed to deal with services and corruption, but the real focus will be the premier’s rivals. He recently held a cabinet session in Kirkuk meant to highlight the differences between the Iraqi National Movement (INM) and the Kurdish Coalition, which are now cooperating against him, but ran against each other in the 2010 parliamentary elections. Maliki is likely to take the same tact in Mosul, since it is the home province of Speaker Osama Nujafi, and his brother Atheel who is the governor there. Like Kirkuk, the governorate includes disputed territories, which the Kurds wish to annex, but the Nujafis are opposed to. In fact, in the parliamentary elections, Speaker Nujafi was considered anti-Kurdish for his stance. Until recently, the Kurdish parties were boycotting the provincial council in Ninewa, because they were so opposed to the Nujafis, and Atheel’s al-Hadbaa Party that won in the 2009 provincial balloting, and took all of the local offices. Those differences have been swept under the rug, because both lists now want to limit Maliki’s power. The premier will try to bring all of them up during his visit to Mosul.
The April 2012 meeting of Maliki opponents in Irbil (from left to right) Speaker Nujafi, Kurdistan Pres. Barzani, Iraqi President Talabani, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iyad Allawi (
The Ninewa meeting came in response to the maneuvers of the Iraqi National Movement, the Kurdish Coalition, and Moqtada al-Sadr. In mid-May, Sadr, Speaker Nujafi, and various leaders from the INM and Kurdish Coalition met in Najaf where they gave the Sadrist-Supreme Council led National Alliance a deadline to replace Maliki if he didn’t implement a real power sharing government. Before that, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani, Moqtada al-Sadr, and Speaker Nujafi met in Irbil where they also issued an ultimatum to Maliki. Nujafi himself remarked that this was a last chance for the prime minister to either work with the other major lists or lose power. The National Movement has been making threats like these for months, but in the new year the Kurdish Coalition and the Sadrists have joined it. They have leveled a non-stop barrage of disparaging remarks against Maliki for centralizing power, and not including others in decisions. The problem for them is that this has all been words, as they do not have the votes in parliament to hold a successful no confidence vote against Maliki. The prime minister knows this, and has rebuffed all their demands, while countering with a series of his own moves such as going to Kirkuk, and now heading for Mosul.

This is not the first time that the prime minister has gone after Nujafi either. Back in April 2011, State of Law was talking about impeaching him. They claimed that the Speaker was biased, and not doing his job. State of Law didn’t have the votes in parliament to do anything, but it was meant to pressure Nujafi after he became critical of Maliki over his handling of the protest movement. That’s what is happening now with the announced trip to Mosul.

Even though Osama Nujafi is currently Maliki’s target of choice, the Speaker had previously taken a dual approach towards him. On the one hand, he was critical of Maliki’s administration. At the beginning of 2011, Nujafi tried to appropriate the demands of the protest movement that emerged then, by demanding that the ministers and the prime minister perform better, and threatened to replace any that didn’t. He then criticized the government’s crackdown on the demonstrators. At the end of last year, Nujafi then pushed for provincial autonomy as a way to limit Maliki’s concentration of power in Baghdad. At the same time, Nujafi has shown a willingness to work with the prime minister. When his National Movement was boycotting the cabinet and parliament in January 2012, Nujafi was one of the few who opposed the move, and continued to attend the legislature. When the INM started talking about a no confidence vote against Maliki, the Speaker was against that idea as well, because his list didn’t have the votes to pull it off. All together, Nujafi was one of the least confrontational National Movement leaders. While he took his shots at Maliki, he was still willing to work with him, and saw the folly of some of the INM’s threats, and was unwilling to go along with them. The decision of Moqtada al-Sadr to become a critic of the prime minister when before he was his greatest supporter, could have been behind Nujafi’s recent decision to be more vocal in his opposition to Maliki. If the Sadrists were actually willing to commit to joining the INM and Kurds, it could finally bring enough to bear on the prime minister to change his ways.

The prime minister heading for Mosul is just the latest act of political theater, which has gripped Iraq since the 2010 elections. Maliki and his opponents have gone back and forth over his administration. The problem is that his critics have been fractious at best, which has allowed Maliki to play upon their divisions. He hopes to do that once again by travelling to Ninewa with the cabinet where he is likely to play on the differences between Speaker Nujafi’s base and the Kurds. The relationship between Maliki and Nujafi however, has not been as rocky as with other members of the Iraqi National Movement. That means that once they are over this current row, the two will likely go back to working together as they did in the not too distant past.


Ahmed Hevidar, “Maliki Given Ultimatum at Leaders Meeting in Erbil,” Rudaw, 4/29/12

AIN, “Breaking News….Council of Ministers to hold session in Mosul next week, says Batiekh,” 5/24/12

AK News, “KA: We have reservations on some of Al-Iraqiya members, including Osama Nujafi,” 3/24/10

Alsumaria TV, “Cabinet to be sacked if it fails to meet its 100-day deadline obligations, Nujaifi,” 4/18/11
- “State of Law Coalition slams Nujaifi Performance,” 4/18/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Najaf meeting gives NA week to replace al-Maliki – al-Nujiefi,” 5/21/12

Brosk, Raman, “Baghdad government derives its legitimacy from Erbil political agreements, says Kurdish Blocs Coalition,” AK News, 5/5/12

Dagher, Sam, “Iraq Political Leaders Seeking Maliki’s Ouster,” Wall Street Journal, 1/19/12

Dodge, Toby, “Iraq’s perilous political carve-up,” International Institute for Strategic Studies, 11/16/10
- “The resistible rise of Nuri al-Maliki,” Open Democracy, 3/22/12

Hamad, Qassim Khidhir, “kurdish kingmakers?” Niqash, 3/25/10

Mardini, Ramzy, “Iraq’s Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 6,” Institute for the Study of War, 1/27/12

Ottaway, Marina, Kaysi, Danial Anas, “Iraq: Coalition Under Stress,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 6/8/11

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

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, “Al-Maliki Seeking To Replace Parliamentary Speaker,” MEMRI Blog, 3/25/11

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 13,” 4/26/11
- “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 31,” 1/25/12

Visser, Reidar, “Contours of a Deal in the Making?” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 11/10/10

PRESS TV VIDEO: Iraq: Political Crisis

Friday, May 25, 2012

Iraqis At Prayer In Sadr City, Baghdad

Sadr City is one of the capital’s longstanding Shiite communities. Located in northeastern Baghdad, it was originally called Al Thawra, Revolution, and then Saddam City until the fall of the dictator in 2003. Then it was changed to Sadr City after Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, Moqtada al-Sadr’s father. It is one of the poorest districts of Baghdad. After 2003 it became a base for Sadr and his Mahdi Army, and the scene of fierce fighting in 2008 between Iraqi and U.S. forces and militiamen. Today, every Friday men can be seen inside and outside mosques doing their prayers as most do in the rest of Iraq.

One man out of sync during Friday prayers amongst Sadrists, Sadr City, Baghdad, May 11, 2012 (AP)
More Sadrists during Friday prayers May 11, 2012 (AP)
Another group of men at prayer in Sadr City, May 4 (Getty Images)
A young boy and older men at Friday service May 4 (Getty Images)
Followers of Moqtada al-Sadr at Friday's prayers in Sadr City May 18 (Getty Images)
More from the May 18 prayers (Getty Images)
Two men trying to stay out of the heat in Sadr City on May 18, sitting up against a wall with portraits of Moqtada al-Sadr (right) and his father Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr (left) behind them (Getty Images)


Encyclopedia Britannica, “Baghdad”

Global Security, “Sadr City (Saddam City/Al Thawra) Baghdad, Iraq”

VIDEO: Saddam Honors A Kurd

VIDEO: Halabja

DISCOVERY CHANNEL: Saddam Purges Government

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Shell Working On Revising Its Oil Contract With Iraq, Likely Sign of Things To Come With Other Companies Operating In Country

In 2009, Iraq held two rounds of auctions for international energy firms to bid on its oil fields. That resulted in the return of foreign companies to Iraq’s petroleum industry after a decade long drought, because of international sanctions. Afterward, Iraq announced that it would reach 12 million barrels a day in capacity by 2017. If that was accomplished it would be one of the greatest expansions in world history. Unfortunately for Iraq, no one believed that figure was possible. Now, Shell, one of the firms that successfully participated in the 2009 bidding, is in talks with the Oil Ministry to reconfigure its deal. It wants to reduce its production target, and extend its timeline by several years. If it accomplishes that, all the other oil companies working in Iraq are likely to want to renegotiate their terms as well.
Map of Majnoon and Iraq's major southern and central oil fields (BBC)
Shell is developing the Majnoon field in Basra, but is in talks with the Oil Ministry to change its contract. Shell originally won rights to the bloc in December 2009, putting in a winning bid with Malaysia’s Petronas. The two agreed to produce 1.8 million barrels a day by 2017. Currently, Majnoon is pumping 65,000 barrels a day. Shell wants to reduce its production target to 1 million barrels a day, and extend the date that’s to be reached by twenty years or more. The company would also like to reduce its investment in the field from the original amount of $50 billion to around $40 billion. Shell has already spent $1 billion on the field since 2010, and plans on investing another $1 billion this year. The corporation has already met with Iraqi officials once in March 2012, and is supposed to meet again in May in Lebanon. The Oil Ministry seems to be open to Shell’s proposals, but will not budge on the remuneration fee of $1.39 per barrel. The production goals and dates were based upon the bidding that took place in 2009. The oil companies worked out fees and numbers with the Oil Ministry until they got to a point where they thought they could make a profit. They were not based upon any sound analysis of the fields, the country’s infrastructure, Iraq’s needs or anything else substantive. That’s how Iraq came to claim it could reach 12 million barrels a day in capacity by 2017, even though no one believed that was possible. Deputy Premier Hussein Shahristani, who is in charge of Iraq’s energy policy, has already officially dropped that mark to 11 million barrels by 2020, but the Oil Ministry has talked about cutting that even more to 8-8.5 million barrels. Some analysts and oil company executives believe that a more realistic figure might be 6 million barrels a day. From the start, Shell knew it could not reach the numbers it set in its 2009 bid. It went ahead anyway, because it wanted to get into the Iraqi market along with all the other firms, because of its huge, untapped potential. Some believe that Iraq has enough petroleum reserves to maintain international prices in the future as demand increases, and other countries cut back on their production. There was no way that Shell was going to miss out on that. After it started work in Iraq, reality kicked in, and that has led it to enter into talks with Baghdad to change its deal.

Shell’s negotiations could lead to revising all of Iraq’s oil contracts. Companies have complained about the work environment in the country due to red tape holding up everything from visas to equipment shipped into the country. Some companies have gotten into payment disputes, and Iraq lacks adequate infrastructure, and what it has is aging. That causes bottlenecks, such as not having enough pipeline or storage capacity to deal with all the increased production that the foreign companies have achieved so far. Many of the fields along the border with Iran also need mine clearing due to unexploded ordinance from the Iran-Iraq War. If Shell is successful in their bargaining, it is likely that all the other companies that signed deals in 2009 will ask to change theirs as well. That will lead to more realistic figures for Iraq’s oil industry, and give the companies breathing room, because they were facing penalties if they did not reach their marks. Deputy Premier Shahristani has already talked about coming up with new numbers based upon conversations with energy executives, so Baghdad is open to these revisions. It’s just a matter of time then, before Shell is likely to emerge with a reconfigured contract, with others following suit.

The two bid rounds for Iraqi oil fields in 2009 were as much a development story, as a political one. Iraq wanted to announce that it was returning as a major player in international markets after years of wars, sanctions, and the U.S. invasion. Its claim that it could reach 12 million barrels in capacity was as much a political statement to that affect as anything else. No other country has ever been able to produce that much in such a short amount of time, so analysts were always skeptical, but the headlines still went around the world, which was what Baghdad wanted. Now after a few years of actual work in Iraq, companies are slowly going to the Oil Ministry asking for new terms. Shell is the first one to officially do so, and could set the standard for all the others. The results will be much more realistic numbers for how much oil Iraq is likely to produce in the future. That doesn’t mean Iraq will still not have large growth, and play a more important role in OPEC, it just won’t be as big as some originally claimed.


Dow Jones, “Iraq’s Majoon Oil Field To Hit 175,000 Barrels A Day In August –Official,” 2/7/12

Falush, Simon and Mackey, Peg, “Iraq to lower oil target to more prudent level,” Reuters, 4/18/12

Flynn, Alexis, “ROYAL DUTCH SHELLA : Shell Suggests More Realistic Iraq Oil Target,” Dow Jones, 5/17/12

Mackey, Peg, “Shell’s Majnoon deal highlights Iraq oil target verdict,” Reuters, 5/18/12

Rasheed, Ahmed, “Exclusive: Shell in talks to cut iraq’s Majnoon output target,” Reuters, 5/8/12

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Human Rights Watch Reports On Two Mass Arrest Campaigns And Continued Abuses By The Security Forces In Iraq

Even though Iraq is supposed to be a democracy, it lacks many prerequisites of that political system. One is that it does not have due process, and torture and abuse of prisoners is common. That has been documented again in again by human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch. That group’s most recent report, “Iraq: Mass Arrests, Incommunicado Detentions” went over two major arrest campaigns carried out by the government at the end of 2011 against alleged Baathists, and another in March 2012 before the Arab League Summit in Baghdad. In both cases, the security forces rounded up hundreds of people with no warrants, and held them incommunicado, often in secret facilities. This all goes to show that while Iraq has the trappings of a democratic system, it is not quite there yet, because it still does not respect its citizens’ rights.

At the end of 2011, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a campaign against supposed Baathists who were allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. That started in October 2011. The prime minister originally said that 615 people were picked up, but three Iraqi officials estimated that around 1,500 people were rounded up in actuality. This led to a new crisis between the premier and his main opponents, the Iraqi National Movement (INM) and several provinces in northern Iraq who declared that they wanted to become autonomous regions. The INM called on Maliki to stop his crackdown, while provinces like Salahaddin threatened to not turn over anyone arrested there to Baghdad, calling the detentions illegal. The wave of detentions actually started as an internal rivalry within Maliki’s State of Law between him and the Higher Education Minister Ali al-Adeeb over who could be more anti-Baathist. The people arrested were simply pawns in this power struggle between two leading politicians.

In March 2012, there was another crackdown just before the Arab League Summit in Baghdad. At the time, State of Law parliamentarians denied that any arrests were being made, but that was refuted by people picked up, members of the Interior Ministry, and the head of the security committee in parliament. The head of that committee said that he had reports from the Baghdad Operations Command detailing 532 arrests. Two other members of the committee claimed that figure was low. In May, members of the security and human rights committees formed a special committee to look into the matter, but nothing was ever heard about it again. A common experience when the government claims it will look into abuses of power. Human Rights Watch found that the government seemed to focus upon five neighborhoods in Baghdad province, Abu Ghraib, Adhamiya, Furat, Jihad, and Rathwaniya, and seemed to go after people that were held by the United States before. Twenty people arrested said that none of them ever saw any warrants. A Justice Ministry official claimed that by April, some of the people had been released, 100 would be charged, and the rest were being held somewhere secret. Human Rights Watch believed that this campaign was simply preventive to try to secure the Arab summit by rounding up people that had been arrested before.
An interrogation room at Camp Honor (Human Rights Watch)
During October and March, people were taken to Camp Honor and two other facilities in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Camp Honor was supposedly closed in March 2011 after a report came out that it was being used as a secret prison where abuse was happening. Several recent prisoners however, told Human Rights Watch that they were taken to the camp. All the detention centers were used for interrogations and confessions, before people were switched to official prisons. All three were under the control of the 56th Brigade, also known as the Baghdad Brigade. That Brigade has been known to carry out arrests at the behest of the premier. It reports directly to the prime minister, and is outside the regular chain of command for the armed forces. It appears that Maliki is also running his own series of jails as well.

Human Rights Watch also documented on-going abuses of the security forces. Two Justice Ministry officials said that the security forces have often held people without turning them over to the courts. They said that the army and police also would shift prisoners around to different prisons to keep them away from their families, lawyers, and the judiciary. They claimed this was all done under the authority of the prime minister. The security forces often carry out mass sweeps of areas, by cordoning them off, and going door to door with wanted lists, and regular arrest campaigns in Sunni areas of Baghdad and other provinces. Some prisoners are treated fairly, but others are abused and tortured. Most released detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were forced to sign a pledge not to criticize the government publicly or a confession. If they didn’t, the guards threatened them with torture or indefinite detention. Some families were asked to pay bribes to get their family members released. Lawyers added that it was almost impossible to see their clients, and would regularly get the run around at prisons or be threatened by officials for trying to represent alleged insurgents or Baathists. These are all common practices documented in other reports by human rights groups. They point to the failure of Iraq to follow its own laws, and implement due process.

At the heart of the matter is the failure of Iraq to reform its justice system and security forces after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The United States originally wanted to rebuild both from scratch, but never committed the necessary personnel or funds to do so. When the Iraqis regained their sovereignty in 2005, the political parties took control of the security and justice ministries, and placed personnel in office that had no experience in those fields, and often followed what they knew best, which was Saddam’s practices or the authoritarian regimes that they had lived in exile under such as Syria and Iran. That is why Iraq still arrests people without warrants, holds them incommunicado, hides prisoners, maintains secret prisons, abuses and tortures people, and gains false confessions to convict people with. It’s unlikely that this will ever change until someone at the top decides to tackle the issue. Such a politician does not appear on the horizon, so Iraqis will continue to have to live under this unjust system.


Aswat al-Iraq, “615 baathists arrested – Maliki,” 10/29/11
- “Al-Iraqiya demands Iraq’s Prime Minister to stop detentions,” 10/26/11
- “Salah al-Din refuses handover of detainees,” 10/26/11

Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Mass Arrests, Incommunicado Detentions,” 5/15/12

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

Dust Storm Hits Baghdad May 22, 2012

A dust storm recently descended upon Baghdad. Hospitals and clinics have been flooded with people complaining about breathing troubles. Iraq’s  Meteorological Agency predicted that the dust would remain over Baghdad and many other cities for the remainder of the week. The situation was so bad that on May 22, Baghdad International Airport had to shut down all flights. Iraq often experiences these storms, and the situation may be getting worse, because the country has gone through a multi-year drought, and the water supply from Iraq’s rivers has decreased due to increased usage and damming by up river countries Syria, Iran, and Turkey. That increases desertification and dries out farmland, both of which creates more particles that can be picked up, and become a storm.
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
Agence France Presse, “Dust storm shuts Iraq airport,” 5/22/12
Shwqi, Afrah, “Medical alert in Baghdad due to dust storms,” AK News, 5/22/12

Review The Prisoner in His Palace, Saddam Hussein, His American Guards and What History Leaves Unsaid

Bardenwerper, Will, The Prisoner in His Palace, Saddam Hussein, His American Guards and What History Leaves Unsaid , Scribner, 2017   Wh...