Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Inside The Surge An Interview With Prof Peter Mansoor Former Executive Officer To Gen Petraeus

The Surge in Iraq created a huge controversy in American politics when it started in 2007. There were arguments about whether the U.S. should send in more troops or withdraw its forces to solve Iraq’s increasing chaos. Since then there has been a lively discussion about how much of a factor the Surge was in combination with other events such as the sectarian cleansing of Baghdad, the Anbar Awakening, the Sons of Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr’s cease fire, and more in reducing the violence in the country. To provide an inside view of the Surge is Professor Peter Mansoor the General Raymond E. Mason Jr. Chair of Military History at Ohio State University and General David Petraeus’ former Executive Officer from 2007-2008. He recently published a book about his experience during that time entitled Surge, My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War.

1. The Surge was proposed out of a sense of desperation in Washington about the situation in Iraq. In 2005 sectarian fighting had broken out, but after the February 2006 bombing of the Samarra shrine things quickly descended into a full-scale civil war. President Bush heard several proposals about what to do and decided upon the Surge. He said he was “doubling down” and not only changed the military approach but his own handling of Iraq. Can you explain how the president dealt with Iraq before 2007 and its consequences?

President Bush believed that his subordinate commanders should be given wide leeway to prosecute the war as they saw fit. In my view, he believed this was a proper reading of the lessons of the Vietnam, a conflict in which President Lyndon B. Johnson was accused of running the war from the White House. Bush erred in the other direction by supporting his commanders with inadequate supervision from above and nearly suffered defeat in Iraq as a result. The civilian and military leaders in Baghdad developed a strategy and operational concept—focused on killing and capturing terrorist and insurgent operatives while transitioning security responsibilities to the nascent Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible—that allowed the insurgents and al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to embed themselves among the Iraqi people, while creating a security vacuum that nearly caused Iraq to break apart in 2006. By mid-2006, President Bush sensed that something was wrong and he sought a way to reverse the downward spiral in violence. The result was the Surge.

2. On the ground in Iraq General George Casey ordered Operation Together Forward in 2006 try to secure Baghdad. How was the plan executed and what were its faults?   

There were two iterations of Operation Together Forward, which were cordon and search operations in the heart of Baghdad intended to clear the city of insurgents. In these two large scale operations a significant number of buildings were searched, weapons caches confiscated, and suspects detained. The problem was that once complete, there were not enough forces left behind to secure the areas ostensibly cleared of insurgents. In time the insurgents and terrorists returned, and the security situation continued its downward spiral.

3. Around that same time you were called to the Pentagon to join the Council of Colonels, which was originally organized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss the War on Terror, but eventually came to focus upon the Iraq War. What did that group come to see as the main problems in Iraq, and what were its recommendations to solve it?

“We are losing because we are not winning, and time is not on our side,” is how the Council of Colonels announced to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the United States and its allies were losing the Iraq War. This was a revelation and a shock to them. The main problem in Iraq that we saw was an ethno-sectarian competition for power and resources, exacerbated by the intervention of outside powers such as Iran and the injection of jihadists into the conflict. In our view, the United States had three options: Go Big (mobilize its military power to overwhelm the insurgency), Go Long (configure its support to Iraq to prevail over the long haul), or Go Home (withdraw from Iraq and manage the consequences). President Bush chose a combination of Go Big and Go Long, resulting in the Surge.

4. The Iraq Study Group suggested that the U.S. gradually withdraw its forces while reaching out to Iraq’s neighbors as the best way to stabilize things in the country. Why did you disagree with that approach?

Iraq’s neighbors were part of the problem. As long as states such as Iran thought that they could achieve their aims in Iraq through proxy warfare, negotiations with them were a dead end. We proved this during the Surge when the United States and Iran held three negotiations in Baghdad (Ambassador Ryan Crocker was the U.S. representative) that went nowhere. Furthermore, outside powers could not solve the fundamental issues inside Iraq, which were ethno-sectarian in nature and required a resolution from within.

5. Retired General Jack Keane and the American Enterprise Institute argued for an alternative strategy of a population centered counterinsurgency campaign. Why do you think that approach won over President Bush?

President Bush wanted to win the war in Iraq. Not lose. Not tie. Not exit the conflict gracefully. I don’t think General George Casey, General John Abizaid, or the Joint Chiefs ever understood the determination of the president in this regard. As the situation in Iraq worsened, President Bush understood that something had to change, but as he pressed his commanders for solutions, the same stock answers came back. Stay the course. Transfer security responsibilities to the Iraqis. The strategy is working, but will take more time. As 2006 progressed, the president realized something had to change. The surge seemed the only viable alternative strategy, and he adopted it as his own.

6. Even before the Surge started in December 2006 a raid upon an Al Qaeda safe house discovered a treasure trove of documents about the group’s strategy for Baghdad. What did those papers reveal about the organization, and what kinds of plans were made to counter it when the Surge began?

The raid revealed the importance of the “Baghdad Belts,” or the regions around Baghdad that were in effect insurgent and terrorist sanctuaries. From these regions the insurgents and terrorists could inject violence into the capital city at will. As the document made clear, to control Baghdad, we had to control the Baghdad Belts. As a result, more than fifty percent of the extra combat power provided by the surge ended up being deployed outside Baghdad in al-Anbar Province and the Baghdad Belts.

7. Many have tried to simplify the Surge down to a troop increase, counterinsurgency tactics, and a dynamic leader in General Petraeus. In fact the new strategy was made up of many different elements. Can you go through what those were and how they worked together?

General Petraeus has done a wonderful job of describing the new strategy in his Foreword to my book, adapted as an article in Foreign Policy, which can be accessed at here. The surge was a holistic strategy to change the war in Iraq. It featured a new (or at least, one evenly applied across the force) operational concept that stressed the overriding need to protect the Iraqi people from insurgent, militia, and terrorist violence. More forces were needed to realize this goal. Gen. Petraeus also realized that to contain the violence in Iraq, the reconcilable elements of the insurgent and militia opposition (including detainees in coalition custody) needed to be brought into support of the Iraqi government, so outreach to these groups was part of the strategy—bringing the Awakening into play and resulting in the creation of the Sons of Iraq. Targeted strikes to kill or capture irreconcilables were also part of the surge—to eliminate from the equation those who refused to be part of the solution to the conflict. To give the Iraqi people hope for the future, nation building aspects to improve the economy, provide jobs, and deliver essential services were also stressed. If strategy is defined as the provision of ways and means to secure an end, then the Surge was most definitely a new strategy.
PM Maliki was fine with the Awakening as long as it stayed in Anbar but when the US started the Sons of Iraq program he was opposed (AP)

8. After General Petraeus found out about the Awakening in Anbar, he decided to try to replicate it throughout the country with the Sons of Iraq (SOI). He was hoping that this would lead to local reconciliation and eventually be connected to the central government. A major barrier to that was Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. What were some of the struggles Coalition officials went through trying to convince Maliki of the advocacy of the SOI, and did he ever seem to fully accept the program?

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki welcomed the Awakening as long as it was confined to al-Anbar Province, a region of little concern to his government and the Shi’a constituency which he represented. When the Awakening and its offspring, the Sons of Iraq, approached areas of greater concern to Shi’a Iraqis, such as Diyala Province or Baghdad, then Prime Minister Maliki and his administration were reluctant to embrace the movement. Gen. Petraeus attempted to assuage Prime Minister Maliki’s concerns by pointing out that it was better to have former insurgents inside the tent, as opposed to outside the tent trying to tear it down. Furthermore, we could gather biometric identification (fingerprints, retina scans) of the Sons of Iraq, along with their personal information, which would make them vulnerable to reprisals should they backslide. Gen. Petraeus also realized that whoever paid the SOI would have control over them. Initially, the paymaster was Multi-National Force-Iraq, but later it was the Iraqi government. This gave Maliki great control over the Sons of Iraq. Despite these certainties, he never warmed to the program, although he is probably now regretting his decision not to do so.

9. One reason that Sunnis seemed willing to join the Sons of Iraq was that they realized that they were losing the civil war. You quoted one U.S. Army Colonel that worked on reconciliation that said, “The Sunnis recognize that they’ve lost, and they’re coming to the table.” The Anbar Awakening also expanded at this time from its start in Ramadi to across the province. Moqtada al-Sadr announced a cease-fire in the middle of 2007, and Premier Maliki eventually went after his militia with the 2008 Charge of the Knights campaign in Basra, Maysan, and Baghdad. This has created a debate within the United States over whether the Surge was the main catalyst for security improving in Iraq or whether it was a combination of the Surge and those other developments in Iraq. What are your thoughts on the matter?

The Surge was the catalyst that brought to fruition a number of factors that influenced the outcome of the war in Iraq. Without the Surge, the Awakening would have remained a local movement confined to Ramadi or, at most, al-Anbar Province. Without the improved security conditions in Baghdad created by the Surge, Muqtada al-Sadr would never have offered a cease-fire after the gun battle between his militia and the shrine guards in Karbala in August 2007.  Without the Surge, Prime Minister Maliki would not have felt emboldened to confront the Jaish al-Mahdi in Basra, Sadr City, and Maysan Province. On the other hand, the Surge would not have had the same results had it been attempted earlier in the war. It needed the other elements at play in Iraq in 2007 to succeed.

10. President Bush went from delegating Iraq policy to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the Pentagon from 2003-2006 to being hands on during the Surge. Why did you believe this was the proper approach for all presidents to take when it comes to conducting a war?

In his book Supreme Command, Eliot Cohen analyzes the war leadership of Abraham Lincoln, Georges Clemenceau, Winston Churchill, and David Ben-Gurion, and concludes that hands-on executive leadership is required to ensure success in war. President Bush read Cohen’s book early in his presidency, but didn’t internalize its lessons regarding what kind of leadership was required in difficult endeavors. For the first six years of his presidency, President Bush empowered his key subordinates to wage the war in Iraq without a lot of supervision from the White House. Finally in 2006, Bush realized that he needed to take a hands-on approach to fashioning a strategy to win the war. The resulting concept, the Surge, would not have succeeded without his involvement and support. This example, along with many others, shows the need for presidents to be intimately involved in the details of the strategy for waging war.

11. From late-2007 into 2008 Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) started concentrating more and more on Shiite militias and Special Groups that were run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force commander General Sulaiman. There have been many stories about these operations and some of the interactions between Sulaiman and General Petraeus. Can you speak about what MNF-I’s strategy was to counter the Iranians and whether it was effective or not?

MNF-I realized that Iranian support of Jaish al-Mahdi Special Groups was a destabilizing factor in Iraq. Part of Gen. Petraeus’ Surge concept was the even-handed treatment of Sunni insurgents and Shi’a militia operatives. Petraeus pushed very hard to ensure the targeting of extremists of all sects, with excellent results. After the capture of a number of Iranian Qods Force operatives in Iraq, Iran withdrew most of its personnel from the country and moved the training of proxy forces back to Iran. Although MNF-I was able to reduce the effectiveness of Iranian backed operatives, it could not eliminate Iranian influence on the war in Iraq.

12. Throughout the entire Surge there was great skepticism about its effectiveness. That was seen when General Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker had to testify before the American Congress. Less well known was the fact that sectors of the military such as the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Admiral William Fallon who was commander of the Central Command at that time were opposed to the new strategy as well. What were their concerns, and how did they attempt to affect policy?

The Joint Chiefs of Staff were concerned that the provision of the Surge forces to Iraq would cause deterioration in the readiness of U.S. ground forces due to the excessive strain put on the Army and Marine Corps by the Iraq War. President Bush gave an excellent reply to these concerns in his meeting with the Joint Chiefs in the Tank in the Pentagon in December 2006 by pointing out that the worst thing that could happen to the U.S. military would be to lose the war in Iraq. All other considerations, in the president’s mind, were secondary. But the Joint Chiefs were lukewarm at best about the Surge, a mindset bolstered by the elevation of General George Casey, the former commander of MNF-I, to be the Army chief of staff in February 2007. Casey didn’t believe the Surge was the right strategy for Iraq, and his presence on the Joint Chiefs dampened what little enthusiasm they had for the new way forward.

Admiral Fallon likewise did not believe the Surge was the right strategy for Iraq. Like Casey, Fallon believed that U.S. forces should slowly withdraw from the conflict and allow the Iraqis to fight it out among themselves. He put sand in the gears of the process of providing reinforcements to Iraq to slow it down, much to the consternation of General Petraeus.

13. One of the main goals of the United States from 2007-2008 was to reduce violence so that Iraq’s elite could focus upon politics. Do you think that was achieved by the end of the Surge, and if so what were some examples you saw?

The Surge accomplished its goal of enabling the competition for power and resources in Iraq to move back into the realm of politics, at least the kind of politics that doesn’t use bombs and bullets to make its point. In the winter of 2008 the Iraqi Council of Representatives passed a number of laws, such as amnesty legislation, de-Ba’athification reform, and an annual budget, that showed that Iraqi legislators could make deals with one another. After the Charge of the Knights operation in Basra and the clearing of Sadr City in the spring of 2008, all but one of the political parties in Iraq gave a vote of support to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The provincial elections of 2009 brought a large majority of Iraqis of all sects and political persuasions to the polls and brought the Sunnis back into the political process. The wheels started to come off the bus after the presidential election of 2010, when the United States backed Maliki’s candidacy for another term as prime minister instead of supporting the winner of the elections, Ayad Allawi. After that election the Sunnis lost faith in the political process and the jihadists were once again able to make inroads among them. The current violence in Iraq dates to that ill-considered decision, not to the outcome of the Surge, which ended in July 2008.

Iraq Vs Bahrain Ends In Draw In 8th West Asia Football Federation Championship In Doha Dec 28, 2013

Photos by AFP's Karim Jaafar

Monday, December 30, 2013

Iraq’s PM Maliki Goes From Offensive Against Al Qaeda To Crackdown On Anbar Protestors

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki just turned a military tragedy, which rallied much of the country behind the government, into a campaign against the Anbar protest movement. In the middle of December 2013 Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) set up an elaborate trap, which resulted in the death of much of the leadership of the Army’s 7th Division. Baghdad then launched a massive military campaign in Anbar that almost all parties and much of the public supported. In the midst of this offensive however, the prime minister decided to go after the Anbar demonstrators by claiming that they were behind the terrorists, and then ordered the detention of Parliamentarian Ahmed Alwani of the Iraqi Islamic Party who was one of their leaders. The lawmaker was captured, but not before a shoot out that resulted in several deaths and brought out hundreds of people into the streets in Anbar in support of him. Now the government is demanding that the protest sites close. In doing so, Maliki turned a national moment into a personal vendetta against his opponents.

In the middle of December 2013 Al Qaeda set a trap for the army, which turned into a rallying point for much of Iraq. On December 16, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) started a new operation in Anbar. On December 21, the Army’s 7th Division received news that an AQI camp had been discovered in Adham along the Ninewa border. The leadership of the division went to investigate the site believing that it was abandoned, but in fact it was a trap set by the Islamists with booby traps and suicide bombers. The result was that the 7th Division Commander General Mohammed Karawi, his assistant General Mohammed Nauman, and the heads of the 27th and 29th Brigades were all killed. In response, Baghdad immediately ordered a massive campaign against AQI. Most of the political class came out in support of the government, and there were rallies in major cities backing the security forces as well. Several tribes in Anbar also rallied behind the ISF and said they were going to help with the new security crackdown. Sheikh Mohammed al-Hayes for example called on all the sheikhs in Anbar to fight AQI during a meeting in Ramadi, and said that the soldiers dying against the terrorists were mostly native Anbaris. Amidst all of the divisions and sectarian tensions this was a rare moment in Iraq. In recent history there have been few times where Iraqis have rallied behind the flag. The deaths of the officers provided one of those events where both the elite and common people came out to express their support for the security forces and the fight against Al Qaeda.

Rallies in Babel and Karbala in support of the security crackdown in Anbar (Al-Mada)

In the midst of this nationalist sentiment Maliki decided to destroy the mood and follow his own political agenda. First, the prime minister gave a television interview where he claimed that the Anbar protest sites were harboring Al Qaeda leaders. After talks with local and national politicians the premier seemed to back down, but he didn’t. On December 27 he said that day’s Friday’s prayers were the last for the sit-in sites since they were areas of sedition and threatened to burn down their tents. The next day he ordered the arrest of parliamentarian Ahmed Alwani from the Iraqi Islamic Party who was one of the leaders of the activists. He had an outstanding warrant out for him since September for his sectarian verbal attacks upon Shiites during the rallies. In one speech for instance he said that the followers of Iran were in the country, meaning Shiites, and that they should be beheaded without mercy. The raid on his house led to an hour-long gunfight that ended up killing Alwani’s brother and five of his guards. Politicians from all different parties condemned the move saying that it only inflamed tensions. In Anbar, there were immediate protests in Fallujah and Ramadi in support of Alwani, his clan the Albu Alwan gave the government 12 hours to release him or face the consequences, the demonstrators’ Pride and Dignity Army was deployed to the demonstration sites, and they promised to fight anyone that used force against them. At the same time the ISF put armored vehicles around the protest areas, and the security forces stopped an investigative committee from parliament who wanted to look into Alwani’s arrest from entering the province. Acting Defense Minister Sadoun Dulaimi went on to say that Alwani would be released if the protests were ended, turning the lawmaker into a virtual hostage. Once again, local officials such as Anbar Governor Ahmed Diab, the provincial council, and sheikhs tried to mediate between the central government and Anbaris. Beforehand Maliki was in talks with Anbar politicians and sheikhs to negotiate an end to the demonstrations. Then when the 7th Division officers were killed he went back to making threats and demands against the sit-ins. This has been the prime minister’s long time modus operandi to offer concessions on the one hand, and then use the stick to intimidate people. The premier could not have picked a worse time however to go after his opponents, because it destroyed the nationalist feelings that were spreading throughout the country.

MP Alwani giving a speech at the Ramadi protest site (Al-Mada)

Rallies in support of Alwani in Anbar, and armed checkpoints set up in Ramadi
March in Ramadi Dec. 28, 2013 (AFP)

Rally in Fallujah Dec. 28, 2013 (Mohammed Jalil)

Fallujah (Mohammed Jalil)

Fallujah (Mohammed Jalil)
People gathering before a march in Ramadi near Alwani's home as gunmen watch guard Dec. 29, 2013 (AFP)



Armed checkpoint in Ramadi Dec. 29, 2013 (Mohammed Jalil)

(Mohammed Jalil)

(Mohammed Jalil)

In one swift move Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wrecked the chance to unify much of Iraq against Al Qaeda, so that he could take on the Anbar protest movement. The death of the army generals from the 7th Division was a perfect opportunity to reverse the worsening security situation by getting the public behind the government. With popular backing there would have been more intelligence coming in, and less passive support for the insurgency. Instead, Maliki instantly turned to the sit-ins, and restarted his feud with them, which he had just resolved a few days before, and was in the process of negotiating an end to. The prime minister could not pass up the chance to use the military campaign in Anbar to go after the demonstrators as well. By doing so he re-ignited tensions in the province, and probably gave the activists renewed life, just when it looked like they were losing steam with the loss of their political and tribal allies. Now there’s talk of war in the governorate, and that can only end badly for all involved. Any use of force by the ISF would only turn more people towards militancy, because it would just be the latest example of Baghdad not caring about them and the failure of national politics to solve anything. There could not be a better example of the premier’s short-term thinking. He like the rest of the elite only thinks about his own political future, and the country constantly suffers as a result. Violence is already increasing in Anbar as Al Qaeda is trying to re-establish itself there. Now things are on the verge of getting much worse if Maliki forces the matter with the demonstrators. Even if he walks away from the edge it would still be bad, because the attempt to negotiate an end to the protests will be over as well. The prime minister’s inability to think big picture has thus undermined his own work, and now things are much worse in Anbar when they were already heading in the wrong direction.


Anbar officials claim they worked out a deal with Defense Minister Dulaimi to take down the Ramadi protest site, which was done by local police today, December 30. This was said to be done peacefully, but fighting broke out in Ramadi and Fallujah with 10 dead, 7 gunmen and 3 police, and 43 wounded, 29 gunmen and 14 soldiers, and a mosque in Ramadi was head calling people to jihad against the government forces. Politically the Iraqi National Movement is threatening a boycott of government in protest.

Police vehicle set on fire near Ramadi sit-ins (AFP)


Agence France Presse, “Deadly clashes as Iraq forces demolish Sunni protest camp,” 12/30/13
- “Iraq forces destroy militant camps in Anbar: spokesman,” 12/23/13

AIN, “Breaking news…Dulaimi tribes join security forces in fighting Qaeda,” 12/23/13
- “Iraqi Navy Forces participates in Anbar military operations,” 12/25/13
- “Military operations launched in 4 Iraqi southern provinces,” 12/23/13
- “Urgent…MoD : Alwani’s release depends on lifting tents on protest yard in Anbar,” 12/29/13

BBC, “Bomb attack kills officers in Iraq’s Anbar province,” 12/21/13
- “Ten die as Iraq security forces dismantle Sunni camp,” 12/30/13

Buratha News, “Blast toll rises from bomber western Anbar to 24 martyrs, including the commander of the seventh division and a number of officers,” 12/21/13
- “Hayes calls Anbar tribes to take up arms and fight al-Qaeda,” 12/23/13
- “Hayes calls for the government to intervene to end the sit-ins,” 12/26/13

Al Forat, “Air forces attack terrorist shelters, 4 WD cars destroyed in Anbar desert,” 12/22/13
- “Clashes erupted near al-Asad Air force base in Anbar,” 12/21/13

Ghazi, Yasir and Arango, Tim, “Deadly Shootout and Arrest in Iraq Set Off Sunni Protests,” New York Times, 12/28/13

Haider, Roa, “Fears of the outbreak of the situation with the threat of al-Maliki breaking up the Anbar protests,” Radio Free Iraq, 12/25/13

Independent Press Agency, “Dolly large forces drove from Baghdad to al-Assad military base west of Ramadi,” 12/23/13
- “Large forces drove from Baghdad to al-Assad military base west of Ramadi,” 12/23/13

Al-Mada, “Civic organizations in Karbala: Our military is fighting a battle on behalf of the world against al Qaeda in Anbar and must be chased,” 12/28/13
- “Contradictory signals from al-Maliki and al-Dulaimi on Anbar sit-ins,” 12/26/13
- “Deputies: Anbar military operations late .. And “Daash” to withdraw within cities,” 12/26/13
-“Dozens of people from the tribes of Fallujah threaten violating curfew and helicopters flying flow overhead,” 12/29/13
- “Hayes: Ramadi sit-in square has become the headquarters for Al Qaeda and we will participate in clearing it of its most wanted,” 12/27/13
- “Hundreds in Babylon organize pause in solidarity with the campaign to eradicate Al Qaeda and stress the Iraqi army,” 12/27/13
- “MP Alwani clan threaten the government to “stand firm” if you do not release him within 12 hours,” 12/28/13
- “Mutlaq announce his refusal of the timing of the military operation in Anbar if the goal was electoral gain,” 12/28/13
- “Politicians and MPs: we disagree with al-Alwani and his arrest will set a dangerous precedent with dire consequences on the political process,” 12/28/13
- “Saadi accused the government of “abuse” with the activities of the year and calls for an “emergency” meeting in Anbar to consider the situation,” 12/28/13
- “Sadr and Hakim warn of “another Hawija” and call for a peaceful solution instead of storming Ramadi sit-in Square,” 12/28/13
- “A source reveals about the transfer of Ahmed al-Alwani to the Green Zone,” 12/28/13
- “United: the arrest of al-Alwani, giving priority to the logic of extremism and violence, and we hope not to be a gift for a neighbor,” 12/28/13

Naji, Jamal, “Maliki targets protesters as Anbar security crisis deepens,” Iraq Oil Report, 12/28/13

National Iraqi News Agency, “2 Qaeda commanders killed in western Anbar,” 12/21/13
- “Anbar Governor: Peaceful protests infuriates extremists in Iraq,” 12/27/13
- “Anbar Governor says that there are intense contacts with Baghdad to release Alwani,” 12/28/13
- “Anbar Governor: Threats come from Anbar desert not sit-in squares,” 12/26/13
- “Assistant General Chief of Staff leads a campaign to clean Anbar’s western desert from Qaeda elements,” 12/21/13
- “BREAKING NEWS More than 30 tanks taking position near Ramadi sit-in square,” 12/28/13
- “Chairman of Anbar tribes council: Anbar’s tribes support army to hunt down al-Qaeda,” 12/24/13
- “Gathering and demonstration in Fallujah and Ramadi to denounce the arrest of al-Alwani,” 12/28/13
- “Gunman killed, another wounded, 3 soldiers wounded in western Anbar,” 12/21/13
- “Head of Anbar council: Four demands to defuse the crisis in Anbar,” 12/29/13
- “Iraqiya coalition hold this evening a thoroughly meeting to announce its final stand toward the current events in Anbar,” 12/30/13
- “Maliki gives (short notice) seriously to empty the sit-in square and leave al-Qaeda elements,” 12/22/13
- “Maliki threatens to burned tents of sit-ins of Anbar,” 12/27/13
- “Militants (Pride Army) deployed near Ramadi Square sit-in in anticipation of the security forces,” 12/28/13
- “Military operations in Anbar will extend to Salahuddin,” 12/26/13
- “Minister of Defense gives two days to lift the sit-in’ tents,” 12/29/13
- “Urgent…Two Army Brigades’ leaders, among the victims of Anbar bombing,” 12/21/13

Al-Qaisi, Mohammed, “Iraq to tighten security on Syria border,” Al-Shorfa, 12/18/13

Radio Nawa, “Anbar Operations Command expects to escape Ali Hatem al-Suleimani outside Iraq,” 12/28/13
- “Awakening confirms agreement to change the location of the sit in yards away from the highway,” 12/27/13
- “Jaafari reviews with Najafi and Abu Risha ways to end the tension in the province of Anbar,” 12/28/13

Al Rayy, “Ghaidan: operations in Anbar desert destroyed the majority of al-Qaeda camps and clans lifting tents,” 12/29/13
- “Tribes threaten to storm the sit-in yard to release the security elements that belong to them,” 12/28/13

Salaheddin, Sinan, “7 killed as Iraqi troops arrest Sunni lawmaker,” 12/28/13
- “Iraqi police dismantle Sunni protest in west,” Associated Press, 12/30/13

Shafaq News, “Anbar: Al-Rifai and Saadi agreed to transfer sit-in Square,” 12/29/13
- “Anbar reveals contacts with al-Dulaimi to solve Sunni MP crisis,” 12/29/13
- “Anbar Tribes Council: there is a chance to end the tension in the province,” 12/29/13
- “Hayes: The majority of the killed in Horan Valley are from Anbar people,” 12/23/13

Yasin, Ali, “The military’s “New Morning”: Russian arms talk helped to destroy their camps,” New Sabah, 12/25/13

Al-Zubaidi, Ahmed, “A local official: to reach an agreement to end the sit-ins,” Radio Free Iraq, 12/29/13

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Crackdown On Protest Site In Iraq’s Anbar Province Seemingly Averted

After several attempts at reconciliation between Anbar’s provincial government and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to end the on-going protests there events turned for the worse in December 2013. The premier claimed that the demonstration sites were a base for Al Qaeda and demanded that they be ended, and hinted at a crackdown. Just before that Sheikh Hamid al-Hayes accused the death of his nephew upon the Ramadi protests as well, and threatened to use violence unless the perpetrators were turned over to him. It seemed like either the government or Hayes’ tribe was about to storm the Ramadi protest camp, but then things suddenly calmed down. Stepping back from the brink was best for all concerned, but it was another sign of the decline of the protest movement.

In the middle of December Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attacked the Anbar protest sites as a terrorist haven and threatened to close them down as a result. Maliki said that the situation in Anbar was allowing insurgents to operate there. He claimed that had allowed the province to become a base for Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), that 30 of its leaders were hiding amongst the protesters, and called for those that did not support the Islamists to exit the demonstration sites immediately. Anbar Governor Ahmed Diab backed the premier and had the security forces surround the Ramadi protest area. It seemed like some sort of crackdown was imminent as one of the protest organizers Sheikh Mohammed al-Fayadh told the National Iraqi News Agency. This was a change in tone for the prime minister who had recently been in talks with Governor Diab, the governorate council, and sheikhs such as Ahmed Abu Risha to offer some concessions that might end the demonstrations. The death of much of the leadership of the 7th Division on December 21 by AQI in Anbar’s Horan Valley likely led to Maliki’s reversal on the protesters. Baghdad launched a major security operation in the governorate in response, and the premier probably thought he could force an end to the demonstrations at the same time.

Fortunately there was a step back from the brink. Speaker of Parliament Osama Nujafi tried to mediate by making a series of calls to political leaders in the country. He eventually secured a guarantee from the prime minister not to storm the protest sites. Governor Diab also ordered the security forces to withdraw from the Ramadi camp as well. If Maliki had followed through with his threat to clear out the protesters there was a good chance that it would have led to a bloodbath like what happened in April in Hawija when dozens of people were killed and wounded by the security forces during a raid on the demonstrators there. Afterward there was an explosion of violence across western, northern and central Iraq by insurgent groups and tribes, which has not subsided since then. That should have taught Baghdad that force was not the way to deal with the protests. All of the rhetoric by Maliki might have been brinkmanship anyway to scare people to leave the sites rather than an actual threat.

At almost the exact same time there was another crisis dealing with Sheikh Hamid al-Hayes. At the beginning of December the sheikh’s nephew was gunned down in Ramadi, and Hayes said his murderers fled into the protest camp there to escape. He gave the organizers 48 hours to turn over the suspects or he would use force to close them down. Hayes was an early supporter of the demonstrators, but has since turned against them. At the beginning of the month for example, he claimed that Al Qaeda was taking over the movement. The provincial council stepped in and got Hayes to back down a bit. The major reason why protests in Anbar and other provinces have been able to sustain themselves for so long compared to previous ones is that it had support of three powerful groups. Those were political parties such as Speaker Nujafi’s Mutahidun and the Islamic Party, tribes likes Hayes and Abu Risha’s, and the clerical establishment. In recent months however, the activists have lost the backing of Mutahidun and many of the sheikhs as well. That was shown by Hayes’ tirade against the Ramadi site. This too might have played a role in Maliki’s threat against Anbar as well, because he could see that organizers did not have the strength that they had before, and might have even found a local ally in Hayes to shut down the protests.

These two events are further signs of the problems the Anbar activists are running into. They started in December 2012 after Maliki issued arrest warrants for some of then Finance Minister Rafi Issawi’s bodyguards who hails from Fallujah. They quickly spread to other provinces such as Ninewa, Diyala, Salahaddin, Baghdad, and Tamim. Since the 2013 provincial elections more and more of their supporters have abandoned them. Mutahidun has been scared by the resurgence of Al Qaeda in the governorate and would like to get on to ruling Anbar after its victory in this year’s vote, and that has led it to open talks with Maliki. Hayes and Abu Risha have joined it, and come out in support of Baghdad as well. They have all had a series of meetings with the prime minister, and gained a number of concessions over security and development. This led some organizers to threaten militancy by reviving the idea of forming a Pride and Dignity Army that would supposedly protect Sunnis from the government. Governor Diab responded by calling on the protesters to suspend their activities until after the 2014 national balloting for parliament, and condemned them forming any armed group. He was then criticized by the Islamic Party, activists, and some sheikhs. Without the support of notables in Anbar the demonstrations would not be able to maintain themselves. It is due to this backing that they have been able to build large tent cities and feed the thousands of people who have attended for the last twelve months. Now the pressure is beginning to mount on them not only from Baghdad, which has always been there, but from groups within Anbar itself, which could eventually mean the end of the demonstrations.

The Anbar protests were at the brink with threats coming from not only the central government but a local sheikh as well, but that was luckily averted. Now the question is what will come of the movement. They are slowly losing their allies with local voices now calling for their end. That doesn’t mean the protesters will go home any time soon, but the signs are growing that they have lost their luster. Mutahidun wants to focus upon security and governing. Anbar’s sheikhs have been divided since the end of the Awakening, and those rivalries are coming out again. That is the bigger picture that has emerged from the recent events, and bodes ill for the future of the demonstrations.  


AIN, “Anbar PC supports postponing protests,” 12/9/13
- “Urgent…Security forces withdraw from Anbar protest yard,” 12/24/13

Ali, Ahmed, “Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Iraqi Anti-Government Protest Movement: Iraq Update #38,” Institute for the Study of War, 10/28/13

Buratha News, “Chairman of the Board of Anbar announces agreement with Hayes on calm,” 12/9/13
- “Hayes calls Anbar tribes to take up arms and fight al-Qaeda,” 12/23/13

Al-Forat, “Breaking News MoD arrives in Anbar,” 12/11/13
- “Nijaifi assures getting warranties from Maliki over not storming into demonstrations yards,” 12/25/13

Haider, Roa, “Fears of the outbreak of the situation with the threat of al-Maliki breaking up the Anbar protests,” Radio Free Iraq, 12/25/13

Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Investigate Deadly Raid on Protest,” 4/24/13

Iraq Times, “Anbar warns of forming a tribal army and calling on residents to support the security forces,” 12/9/13

Al-Mada, “The governor of Anbar: fear of armed attacks unexpected .. The tribes claim to take the role to counter violence,” 12/15/13
- “Mufti blesses the formation of the “Army of Glory” and the governor of Anbar threatens to “break the back” of its members,” 12/10/13
- “Sulaiman Responds to Maliki: clans fight any target for sit-in yards and we are not attached to peg us your failure,” 12/23/13
- “Suleiman refuses to raise the sit-in tents and postpone the demands of the protesters until after the next parliamentary elections,” 12/11/13
- “Uniting surprising position of governor of Anbar on the resolution of the demonstrations and asked about plants to “deal with al-Maliki,”” 12/16/13

National Iraqi News Agency, “Ali al-Suleiman Sahwa forces must be taken out of Anbar,” 12/13/13
- “Anbar Governor rejects forming militia under whatever name,” 12/15/13
- “Maliki gives (short notice) seriously to empty the sit-in square and leave al-Qaeda elements,” 12/22/13
- “MP: The sit-in Squares do not follow any political party and cannot be exploited politically,” 12/18/13
- “Nijaifi continues his efforts to end the crisis between the Government, Ramadi sit-in square,” 12/25/13
- “Nujaifi calls for an urgent conference to discuss the repercussions of the recent events in Anbar and Salahuddin provinces,” 12/23/13
- “Ramadi sit in organizer expects military attack in the coming hours,” 12/24/13
- “Urgent…Two Army Brigades’ leaders, among the victims of Anbar bombing,” 12/21/13

New Sabah, “Hayes accept mediation to calm down,” 12/9/13

Radio Nawa, “Abu Risha confirms contesting the elections with a “united”,” 12/13/13
- “Hayes threatening to forcibly break up the sit-in squares,” 12/8/13

Al-Rayy, “Joint force surrounded the Square sit-in Ramadi after a deadline for protestors to withdraw Maliki,” 12/24/13

Rudaw, “Maliki Receives Warnings Against Cracking Down on Anbar Protesters,” 12/24/13

Shafaq News, “Anbar provincial council demands clans to raise protester’s tents,” 12/11/13
- “Anbar provincial council held an emergency meeting,” 12/24/13
- “Anbar Salvation council holds “leaders” responsible al-Jumaili’s death,” 12/1/13
- “Hayes: Our guns towards the protesters’ tents,” 12/22/13

Interview With Global Politics On Iraq In 2014

Here’s a recent interview I did with Bob Tollast for Global Politics entitled “Who can bring unity to Iraq in 2014?”

Celebrating Arbaeen In Iraq's Karbala Dec. 22-23, 2013

In the middle of December 2013 thousands of Shiites from around the world celebrated Arbaeen by making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala where the Shrine of Imam Abbas resides. These pictures are from Agence France Presse's Mohammed Sawaf showing pilgrims in Karbala on Dec. 22 and 23, 2013.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Al Qaeda In Iraq’s Excesses That Could Eventually Cost It

Dr. Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies recently testified to a joint committee of the United States House of Representatives that Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) couldn’t help but overstep itself. During the early part of the Iraq War the Islamist organization tried to impose its foreign version of Islam upon Iraq, and intimidated and executed those that disagreed with it. It was actions such as those that eventually turned many Iraqis against it. Today, AQI is making a comeback establishing bases again within the country and carrying out a dizzying array of bombings. As the group looks to gain territory it is returning to its bad habits, which will eventually cost it sometime down the road.

As part of its Soldier’s Harvest campaign Al Qaeda is seeking to take and hold areas of Iraq. It has already established itself in regions of Anbar, Diyala, Salahaddin, and Babil provinces. There the group is not only setting up bases and training camps, but also once again trying to dictate its version of Islam upon the populace. Al-Shorfa recently interviewed several people from the village of Jura south of Samarra in Salahaddin governorate, which was temporarily under AQI control. During that period Al Qaeda began passing out flyers setting out rules on how it wanted people to act and behave. Those included not working for or cooperating with the security forces, all women had to wear the hijab, men could not wear western style clothes such as trousers, shirts, and neckties, parents should not buy PlayStations for their children, and schools had to separate boys and girls. A store that sold western clothing was bombed, and some residents were publicly whipped for breaking these strictures. These are the exact same tactics that Al Qaeda followed before that turned much of the population against them. In Anbar for example, many sheikhs complained about how the Islamists would kill anyone that disagreed with them. It murdered sheikhs, beheaded some and booby-trapped others with explosives. It dragged women and children out into the streets to discipline them and scared people into follow their orders. The Islamists went from allies of the Iraqis to their enemies. After a few years of this type of rule many locals turned against the organization. The same thing is likely to happen again as AQI moves into towns like Jura and attempts to impose its will over it.

Al Qaeda may be a successful terrorist organization, but it will never be a popular movement. Its form of Islam is too strict and foreign for Iraqis to ever accept. Its threats against men for wearing t-shirts and blowing up a store that sold them is just one example of how the group will over overstep its welcome. AQI is only just now attempting to gain territory in Iraq, and therefore has only been able to hand out its flyers in a few places. If it is able to spread its influence it will eventually anger the locals. It will then be up to the government to take advantage of the situation by reaching out to the people and offering them protection and safety from the extremists. Given Iraq’s intense divisions and the short-term thinking of its leaders it’s not clear that Baghdad is able to think in those terms. As Dr. Knights pointed out in that same Congressional hearing the security forces have purposely abandoned counterinsurgency tactics, because the central government did not want to work with the populace. If the security situation worsens it may be forced to otherwise the country will only descend further into violence, and it will be just as much the authorities fault as the insurgents.


Knights, Dr. Michael, testimony on “The Resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq” to Joint Subcommittee Hearing, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, 12/12/13

McWilliams, Chief Warrant Officer-4 Timothy, and Wheeler, Lieutenant Colonel Kurtis, ed., Al-Anbar Awakening Volume II, Iraqi Perspectives, From Insurgency to Counterinsurgency in Iraq, 2004-2009, Virginia: Marine Corps University, 2009

Al-Qaisi, Mohammed, “Al-Qaeda in Iraq dictates men’s clothing choices,” Al-Shorfa, 12/20/13

Monday, December 23, 2013

RUSSIA TODAY VIDEO: Year of Bloodshed In Iraq Interview With Iraq Body Count

Iraqi Women Before And After The 2003 Invasion, Interview With Prof Nadje Al-Ali Univ of London

Professor Nadje Al-Ali is a professor of gender studies at SOAS, University of London. She has authored several books and articles on the history and present state of Iraqi women including Iraqi Women: Untold Stories From 1948 to the Present and What Kind of Liberation?: Women and the Occupation of Iraq, and was one of the editors of We Are Iraqis: Aesthetics and Politics in a Time of War. The Iraq War has given rise to a number of contradictory stories about women in Iraq. One is that Iraqi women were liberated and on the rise under Saddam, and then all that was reversed after the 2003 invasion as religious parties gained control and attempted to impose their views upon society. An opposing view was that Iraq was a typical Arab Muslim country where women had a secondary role, but then the Americans freed them from these restrictions. To try to provide a clearer picture of what women have gone through both before and after the fall of Saddam Hussein is an interview with Prof. Al-Ali.

1. The Baath took power in Iraq in the 1968 coup. It had a modernizing vision for Iraq, which Saddam Hussein partially implemented when he assumed control of the country. Part of that was opening up opportunities for women. That accelerated during the 1980s when many men were drawn into the military for the Iran-Iraq War. What exactly was the Baathist vision for women and what kind of policies did Saddam carry out during the 1970s and 1980s?
Iraqi women at university in Iraq in the 1970s

The Baath regime came to power in 1968, and Saddam Hussein actually became president in 1979, so there was a decade when he was vice president. The Baath Party’s ideology initially was very secular, Arab socialist, and nationalist, and I think very similar to other post-colonial secular leaders in the region like Ataturk and also the Shah of Iran. In the 1950s and 60s and 70s in many countries in the region there was a push to modernize and an understanding that this process meant pushing women into education and the labor force. This process was sped up in the Iraqi context because of the economic conditions. In the early 70s there was an oil crisis, and then afterward oil prices shot up and so all the oil producing countries had their economies boom. While some of the other countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait dealt with this boom and expanding economy by trying to bring in foreign laborers the Iraqi government tried to mobilize its own human resources, 50% of which was women. In the 70s there was a very strong push for women’s education. Lots of schools were built, lots of universities were built, lots of scholarships were made available to women, also to study abroad to get M.A.’s and PhD’s. There were systems in place that allowed women to have families and children and work. For example childcare was free, and transportation to work and school was free. Those were the kinds of systems put in place that allowed women to have active working lives. And when I say women I mean mainly the urban women, although in the countryside there were also literacy campaigns. There was also something called the General Federation of Iraqi Women that was like the female branch of the Baath Party, and it was responsible for implementing some of the state’s modernizing policies. For instance, it had a big campaign to raise awareness about health and hygiene, how to feed children, and it also had a very successful literacy campaign. At the end of the 70s Iraq actually received a prize from UNESCO for being the country that managed to raise its female literacy the quickest.
Saddam posing with Iraqi school girls in the 1970s

You can speak about the ideology of the Baath, which was secular and socialist in outlook with a centralized state and wanting to modernize. In other ways it was just being pragmatic. It was responding to the situation on the ground and decided that it had human resources and it should take advantage of them. Lots of Iraqi women, even those who were in opposition to the regime and who might have suffered under the regime, who I have talked to think with nostalgia about the 70s when there was an expanding economy, social-economic rights, and the state was quite generous. In my mind, it is not true that Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party lasted so long just because they brutally repressed the population. I think they also bought off the expanding middle class. In terms of social-economic rights, in terms of access to education, health care, having a house, a freezer, a car, people could do quite well if they didn’t open up their mouths. This was all in the 1970s

Than in the 1980s there was the Iran-Iraq War. During that period things changed drastically. Lots of the state funding, instead of channeling it into education, health care, and child care, it got channeled into the military, and that’s when things started to shift. But because it was such a long war where thousands and thousands of men fought and died that also meant that over a long period of time women started taking over many of the roles that men initially played not only in terms of different jobs in the labor force, but also in the state bureaucracy and administration. So women became very visible in the 80s.

There was also a shift in state ideology. It wasn’t about the good Iraqi woman being the educated, working woman like in the 70s, but in the 80s the good Iraqi woman became the mother of future soldiers. At some point, Saddam Hussein said that every good Iraqi woman should have five children. The government made abortion illegal, contraception illegal, and it gave very generous subsidies to baby foods, and things like that.

2. In 1989 the Iran-Iraq War ended and there was a demobilization of the military, and then shortly afterwards Iraq invaded Kuwait and faced international sanctions. How did those changes affect the status of women?

What really had a devastating affect upon Iraqi women was not the Gulf War in 1991, but the 13 years of economic sanctions. To my mind I feel that part of history should not be forgotten. You can’t actually understand contemporary Iraq without understanding the impact that the sanctions had on society. Lots has been written and talked about the humanitarian crisis that occurred during that period in terms of health care and education. When it came to women it really triggered a shift to greater social conservatism. That had different causes. One was that when people are fighting and struggling over resources and over jobs there is often a call for women to go back home and look after the children. That happened in Iraq where in some parts you had up to 70% unemployment. The state couldn’t afford all these generous welfare policies anymore or pay salaries. A large percentage of Iraqi women who had been in the public sector were suddenly told the state couldn’t afford them to work anymore, because they couldn’t pay for child care, transportation, and salaries. The other thing was that by the 1990s there was a huge demographic imbalance between men and women because more men had been killed in the Iran-Iraq War and Saddam’s political persecution had driven more men to flee the country. By the 90s there was 55-60% women, with many female-headed households and many widows. Before there was an extended family network that would support people, but by the 90s each nuclear family was just busy surviving.

One of the things that happened was that there was an increase in prostitution. That was also partly pushed by the regime and a class of nouveau rich and war profiteers who made lots of money from smuggling. The big impact wasn’t that suddenly there was so much more prostitution, but that there was an awareness that there was more prostitution. Eventually the regime crackdown on prostitution, because although it was initially behind creating the market for it the regime got very embarrassed when the Jordanian government complained about the number of Iraqi women who came to Jordan to work as prostitutes. Afterwards it was a matter of protecting the honor of the nation, so Saddam’s son Uday brutally cracked down on a number of prostitutes and pimps and publicly beheaded them. In the aftermath there was a panic and lots of families became very protective of their daughters, sisters, and wives. Lots of Iraqi women told me that in previous decades, female students had been able to go after school or university for coffee or ice cream with their friends, but during the 90s, they weren’t able to do that anymore. They had to dress much more conservatively. Mobility became more difficult. The dress code became much more constrained. Even more seriously polygamy increased during the sanctions period. As families were struggling to survive some families agreed to have their daughters get married to older men who had more money as a kind of survival strategy.

This shift towards greater social conservatism in the 90s is an important background in order to understand what happened after 2003. Also, lots of people had left by 2003 including many secular, educated, and middle class people, and this has had an impact on what’s going on today. 

3. After the 2003 invasion the Coalition Provisional Authority said that it attempted to make some changes to the country that would empower women as part of transforming the society. They set up a quota system for example that reserved 25% of the seats in parliament for women. Do you think the Americans were able to make any progress for women?

First we need to challenge the idea that the United States installed the quota system. The quota system was enshrined in the constitution and previously in the Transitional Administrative Law despite objections from the CPA, particularly Paul Bremer. In the spring of 2004 a delegation of Iraqi women’s rights activists went to see Paul Bremer, and asked for 40% representation in the parliament saying that women actually make up the majority of the Iraqi population. They told him that Iraqi women had played an important role in keeping the country together during the dictatorship and the Iran-Iraq War, and now women wanted a piece of the new Iraq. Bremer looked at them and said “We don’t do quotas.” It was only due to intense lobbying on behalf of Iraqi women’s rights activists and transnational women’s solidarity by international organizations and media coverage of this lobbying that the Transitional Administrative Law and later the constitution included a compromise 25% of seats quota for women in parliament. This was due to pressure from Iraqis and international groups, not because the Americans put it together.

Secondly, I personally think that a quota can be a positive thing, but not in and of itself. If a quota is the only thing there is then it is not doing that much to represent women. What has happened in Iraq is that the 25% of parliament who are women are to a large extent the wives, sisters, and daughters of male politicians. They are also often very conservative male politicians. One should say that it has allowed some outspoken women into the parliament, but that is just a small number. It’s also complicated because over a period of time women who initially looked towards how the men were voting before they put up their own hand started to develop their own views and voices and sometimes work across religious and ethnic lines with other women on some issues that are less controversial like access to health care for example or education.

On the other hand without the quota there probably would be hardly any women in the parliament. If you have conservative Islamist members of parliament you might as well have some of them be women. But that doesn’t mean they protect women’s rights, and we need to be clear about that.

Another thing to be said about the quota is that it is not applied consistently. It is applied in parliament, but not in the ministries or within any of the important committees that decide things, so it is quite inconsistently applied. A quota only really works if it is linked to other measures and policies, so if it is just a quota and everything else is gender blind then it is really only cosmetic.

4. There are many religious parties that run the country such as the Dawa, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the Sadrists, the Iraqi Islamic Party, etc. What kind of impact have those parties had?

I think we need to distinguish between an Islamic view, which many Iraqis were ready for because after all they had experienced a brutal dictatorship for several decades, which was secular. So as a reaction to that many people thought that a more Islamic government would be the solution. I think that the Islamist parties that have come to power post-2003 are not just Islamists but sectarian. I hold the politicians who lived outside of Iraq for a long time and were in the opposition partly responsible for the increase in sectarianism. I don’t think it’s right to say that sectarianism didn’t exist before 2003, and certainly Saddam Hussein played on sectarianism and he did stir up sectarian sentiments, but these new political parties helped by the CPA, which based the Iraqi Governing Council on ethnic and sectarian divisions, and then the first elections institutionalized sectarian politics. So it’s not only Islamism, which is already problematic, but its Islamist-sectarianism imposed from above. I think right now on one hand many people are really fed up with the Islamist-sectarian politicians, and on the other hand I think sectarianism is really deep and engrained, much more so than it was during the height of sectarian tensions in 2007.

Speaking more specifically about women clearly they are getting it from both sides. On the one hand they have now been exposed to a government that’s largely been based upon Islamist politics, which is either ignoring issues related to women or the laws around like the Personal Status Code, which is a set of laws that governs divorce, marriage, and inheritance. There is a strong push to create one that is a more conservative interpretation of Sharia law as opposed to the one before that has been in place since 1959. That one was also  based upon Sharia law, but it was a progressive reading. I think women are now being used by the Islamist government to show that they are different from the previous regime, which was secular. At the same time, women are being used by insurgents and various militia groups to show resistance to western imperialism. So women are being crushed by both sides by these conservative Islamist forces. 
Children heading to school in Baghdad (NY Times)

5. You talked about how woman had a lot more opportunities in the 1970s and 80s, and how that changed during the sanctions period. How about today because most U.N. reports that talk about women in terms of schooling and work force participation show very low numbers?

One big issue is security. Sending your children to school in general is scary for many parents. For girls, parents worry even more, especially in neighborhoods that are not safe. There are threats in terms of kidnapping, forced prostitution, and trafficking. Lots of young women are being trafficked out of Iraq. Those kinds of risks and threats and lack of security negatively impact young women’s education as well as labor force participation, because parents worry about sending their daughters out. Women do work, but there is a lot of unemployment in Iraq generally so there is competition for jobs. I have a lot of contacts in universities, and women work there, but their opportunities are very limited.

6. Looking into the future Iraq is a country that has a lot of potential. Do you see opportunities for women opening up for them in the coming years?

Defintely. Iraqi women have been extremely resourceful, creative and courageous over these past decades, and they will continue to be so in the future. There is a very active women’s movement across central and southern Iraq as well as in Iraqi Kurdistan. Women are not only lobbing for more equality and women’s rights, but they are also at the forefront of the opposition against authoritarianism, sectarianism, and corruption. I have been very impressed by some young women who are determined to educate themselves and make a difference in Iraq. However, I think that short-term, or even the next decade, will be extremely tough for women as they are squeezed between Islamists, corrupt politicians, a police and judiciary that is not very sympathetic to women’s plights, such as various forms of gender-based violence, mafia-type gangs and militia, as well as a revival of conservative tribal leaders and practices.

This Day In Iraqi History - Feb 24 US led Coalition began expelling Iraq from Kuwait

  865 Samarra organized army under Abu Ahmad son of assassinated Caliph Mutawwakil and brother of Abbasid Caliph Mutasim...