Thursday, May 30, 2013

Stories Of Human Rights Abuses In Iraq From Amnesty International and the State Department’s Annual Reports

Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department recently released their annual reports on human rights around the world. As usual, Iraq fared badly. Neither organization found any improvements in the situation within the country. The common charges of mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, holding suspects without charges and access to lawyers, torture and abuse of prisoners, holding people that should be released, corruption, intimidation and harassment of the media, and limiting freedom of speech and assembly were all heard. These abuses occurred at the hands of both the central and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The reason why this situation persists is because there is no due process, and more importantly no accountability within the government to stop and reform any of these practices. Even when parts of the government itself find cases of abuse nothing substantive is done about it. Investigations are always announced for example, but they never lead to anything. Since these types of report have become the norm for Iraq, there is nothing different between this year’s and the last few. What Amnesty and the State Department can provide is specific stories that can humanize the poor state of human rights within the country.

Iraq suffers from weak rule of law. Suspects are supposed to have a number of rights until they are found guilty, but that rarely happens. Two of the most common examples of how the government ignores these protections are the use of torture, and the public airing of confessions before detainees go to trial in terrorism cases. What happened to Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi is a high-profile example. In December 2011, several of the vice president’s bodyguards were arrested, and then shown on state-run TV confessing to carrying out assassinations for Hashemi. That resulted in several death sentences for him the next year. Hashemi and others later claimed that his guards were tortured, and forced to confess. One member of his security detail, Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi died in custody three months after his arrest. When his family received his body in March 2012, they said that it showed signs of abuse and torture. The government denied those charges, and said that he passed away because of kidney failure. More routine cases were like those of Nabhan Adel Hamid, Muad Mohammed Abed, Amer Ahmed Kassar, and Shakir Mohammed Anad who were arrested in Ramadi and Fallujah in March and April 2012. They were held incommunicado for several weeks, and allegedly tortured. Afterward their confessions were aired on local television. When they went to trial they told the court that those confessions were forced out of them due to abuse. The testimony of other detainees supported their claims, and a medical examination of one defendant found burn marks and other wounds consistent with torture. Despite that all four were sentenced to death in December. Under the constitution torture is outlawed. However, since the Iraqi criminal justice system is based upon confessions the most common way to obtain one is to beat it out of people. This is especially true for terrorism cases where the stakes are much higher. The use of televised confessions also undermines the justice system, since there’s no way a defendant can receive a fair trial if they have said they are guilty in public beforehand. Again, since terrorism is such a pressing concern, the government feels it necessary to continuously air these suspects before the public to make it look like its security measures are working.

Sometimes these harsh techniques lead to deaths either unintentionally or not. Samir Naji Awda al-Bilawi, a pharmacist, and his 13-year old son Mundhir were picked up at a checkpoint in Ramadi. Three days later the family found out that the father had died in custody. Images released to the media showed that he had injuries to his head and hands. The son later said that they had been beaten in a police station, and tortured including the use of electric shock. In September 2012, Yasin Chafadschi from Qayara, Ninewa was arrested, tortured, and died as a result. The press received pictures of the man with bruises, his eyes swollen shut, dried blood on his face, and his fingernails missing. The police denied they had done anything to him, and claimed that insurgents had kidnapped and killed him. Ninewa Governor Atheel Nujafi ordered an investigation into the matter, but nothing came of it. Again, these cases are common place in Iraq. Since so many prisoners are tortured it is inevitable that some of them die in custody. Even if there are inquiries like the one involving Chafadschi nothing ever comes of them. Again, because there is no political will to change the system, these abuses continue, and the security forces operate with impunity with no fear that their violations of people’s rights will ever be punished.

The number of people being picked up by the government, and facing these conditions is increasing, because of the tactics currently used by the security forces. The Iraqi army and police no longer carry out counterinsurgency operations like they did with the Americans. Instead, they are acting like the U.S. military did from 2003-2006 with similar results. The most common tactic is mass arrests during security sweeps. Human Rights Watch for example, reported that Federal Police raided eleven homes in Taji, Salahaddin on November 3, 2012, and arrested 41 people, including 29 children. 12 women and girls aged 11 to 60 were held for four days without charges at the headquarters of the police unit. They were all beat and tortured including electrocuting them, and suffocating them with plastic bags. Again, the main way information was extracted from prisoners was by force. This case was especially disturbing, because it did not involve terrorism suspects, but suspected family members, including children who were treated like their adult family members. Even if any intelligence were gained from this action the resulting backlash amongst the community would mean that the government could not rely upon these people to support their security operations. Instead, they would look at the Federal Police as a threatening force. That could lead to at least tacit support for any insurgents in the area, if not open backing.

These acts take place in Iraq’s many detention facilities, but there are also a number of secret ones run by the central and regional governments. In 2010, the media found out about one of these operating in the Green Zone run by security forces under the control of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that held more than 400 Sunni prisoners. Over 100 of them showed signs of torture. In March 2011, the government claimed that it had closed the place. In May 2012 however, Human Rights Watch reported that it was still in use as late as March 2012. By the end of that year there were still details emerging that it was in operation. Secret prisons quickly popped up across Iraq when the Iraqi security forces were put back together. The U.S. knew about many of these facilities, but did nothing, because the policy was that this was an Iraqi affair, and they needed to deal with it. Today, there is no reason to believe that Baghdad or the Kurdistan Regional Government will stop using these types of prisons to hide those they do not want the judicial system to know about.

Iraq also lacks due process. The Iraqi constitution states that prisoners have to see an investigative judge within 24 hours of their arrest, and that can only be extended for one day. In practice, most are usually held for 72 hours with some exceptions. Cases involving the death penalty, which are mostly about terrorism can lead to indefinite detentions. Prisoners are also supposed to be told their charges, and have access to their lawyers before they go to trial. That rarely happens. The norm is that people are often picked up with not knowing why, and some can be held for days to months to years without seeing a judge, lawyer or court. In December 2011, the army arrested three lawyers without warrants for attempting to represent their clients who were charged with terrorism. That led to a sit in by their peers, resulting in two being released the day they were picked up. The third however, was held for three months, and was only released after the Supreme Criminal Court ordered it. Afterward, all three claimed that they were tortured. In March 2012, during a routine visit to Kirkuk prison one detainee told inspectors that he had been held for 4 ½ years under terrorism charges without ever going to trial. That was obviously an extreme example, but shows just how little respect the security forces, and the various ministries and offices that run detention facilities have for the law. The Iraqi system is obviously overwhelmed by cases since it is dealing with an insurgency, but there appears to be little effort made to follow the constitution or the rules for how an investigation is to be conducted.

The final piece of this process is the judiciary, which is supposed to be independent, but in practice comes under the influence of many. Certain laws, the history of dictatorship, the security situation, and dependence upon other parts of the government all contribute to make the courts weak. Threats, tribal groups, insurgents, and gangs often impede the work of judges on top of that. On June 20, 2012, a judge from the Ninewa Criminal Court was shot down while driving through Mosul. On July 22, Al Qaeda in Iraq announced a campaign specifically against the judiciary. In total, eight judges were killed, and there were another ten attempts last year. Given this pressure there are many cases that simply get dropped, because judges are afraid that they will lose their lives. That’s also a reason why the judiciary often overlooks abuses that happen to detainees before they appear before them, because they know that the governing elite wants action taken against suspected insurgents and criminals. They will therefore ignore torture and forced confessions, and give out guilty sentences even though that is against the constitution, which outlaws abuse.

Iraq has a large number of media outlets, but their freedom to do their work is limited by the security and political situation. There are laws that protect the integrity of the press, but they often say “in accordance with existing law.” That means restrictive articles from the Baathist period still apply. The 1968 Publications Law allows imprisonment for seven years for insulting the government for instance. The media has said that politicians, government officials, security services, tribes, and businessmen all pressure them not to publish certain stories, and that they fear reprisals from the insurgency. That leads to a large amount of self-censorship. Reporters and media outlets also face direct targeting and intimidation. The Iraqi Journalists Rights Defense Association recorded 50 cases of harassment against 75 reporters in 2012. That same year, the Metro Center document 132 cases in Kurdistan, which included 5 death threats, 50 arrests, 21 beatings, and several lawsuits. Almost all of those incidents involved the independent and opposition media in the region. In November 2011, Karzan Karim, a former Asayesh officer and columnist for the Kurdistan Post was arrested after he wrote several articles about corruption at the Irbil International Airport. He was officially accused of revealing secrets about his time with Kurdish security, put on trial for terrorism, and sentenced to two years in prison in October 2012. His family claimed that he was beaten and tortured, and later received threats from the authorities after they publicly criticized his detention, and being held without trial for 11 months. On March 14, 2012, security forces held a TV crew from Russia Today for three hours when they tried to report about attacks upon emos and gays in Baghdad. The team had a permit, but the authorities took their film anyway. On April 11, Kurdish intelligence officers beat two reporters covering a meeting at a military facility in Zakho, Dohuk. On May 8, Kurdish security forces attacked two journalists covering a protest in front of the Kurdish parliament building, and took their equipment. On June 26, police in Kirkuk arrested a reporter and held him for five hours after he took photos of police beating child beggars in the city. On November 4, security forces beat an al-Sumaria cameraman, and then arrested him for filming a bomb site in Anbar, before releasing him later in the day. On November 18, the body of Samir al-Sheikh Ali, the editor of Al-Jamaheer newspaper was found dead in Baghdad. Ali was a human rights activist who pushed for media freedom. He was found shot three times in the chest. Kurdistan is also known for filing lawsuits against reporters and media outlets that criticize officials. In October, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) politburo member and his bodyguard sued Asos Hardi, the editor of Awene for an article that accused the two of attacking him in August 2011. The editor of Zang magazine and reporters for Bazaw magazine in the KRG received fines for around $858 for publishing articles critical of members of the government. Again, the new Iraq is supposed to protect freedom of the media, but in practice that does not always happen. Old laws are applied, which restrict their operations, and other pieces of legislation are ignored. The security forces have gone after journalists, and in Kurdistan there’s always the threat of being sued and having to pay fines if they write about anyone in the regional government. It’s no wonder that many reporters and their employers sometimes hold back on articles given this environment.

The KRG is also known for limiting freedom of association and for going after its critics. On March 27, Hussein Hama Ali Tawfiq, a businessman was arrested and taken to the Asayesh headquarters in Sulaymania where he was beaten. He was told to testify against others about corruption, but refused. He was later charged with bribery, and held until acquitted in November. There was no investigation into his case. On May 17, the Asayesh detained three Yazidi men in Sinjar, Ninewa for ten days. Their crime was for going to a conference sponsored by the central government. They were never charged, and the Asayesh told them not to go to anymore meetings in Baghdad without official permission from the Kurdish authorities. Kurdistan likes to portray itself as the “other Iraq” meaning that there is supposed to be more stability, security, and freedom than in the rest of the country. The above cases show that there is a limit to what people can do in not only the KRG, but in the disputed territories it lays claim to.

Kidnappings have been a chronic problem in Iraq since 2003. People being abducted is an all too common experience for people, and is usually done for money. On February 4, 2012, the driver, secretary, and brother of a member of parliament were all taken in Samarra, Salahaddin. The kidnappers demanded $1.5 million in ransom. That was never paid, and the brother and secretary were killed, with their bodies dumped five days later. The driver was later found beaten and unconscious. A man from Baghdad and a woman from Diyala were arrested over the matter. On August 23, two Yazidi men were kidnapped in Sinjar, and held for $600,000. On August 30, men dressed as members of the security forces abducted a Turkmen boy from Kirkuk. He was released on September 23 after his family paid for his release. Criminal elements or gangs do most of these, but sometimes the security forces are implicated. In May 30, a Yazidi man was taken in Kurdistan, and later found dead the next month. His family blamed the Asayesh. Organized crime grew tremendously during the 1990s, as the government would often use them to get around sanctions. After the fall of Saddam, these groups had free reign to grow, and expand into kidnapping. Many insurgents and armed groups also used the technique to raise money. Corrupt officials have probably been involved as well. This is a constant threat to the average Iraqi.

The main reason why Iraq has such a poor human rights record is that there is no accountability. During 2012, the Human Rights Ministry sent 500 cases involving torture to the courts. The ministry claimed that led to some arrest warrants being issued, but by the end of the year, nothing had happened with any of them. The same thing occurred in 2011. On October 21, security forces beat and wounded four protesters when a demonstration against the lack of services turned violent. The next day, the governorate council questioned the governor about the incident, and set up a committee to look into the matter, but it led to nothing. The use of beatings, torture, forced confessions, etc. are widely known throughout the country. The fact that the ruling parties have no problem with them is the reason why they persist. Most of Iraq’s leaders either grew up in Iraq under Saddam or were in exile in other authoritarian states like Syria or Iran. Living under those repressive systems means they have no issue with replicating them in the new Iraq.

Iraq is supposed to be a developing democracy, but with widespread abuse within the security forces, and the lack of rule of law that is becoming a precarious enterprise. Until politicians want to get rid of these practices they will continue, and Iraq will never have the basic freedoms necessary for a democratic society. Instead it will be a nation with the trappings of democracy like elected officials and a number of media outlets, but will suffer from torture, no due process, and the violation of people’s basic rights.


Amnesty International, “The State of the World’s Human Rights, Amnesty International Report 2013,” May 2013

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, “United States Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” United States Department of State, 2013

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki More Like Premier Nuri al-Sa’id Than Saddam? An Interview With Historian Phebe Marr

The most typical comparison made by critics of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is that he is becoming the next Saddam Hussein. This can be heard by various politicians from the Sadr bloc (1) to Iyad Allawi (2) to Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq to Kurdish Premier Nechirvan Barzani. This is hyperbole meant to score political points with their constituents against Maliki since Saddam is an obvious reference point from the recent past that all of Iraqi society remembers. In terms of historical leaders in the country however, Maliki might be more like Nuri al-Sa’id (1888-1958) who was the premier eight times during the British mandate and royalist era of Iraq. Both Maliki and Sa’id share several characteristics including their authoritarian style of rule, and the use of personal politics and patronage over institutions. Below is an interview with historian Phebe Marr about the similarities and differences between the two Iraqi leaders.
Premier Sa'id on the cover of Time, 1957
1. Many people don’t remember or don’t know who Nuri al-Sa’id is, so let’s begin with some background. Sa’id was a product of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Iraq for several centuries. What did Sa’id do under the Ottomans, and how did that influence him?

Nuri al-Sa’id’s  career spanned the last years of the Ottoman Empire before its collapse during World War I and the establishment and development of the Iraqi state until 1958. Nuri came from a Baghdad family of modest means; his father was a middle level Ottoman bureaucrat. In this period, the Ottomans were attempting to modernizing their state, especially the bureaucracy and the army  and the public education system, which trained young boys to participate in these institutions. These schools taught a curriculum which was relatively secular and modern. Teaching was in Turkish, and all  higher education led to Istanbul. Nuri entered the military primary school at age 8. He then went to military secondary school, and on to Istanbul, where he graduated as a military officer at 18. When Nuri returned to Baghdad in 1906, he was not only responsible for helping to keep “law and order” in the Iraqi provinces, but also such tasks as collecting taxes in the countryside, not always easy. This gave him widespread contact with local tribal leaders and the rural population, which stood him in good stead in later days. The Ottoman system at the time was based partly on coercion and centralization of power, but it was weak and hence had to incorporate different elements of the diverse population it ruled into the system through benefits, favors, and patronage. Although he joined a secret Arab society against continued Ottoman rule and later joined the Arab revolt in the Hijaz, he was no revolutionary. While he had imbibed Western ideas of nationalism and constitutionalism, he had had no actual experience in democratic practice. What did Nuri take away from all this?  I would say a pattern of governance that relies on the central government (the army and bureaucracy) especially for law and order; a desire for modernization—from the top down, and  the proclivity to deal with tribes, religious leaders and other powerful local forces through “patronage” and personal relations—not democratic processes and institutions.

2. Sa’id and Maliki were both deeply influenced by Iraqi nationalism even though their circumstances were different. Can you explain how Iraqi independence shaped both of them?

The desire for independence from foreign control is natural, especially among those trained for leadership, and Iraqis are steeped in this sentiment. Iraqis do not think Iraq was really “independent” until after the monarchy and Nuri were overthrown, and British influence ended. Maliki, too, can lay claim to “independence” only after the U.S. withdrawal in 2011, and even now many Iraqis question whether  Iraq is truly independent from the U.S. or its neighbors. However, Iraqi nationalism implies something else, a sense of Iraqi identity, a complex problem that has plagued Iraq from the establishment of the modern state.  Nuri, like Maliki, was an Arab and an Iraqi with specific roots in a locality, Baghdad. But he was also a product of the rise of Arab nationalism. Like others of his generation, he wanted freedom from Ottoman influence, but there was, as yet, no Iraqi state with which to identify. Like others, he had mixed feelings about the division of the Arab world into smaller states, including Iraq although he had no control over events. This mixture of Arab and Iraqi identity continues to the present day.  We should remember that Nuri was a founding member of the Arab League although, as a realist, he gradually shifted his focus to an “Iraqi- first” identity. And as a realist, by training and experience, he knew the necessity for outside help, and was an early supporter of the British tie. 
Maliki's grandfather was an Iraqi nationalist involved in the 1920 revolt, which shaped the prime minister's own worldview (AFP)
Maliki has a totally different background. He was born in a small town near Hillah in  predominantly tribal and Shi’a territory. Not much is known about his father but his grandfather, Muhammad Hasan Abu-l-Muhassin, was a well known poet who played a role in the early Iraqi revolt against the British in 1920, and was briefly a Minister in 1926 although he resigned over the British Treaty. Maliki has written a Master’s thesis on his grandfather’s poetry, and knows this history.  Educated in Islamic Studies in Usul al-Din College in Baghdad, where Arabic language is strong, he  joined the Dawa Party early, reportedly in 1963. An underground movement inspired by a charismatic young reformist cleric, Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, father-in-law of Muqtada, the Dawa, a religious party, was opposed to communism and secularism, and encouraged a return to Iraq’s Islamic roots; among Shi’a it became the main opposition to the Ba’th after it came to power in 1968. Maliki paid a high price for his affiliation with the party by persecution from the regime, followed by exile for almost 25 years, first in Iran and then Syria, where he continued work as a Dawa leader. The Dawa has traditionally had two strong strands, a return to Islamic and Shi’a identity, and a sense of “Iraqi nationalism”. These have both been evident in Maliki, although it is difficult to make a definitive assessment of his core views, since he is still new to power and relatively inexperienced compared to Nuri. One of his main aims, in my view, is to achieve Iraq’s independence, both from the U.S., and Iran; easier said than done. His ability to maneuver the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) through parliament in 2009 was impressive, and in 2011 he insisted on the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces. His success in keeping Iran at bay remains to be seen. 

3. Sa’id served as the Prime Minister of Iraq eight times, beginning in 1930. Iraq at the time actually had several strong institutions from the Ottomans and British, but Sa’id instead relied upon family, tribes, and patronage to rule. Can you explain his style of governing, and how that’s similar to current Premier Nouri al-Maliki’s?

Nuri’s style of governing developed over a long period, almost four decades. Nuri was heavy-handed with his opposition inside Iraq; his ability to cow them, and their opposition to the 1930 treaty with Britain is what first gave him ascendency in British minds and among Iraqis. Nuri had long standing personal ties with officers and understood the necessity of “controlling” the military. And Nuri also had to contend with a new parliamentary system brought by the British. He was not averse to shutting down objectionable newspapers, declaring martial law, manipulating elections, and in the case of Communist Party leaders, arresting, trying and executing them. In parliament, he relied on a coterie of followers among tribal landlords and others who, of course, benefited from government patronage and the passage of legislation that favored their interests. These were time honored methods of governing under the Ottomans. Nuri also worked through personal relations  and was tireless in developing them; he wore down most of his opponents and even a younger generation of leaders who might have gradually taken his place. Maliki has a long way to go to equal Nuri in political experience, but it should be no surprise that in a situation in which Iraq’s key institutions, the army, the bureaucracy, have been destroyed, its educated class  badly eroded, Maliki is falling back on well known practices, recognizable to those used by Nuri. Maliki, too, has to work within a new constitutional system that he is manipulating. He must get elected to gain and maintain power; hence the appeal to his broadest possible base, the Shi’a. To stay in power and govern, he also relies on patronage, now greatly enhanced through oil revenues.  Of course, he pays attention to the Iraq Security Forces (ISF) and the personal loyalty of its leaders.  But Maliki has more serious problems today than Nuri faced for most of his tenure, the gradual breakdown of the state, Kurdish, and now Sunni, separatism; very weak domestic institutions (army, police, bureaucracy, parliament), rising sectarianism, and a turbulent regional scene, Syria, already spilling over into Iraq.  Unlike Nuri, Maliki can no longer rely on a “treaty” or even a commitment from the U.S. to back him up in a fix. It is worth noting, that in 1941 during World War II  the pro-British monarchy and its supporters, Nuri, were almost overthrown in a coup, and were only restored after British military intervention and occupation until 1946. In 1958, in the face of a restive population, numerous demonstrations and strikes, and strong opposition to “foreign” alliances, the Baghdad Pact, the opposition succeeded in overthrowing the monarchy and Nuri permanently when the British and the U.S., the “international community” declined to get involved. Maliki knows this history better than Americans.

4. Sa’id and Maliki both saw oil as a way to develop Iraq’s economy. How did both think that petroleum would help with their rule of the country?

Nuri and Maliki are functioning under different circumstances on oil. Oil is now a fact of life in Iraq; it is Iraq’s major resource. Iraq is dependent on oil for much of its budget, and virtually all of its development. But this was not true for much of Nuri’s career. Substantial oil production and export did not really begin until after World War II . Moreover, Iraq’s oil was then under the control of foreign, Western, oil companies and the management of Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) was British. The main issue Nuri faced in the 1950s was getting a larger share of profits from oil companies for development. In 1952,  a 50-50 split on profits was negotiated resulting in larger revenues for Iraq. Under foreign influence and advice, a Development Board was established; it was led by 6 members, two of whom were British and American experts, on how to spend the money They opted for a strategy of long term growth—especially in the agricultural sector. dams, flood control, irrigation, and investment in basic transportation, communication and infrastructure. This paid good dividends in the long term, but there were  two problems with it. There was no attempt at social and political reform in a period of rising maldistribution of wealth. The poorer elements of the population, especially urban migrants from the south, like those in the area now called Sadr City, did not see benefits, such as housing, jobs and education in the short term.  And the agricultural strategy benefited the landed class, supporting the regime in parliament, not the newly educated urban middle class, the chief opponents of the regime, who favored land reform, rapid industrialization, and an end to foreign control of oil. This ultimately played a role in the regime’s overthrow in 1958.

Maliki is in a different position. Iraq now owns its oil resources, Saddam nationalized the industry in 1972, and has control over production and management, but Iraq is now a rentier state, dependent on oil for its budget and development. Events of the last few decades have greatly eroded Iraq’s  capacity to produce and export; Iraq’s oil cadre is gone; its infrastructure and technology are badly damaged. The issue for Maliki is how to repair this damage as quickly as possible, and to build the long term infrastructure. For this, he needs foreign technology, expertise and training. The question is how to get this without giving foreigners ownership, control, and the kind of influence to which his population has a real aversion, not without justification. But the terms for foreign oil companies and the domestic situation they face in Iraq, insecurity, lack of a cadre, corruption, is holding this process back.  In addition, Maliki faces a new problem Nuri did not have, Kurdish separatism. The Kurds want ownership and control over oil in their territory to give them a separate income stream, resisted by the central government. To attract foreign investment, Kurds are willing to give foreign oil companies a better deal than the central government, including  “production sharing” agreements, an arrangement rejected by the central government, and other OPEC countries. This dispute prevents the passage of a uniform hydrocarbon law, which is slowing oil development in both areas. However, in general, oil exports are a good news story for Iraq. They have increased, Iraq’s exports now surpass Iran, and Maliki has money to spend. However, along with more money has come increased corruption and rising expectations. As a result, Maliki now faces Nuri’s old problem of spending the money wisely, and in the short term, fast enough to keep his population satisfied.
Sa'id at ceremony marking the opening of Iraq's parliament, 1942. Like Maliki, Sa'id was able to manipulate a weak opposition to his rule (Library of Congress)
5. Like Sa’id, Maliki has benefited from having a weak opposition. What were the political forces like in Iraq under the British and Royalist period, how was Sa’id able to manipulate them, and how are they similar to today’s political scene?

In British-Royalist period, the monarch had considerable power. The King could dismiss the cabinet, and put in another, and Iraq had revolving cabinets. But similar to today, Iraq had elected parliaments and relative freedom of the press and assembly. The 1950s were a lively intellectual period, and several significant opposition parties took shape: A nationalist party, Istiqlal-independence wanted to get rid of the British treaty, and then the Baghdad Pact;  a Leftist party, National Democratic  Party concentrated on domestic reform, freer elections, an end to maldistribution of wealth. More extreme were underground parties like the Ba’th and the Iraq Communist Party (ICP). But this opposition had weaknesses; its stronghold was among the urban, educated intelligentsia. It dominated the media,  but had inadequate organization and few roots in the countryside, which was more conservative and religious. The same is true today. The urban, liberal, more secular parties are concentrated in Baghdad or major cities; they function through parliament and the media, but they have less influence in the rural areas or even among poorer urban migrants like those in Sadr City, although the Sadrist trend has certainly mobilized the poor and underprivileged in both urban and rural areas.

But there are several differences with the present situation. Nuri faced little overt opposition on the ethnic and sectarian front, all significant parties were secular, and cabinets increasingly included more Shi’a and Kurds as well as Sunnis. Opposition in the army was the main problem for Nuri; he also had to deal with labor strikes and public demonstrations, especially among students. Nuri and others, dealt with organized public unrest through declaring martial law, arresting key leaders, detaining numerous “perpetrators”, closing down newspapers, and by “fixing” and manipulating elections in one way or another to get support in parliament. Many times demonstrators were killed or injured in clashes with police. The best example of these tactics is the two elections of 1954. The first, controlled by the regent, was relatively free; it  brought a number of opposition leaders, including Leftists, to parliament. But, the British Treaty was due to expire in 1957, and had to be replaced with some other security arrangement. The result was the Baghdad Pact. The Regent felt only Nuri could handle the opposition that would result. Nuri insisted on dismissal of the parliament. A series of decrees  were then issued which permitted the Council of Ministers to deport people convicted of communism, anarchism, and working for a foreign government, and strip them of citizenship. It became an offense to join movements like the Peace Partisans, the Democratic Youth and others, the NGOs of today, and professional societies were forbidden to engage in activities that disturbed public order. A new election was held that was so “managed”  the result was called “the unopposed parliament”. Thereafter, Iraq settled down to rule by the army and police. This was a turning point for the regime.

Maliki has a more difficult situation today because the institutions of state, army, bureaucracy, parliament, are still new and weak, and he faces a country divided on ethnic and sectarian grounds. There is no monarch to balance the situation, and President Talabani, who previously acted as mediator, is seriously ill. But like Nuri, Maliki has an army, an open press, elections, and parliament to deal with. He is employing similar tactics with these. He has outmaneuvered his opposition in parliament, undermined independent institutions, the judicial system, the election commission and central bank, and of course, put his supporters at the top of the military. He has used “patronage” and cabinet appointments to split the opposition, and strong arm tactics where that fails, such as the arrest and trial of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, and the attempted arrest of former Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi.
PM Sa'id (left) talks with Crown Prince Abdullah, 1957 (right). Unlike Maliki Sa'id had to deal with some powerful groups within Iraq such as the monarchy
6. You mentioned the arrest warrants for Hashemi and Issawi. Sa’id used the security forces and martial law against his opponents as well. You think there’s a difference between the two however, can you say how, and what you think overall about how the two ruled Iraq.

There are many similarities between the two, but the differences are also significant, particularly in their circumstances and backgrounds. Nuri was a professional army officer who became a civilian politician. He was never the only prime minister available; by the 1950s, he was just the most seasoned and experienced. Nuri had counterbalancing forces to help him, a monarchy with a degree of power to step in; a real strategic alliance with the West, and stronger and more professional government institutions. He did not have to rely on sectarian identity for support since Iraq had developed a greater sense of identity especially by the 1950s, and secularism was predominant in public life. Maliki faces different circumstances. The foreign power behind the scenes, the U.S., has virtually no military presence and diminishing influence; there is no monarch; the military, police and bureaucracy are new and fragile, and the sense of “Iraqi” identity is rapidly eroding. Maliki faces a society polarized and divided along ethnic and sectarian lines and politicians, notably himself, appeal to these communal identities for votes. He  governs through a cabinet representing not only ethnic and sectarian components, but virtually all political blocs, who treat their ministries like independent “fiefs”. Another difference is that Iraq under the monarchy, had not yet lived under a real police state, as Maliki’s has. After decades of a Stalinesque regime under Saddam, with multiple intelligence organizations and constant spying on its population, with brutality as a method of governing, sometimes exercised on a mass scale, the population has become inured to violence, prone to conspiracy theories, and has developed an inbred suspicion and distrust of others, as well as all government authority. Maliki himself is a product of this system. He spent most of his adult life in an underground party, and in exile in countries like Iran and Syria, also police states. He now has to function under a much more open system with a democratic constitution and real elections. Not surprisingly he has fallen back on what he knows: making sure of military support; surrounding himself with trusted advisors and party loyalists, his son Ahmad is one of them; arrests of those he sees as “terrorists” and potential insurgents; wide-spread detentions and reported use of torture. Moreover, unlike Nuri, Maliki came to office little known, and has yet to develop a public persona. He is taciturn and lacks Nuri’s personal touch. However, Maliki is nothing if not persistent, and has now developed a canny ability to outmaneuver his rivals in parliament and the political sphere. But he has gone too far in arresting and issuing arrest warrants for Hashemi and Issawi, and in stonewalling the Sunni protests in a charged sectarian situation. It is too early to make any predictions on Maliki, or Iraq’s future, but it is well to remember that Nuri’s well- known success as Iraq’s longest lasting prime minister, off and on, was finally swept away by the very army he had nurtured and by widespread popular support from the new middle class with whom he had refused to share power and had little rapport.


1. AK News, “Sadrist Current: Al-Maliki must be rejected for the country’s interests,” 8/12/10

2. Sullivan, Marisa Cochrane, “Iraq’s Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 2,” Institute for the Study of War, 12/23/11


Agence France Presse, “Iraqi Kurd politician warns of ‘ethnic cleansing,’” 5/28/12

AK News, “Sadrist Current: Al-Maliki must be rejected for the country’s interests,” 8/12/10

Gutman, Roy, “With U.S. troops hardly gone, Iraq’s government is coming apart,” McClatchy Newspapers, 1/22/12

Marr, Phebe, The Modern History of Iraq, Boulder and Oxford: Westview Press, 2004

Sullivan, Marisa Cochrane, “Iraq’s Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 2,” Institute for the Study of War, 12/23/11

Tripp, Charles, A History of Iraq, Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2008

EURONEWS VIDEO: Tide of Iraq's Sunni-Shia Violence

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Iraq’s Protest Movement Splits Over Federalism

Since December 2012 there have been demonstrations throughout Anbar, Ninewa, Diyala, Tamim, and Salahaddin provinces over the perceived marginalization of Sunnis by the central government. Since that time the protesters have faced many divisions over leadership and tactics. That continues to the present day with the issue of federalism, being the newest point of contention within the movement.
Raising the issue of federalism at Friday prayers in Fallujah has led to two clashes in May 2013 (AP)
The issue of whether to make Sunni provinces of Iraq their own federal regions has become the newest divider amongst the country’s protesters. During Friday prayers on May 24, 2013, there was a clash in Fallujah in Anbar over the issue. The committee in charge of the movement there hoisted banners calling for regionalism, which led to some members of the crowd to start throwing things, leading to a fight breaking out. Afterward, one participate said that the people opposed making any province its own region, and that they stood for the unity of Iraq. This was actually the second time this happened in the city. At the beginning of May, a speaker was talking about how the prime minister should resign or there might be civil war. He went on to say that the country should be divided, so that Sunnis could rule themselves. Again, some protesters began throwing water bottles at the stage to express their opposition to that idea. The talk of forming Sunni regions has just entered the lexicon of the protest movements in the last several weeks. Some common rhetoric heard is that the government refuses to deal with the protesters’ demands, and are supporting militias that are killing people, while the security forces do nothing. (1) Given this situation, Sunni provinces like Anbar have nothing left to do, but to form their own regions, which would theoretically give them more local control over their own affairs, and not have to rely upon a Baghdad, which they hold in deep contempt and suspicion.

Over the last month or so, calls for federalism have increased at various protest sites. Besides Fallujah, regionalism could be heard during Friday May 24 prayers in Ramadi, where the speaker warned of armed struggle if Anbar was not given autonomy. In Samarra, Salahaddin, the People’s Committee handed out a questionnaire to those in attendance asking for their preference to either defend the province or make it a region. In Ninewa’s Mosul, an imam said that federalism was the best answer to the problems of Iraq, while another cleric in Kirkuk said that Baghdad had ignored the demonstrators, and therefore they wanted self-rule like the Kurds. The increased calls for autonomy for Sunni regions followed Sheikh Abdul Malik Saadi, the spiritual leader of the majority of the protest movement, giving up on his initiative to form a committee that would negotiate with the government. On May 13, he offered to form a group of local leaders from Anbar to talk with the government in Samarra, which is in Salahaddin, but is the site of a Shiite shrine. In just six days he withdrew his offer. It’s not clear how serious he was about the plan or whether Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ever considered it. What is for sure is that afterward, the calls for regionalism increased across many of the protest sites. This did not appear to be a unanimous decision however.

The protesters and their leadership are divided over federalism. Sheikh Mohammed Bijari a member of the Fallujah Clan Council told the press that there were disagreements on the matter. Some religious leaders, a spokesman for the Sunni Endowment, the Anbar Tribes Chiefs, and even Sheikh Saadi have all expressed opposition to the idea. On the other hand, other groups such as the Iraqi Islamic Party have come out in support of the concept. According to several reports the differences over regionalism has led to many disputes within the protest leadership. It’s having an affect upon the regular protesters as well as the events in Fallujah showed. Maliki has thrown in his hat saying on May 20, that if a province wanted to enact federalism, they could do so as long as it was done legally and according to the constitution. The premier stopped Salahaddin and other Sunni provinces from doing just that last year, so his comments were probably just political rhetoric. Ironically, since 2003 both the premier and the majority of Sunnis have stood for a strong central government. Many of the former still hold onto that idea, while others are now embracing it since they have gained little from their actions over the last five months.

Iraq is going through dramatic changes right now. Sunnis across northern and western Iraq have been taking to the streets to protest against what they feel is victimization by the central government. This movement has continuously been divided over a number of issues, and federalism is the newest one. Calls for making Anbar, Salahaddin, and other governorates their own regions has become part of the weekly rhetoric coming out of Friday prayers. Not all the participants agree about this tactic as the incidents in Fallujah showed. One legacy of Saddam Hussein upon Iraq is the belief in a strong central government. Many Iraqis, both Sunnis and Shiites, hold onto this belief. It’s only been in recent weeks that the protester organizers have been pushing federalism, seemingly out of frustration. It’s yet to be seen how far they will push this issue. Becoming a region requires specific steps such as a referendum according to the constitution, and that has not happened yet. With the divisions it’s bringing out it’s unclear whether this will ever occur.


1. Dar Addustour, “Clashes with hands and sticks in the yard of Fallujah because banners demanding a region – protests enter day 154 .. and preachers six provinces are demanding dialogue,” 5/24/13


Al-Abdeh, Malik, “Sunnism is Our Slogan,” The Majalla, 4/30/13

Alsumaria, “Iraqi PM welcomes establishing a region in western provinces,” 5/21/13

Daoud, Hussein Ali, “Iraq More Divided Than Ever,” Al Hayat, 5/20/13

Dar Addustour, “Clashes with hands and sticks in the yard of Fallujah because banners demanding a region – protests enter day 154 .. and preachers six provinces are demanding dialogue,” 5/24/13

Habib, Musafa, “100 days on: sunni protests won’t stop – but will they become violent?” Niqash, 4/4/13

Independent Press Agency, “Anbar is preparing today to “option to the people of the field,” 5/24/13

National Iraqi News Agency, “Abu Risha: Anbar’s residents are committed to the unity of Iraq refuse the Division Plan,” 5/5/13
- “Anbar Tribes Council rejects changing Anbar province into region,” 3/13/13
- “Imam Fri of Kirkuk/ options open/Iraq remains our choice and our land,” 5/3/13
- “Imam of Samarra Fri-pryers : replace Maliki and regions formation are of/ 4 / options to resolve the crisis,” 5/3/13

Parker, Ned, “Sword of division is poised over Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 5/10/13

Radio Nawa, “People’s Committees in Samarra distributed a questionnaire forms for the best choice of the six provinces on protesters,” 5/24/13

Rudaw, “Iraq’s Sunnis Divided Over Need for Their Own Federal Region,” 5/15/13

Sadah, Ali Abel, “Sunni Tribes in Anbar, Kirkuk Prepare for Battle,” Al-Monitor, 5/3/13

Shafaq News, “Saadi gives up his initiative,” 5/19/13

Sotaliraq, “Clashes with hands and sticks in the yard of a sit-in in Fallujah because of raising people’s committees banners demanding “Territory,” 5/24/13
- “Khatib Mosul: the region is the best choice and save religion takes precedence over home,” 5/24/13

Wicken, Stephen, “2013 Iraq Update #20: Presidency and Protests Turn Attention to Negotiation,” Institute for the Study of War, 5/17/13

VOICE OF AMERICA VIDEO: Syria's Civil War Fuels Violence In Iraq

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ministerial Boycott Of Iraq’s Cabinet Over Protests Breaking Down

In the wake of arrest warrants being issued for former Finance Minister Rafi Issawi’s bodyguards in December 2012, protests and an eventual boycott of the cabinet by several ministers began. The Agricultural Minister Izz al-Din al-Dawla left in March 2013 after demonstrators were killed and wounded by security forces in Mosul. Industry Minister Ahmad Nasser al-Dalli Karbuli, Technology Minister Abdul al-Karim al-Samarraie, and Education Minister Mohammed Tamim followed suit after the Hawija incident in April. Tamim is now returning to the council of ministers, while Dawla has also reportedly attended at least one cabinet session. All four ministers come from the now defunct Iraqi National Movement (INM), which was one of the prime minister’s main opponents. The four however, all had friendly relations with Maliki, and broke with their list several times beforehand. It is no wonder than that they should eventually return to their jobs, and resume their work.

Education Minister Tamim recently announced that he was returning to office after a short boycott over the Hawija incident in April 2013 (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

On May 22, 2013, Industry Minister Ahmad Nasser al-Dalli Karbuli announced that Education Minister Mohammed Tamim was returning to his position. Tamim resigned in April after the security forces attacked protesters in the town of Hawija. Karbuli, and Technology Minister Abdul al-Karim al-Samarraie joined him. The month before, Agricultural Minister Izz al-Din al-Dawla gave up his office after demonstrators were killed and wounded in his hometown of Mosul. Its recently been reported that he has attended at least one cabinet session recently as well. Tamim is from Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq’s Iraqi National Dialogue Front, Karbuli is from the Solution Movement, Samarraie is a member of the Renewal Party, while Dawla belongs to Speaker Nujafi’s old Iraqiyoon party that is now part of Mutahidun, the Uniters List. All of them gained office through the Iraqi National Movement (INM) after the 2010 parliamentary vote. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki immediately rejected Tamim’s resignation. That was likely due to their close relationship beforehand. In fact, all four have consistently broken with their list to work to stay part of the government.  

In December 2011 and March 2013, the INM announced that it was withdrawing its ministers from the cabinet to protest Maliki’s government, but neither worked. At the beginning of March, the National Movement stopped going to the council of ministers to support the protesters. In less than a month, Education Minister Tamim, Industry Minister Karbuli, and Deputy Premier Mutlaq were all back at meetings, which helped lead to the end of the INM as a coherent list. Before that, at the end of 2011, the INM held another unsuccessful boycott against the prime minister. Karbuli, Tamim, and several other National Movement ministers never followed their party. Samarraie, Tamim, and Dawla all eventually met with the premier letting him know that they wanted to return to their offices, which effectively put an end to the boycott. In turn, Maliki gave them concessions, such as releasing 43 prisoners directly to Tamim’s protection in February 2012. The conventional wisdom on Iraq is that the government and country is wracked by sectarianism, and the divide between Sunnis and Shiites is becoming worse by the day. That’s how the increasing violence is also explained. This overlooks the fact that several Sunni ministers such as Karbuli, Tamim, Samarraie, and Dawla have actually had quite friendly relations with Maliki, and have been more than willing to work within his government, even when that directly contradicted their list’s strategy.

Given the protest movements and occasional violence the government has used against them it was predictable that these ministers would again step away from the government. At the same time, it was foreseeable that they would eventually come back to the cabinet as well. They did that the last two times they were supposed to be boycotting, and all of them will likely do so again on this occasion. Not only do they not have as many issues with Premier Maliki as some of their brethren, but they also lose out on the patronage and power that holding a ministry bestows upon them. That is another driving force for them to go back to work. If nothing else, the power, money, and corruption that accompanies holding office is one of the great unifiers that exists in the country.


AIN, “Urgent….Karbouli: Timim to resume his work as Minister of Education,” 5/22/13
- “Urgent….Maliki rejects Education minister’s resignation,” 4/23/13

Ibrahim, Haidar, “Iraqiya’s controversial remarks over ministers’ boycott termination,” AK News, 1/13/12
- “Maliki to tackle absent minister issue soon, advisor says,” AK News, 12/29/11
- “Protest-related violence kills 53 in Iraq,” Agence France Presse, 4/24/13

National Iraqi News Agency, “Iraqiya calls on Mutlaq to review his position and not be a false witness,” 3/27/13
- “Iraqiya: Statement ascribed to Al-Ani allowing some ministers attend cabinet session not accurate,” 1/12/12
- “Jubouri: three IS ministers return to ministries evidence of patriotic awareness,” 2/1/12
- “MP demands Iraqiya to hold a meeting to overcome differences,” 3/31/13
- “Nijaifi calls on Iraqiya ministers to resign,” 3/8/13

Sadah, Ali Abel, “Iraqiya List Frays As Constituents Splinter,” Al-Monitor, 3/28/13

Schreck, Adam and Salaheddin, Sinan, “Iraq fears rise as clashes spread to northern city,” Associated Press, 4/25/13

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 31,” 1/25/12
- “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 32,” 2/9/12
- “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 33,” 2/29/12

Visser, Reidar, “How Iraq can pull back from the brink,” The National, 5/22/13

Yacoub, Sameer, “Iraqi minister resigns after protesters shot,” Associated Press, 3/8/13

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Iraq PM Reshuffles Security Chiefs

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Iraq Announces New Date For Delayed Elections In Anbar And Ninewa Provinces

Iraq recently held provincial elections in twelve of its eighteen provinces. Voting did not take place in Anbar and Ninewa however, because the government had indefinitely postponed them there. Now a date has finally been given for those governorates to have their day at the ballot box in June 2013. Security was the official reason given for the delay, but it was widely believed that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wanted to stop candidates supported by the protest movements there from gaining power. That move has likely backfired as the demonstrations are going on as strong as ever, and security is even worse than before.

Iraq’s government recently said that Ninewa and Anbar would be allowed to vote on June 20, 2013. The cabinet claimed the date came from the Election Commission. That could be true as last month the news was that the two provinces would cast ballots on July 4 instead. The postponement was originally announced on March 19 with security being the rationale. This came after the Anbar provincial council voted to delay the elections a few days beforehand. There definitely was violence going on in those two governorates with 14 candidates haven withdrawn from the city of Mosul for example in Ninewa due to death threats. (1) Al Qaeda in Iraq has consistently been against all elections in the country, and Mosul has always been one of their urban strongholds, so they were likely behind the intimidation there. That being said, overall security was not much different in March than it had been the previous months. The real reason for the delay was probably the protests in major cities such as Ramadi, Fallujah, and Mosul, which started after Baghdad issued arrest warrants for former Finance Minister Rafi Issawi’s bodyguards on terrorism charges. These demonstrations quickly focused upon Sunni victimhood, which they blamed on Prime Minister Maliki. Not wanting to have these forces be institutionalized through winning seats on the provincial councils, the premier pushed through a delay in the balloting in those areas.

The move immediately provoked condemnations by political forces in the two provinces. Speaker Osama Nujafi and his brother the Governor of Ninewa Atheel Nujafi both attacked the delay. A member of their Al-Hadbaa Party and a Christian councilman also said that voting should happen on time. In Anbar, the Iraqi Islamic Party accused Maliki of attempting a coup against the political process, while Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha a leader of the Awakening Movement and the protests called on the council of ministers to reverse its decision. Anbar Governor Qasim Fahadawi was one of the few voices that supported the delay. (2) He claimed that with the security forces deployed to protect the protest sites there would not be enough soldiers and police to defend the polling areas as well. Speaker Nujafi has become one of the leading critics of the prime minister, and his base is in Ninewa, so it was obvious that he could come out against any postponement of voting there. In Anbar, the criticisms were a bit ironic. Both the Islamic Party and Abu Risha’s Awakening of Iraq and Independents held a large number of seats on the Anbar provincial council, which voted overwhelmingly for a delay. Either those politicians have developed their own base and no longer rely upon their leadership or there was some secret maneuvering behind the scenes to perhaps provoke the central government, and give a rallying point for the protests, which Abu Risha and the Islamic Party are both heavily involved in. Whatever the case, all of these parties are likely to do quite well when the votes are finally cast. Nujafi’s Mutahidun, Uniters, emerged as the leading Sunni vote getter in the provinces that did hold elections in April. Abu Risha and the Islamic Party are likely to come out with a large number of ballots as well. In fact, after the Hawija incident, any hope Maliki might have had to change the political situation with the postponement has now evaporated, and the general public is even angrier than before at the authorities as shown from the huge increase in violence across northern and central Iraq in recent weeks.

Delaying the vote in Anbar and Ninewa was always a very controversial move. The weak institutions in the country meant that there was nothing to challenge Premier Maliki’s decision. With demonstrations growing in those two provinces he didn’t want them to put their voices into action through the ballot box, and was hoping that his allies might be able to gain more support or the protests might have lessoned or been broken up by now. Instead, the situation is even more inflamed. If security was the rationale for the postponement in March, it will be even harder to gain control of the two governorates in June to ensure the security of the polling stations. The prime minister’s plans have thus backfired, and whether the demonstrations end anytime soon or not, they and their political backers will at least be able to place officials into office that will carry on with their spirit if not demands for the next several years.


1. Al Rafidayn, “Electoral Commission: the withdrawal of the 14 candidates for the provincial elections in Mosul after receiving threats,” 3/18/13

2. Alsumaria, “Anbar governor attributed the postponement of the elections for the preoccupation with security forces to protect protesters,” 3/20/13


Agence France Presse, “Iraq delays polls in two provinces for security reasons,” 3/19/13

AIN, “IIP describes postponing local elections in Anbar, Nineveh as disappointing,” 3/20/13

Ali, Ghassan, “Decision to postpone local elections in Anbar and Nineveh,” Radio Free Iraq, 3/19/13

Alsumaria, “Anbar governor attributed the postponement of the elections for the preoccupation with security forces to protect protesters,” 3/20/13
- “Iraq Anbar candidates file lawsuit to challenge elections postponement,” 3/22/13
- “Iraq Anbar unanimously decides to postpone provincial council elections,” 3/13/13

Aswat al-Iraq, “Delay of elections worsens situation, Ninewa officials,” 3/19/13

Haider, Roa, “Mixed reactions to the decision to postpone the elections in Anbar, Nineveh,” Radio Free Iraq, 3/20/13

National Iraqi News Agency, “Ahmed al-Alwani: Salah al-Mutlaq reneged of Iraqiya Slate and playing a suspicious role,” 3/29/13
- “Anbar and Nineveh’s elections on 4, July, council of ministers say,” 4/23/13
- “Araji: Absence of Anbar, Niniveh from participation in provincial councils’ elections unconstitutional,” 3/21/13
- “Cabinet sets June 20 for the provincial elections in Nineveh and Anbar provinces,” 5/20/13
- “Islamic Party: Postponing election a coup against the political process,” 3/19/13
- “MP: Postpone elections in Anbar and Nineveh is to stop a major fraud in the elections,” 3/21/13

Al Rafidayn, “Electoral Commission: the withdrawal of the 14 candidates for the provincial elections in Mosul after receiving threats,” 3/18/13

Shafaq News, “Anbar and Nineveh’s Polls to be Held on May,” 4/2/13
- “IHEC: We haven’t received the letter regarding postponing the ballots,” 3/24/13

Visser, Reidar, “The Postponement of Provincial Elections in Anbar and Nineveh: Initial Reactions,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 3/20/13
- “The Question of the Legality of the Delay of the Iraqi Local Elections in Anbar and Nineveh,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 3/22/13

Wicken, Stephen, “2013 Iraq Update #9: Issawi resignation presents opportunities to Maliki,” Institute for the Study of War, 3/1/13

Wicken, Stephen and Ali, Ahmed, “2013 Iraq Update #12: Maliki and Sadr Raise Electoral Stakes,” Institute for the Study of War, 3/22/13

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fallout In Iraq From Conviction Of Fake Bomb Detector Maker

In May 2013, Jim McCormick the owner of the company that sold 7,000 fake bomb detectors to Iraq was sentenced to ten years in prison by a British court on three counts of fraud. The fallout in Baghdad is just beginning to be felt. The government is trying to act like nothing happened, while two anti-corruption groups are pushing for new investigations, and implicating Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and other top officials. Unfortunately, while committees can look into these matters there is little likelihood that anything substantive will happen.

A fake bomb detector still being used at a checkpoint in Baghdad, May 2013 (AFP)

After the news broke in Iraq that Jim McCormick had been convicted there was little change on the ground. Deputy Interior Minister Adnan Asadi, who is the de facto head of the ministry told the press that the bomb detectors would eventually be replaced, but he did not mention how or when. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that the authorities took care of the bomb detectors a long time ago seemingly blowing off the McCormick conviction. Later he told a press conference that some of the detectors actually worked. This was despite the fact that the British court proved that there were no working parts within the so-called detectors. Agence France Presse quoted a policeman in Baghdad who said that they were under orders to continue to use the anti-explosive devices even though they knew they did not work. Only in Dhi Qar did the police announce that they would stop using the detectors, and would be using bomb-sniffing dogs instead. That province happens to be in the south where there are hardly any attacks, so its decision would not have a real effect upon security in the country. Baghdad on the other hand sees the most violence, yet the government is acting like the McCormick case means nothing. The premier’s statement is a perfect example since the detectors are still in daily use, so obviously they have not been dealt with properly.

Parliament and the anti-corruption Integrity Commission are taking the matter much more seriously. Immediately after the sentencing of McCormick Iraq’s integrity committee in the legislature said that officials from the Office of the Commanding General of the Armed Forces and former Interior Minister Jawad Bolani were involved in buying the fake detectors. Parliamentarian Jawad Shihili stated that both the inspector general at Interior and the Science Ministry objected to the purchase, but higher officials insisted upon it. Al-Mada received a memo from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office as commander and chief that okayed buying the devices. That was despite a British officer warning the Interior Ministry that the detectors did not work. This new evidence led the integrity committee to form a joint committee with the Interior and Defense Ministries’ inspector generals to investigate the matter. The independent Integrity Commission went on to issue arrest warrants for five directors of companies involved with buying the anti-bomb equipment. A further look into the matter is definitely required as the McCormick trial revealed that at least 15 Iraqi officials received bribes from his company to finalize the deal. So far only General Jihad Jabiri the former head of the explosives department at the Interior Ministry and two others have been jailed over the devices in 2011. That occurred after Minister Bolani was removed from office, because he was protecting Jabiri and the others from prosecution.

The problem with investigating corruption in Iraq is that it can only go so far. Bribes and thievery are so imbedded within the government that it has actually become part of the way of running the country as pilfering from the state is considered part of the payoff of holding office, and a way to reward followers. That severely limits the ability to charge and successfully prosecute people, because the political parties and their leadership will block it just as Minister Bolani did. New documents can be uncovered, people can be named, new information revealed about the fake bomb detectors, and maybe even some company heads might be taken to court, but those that were truly responsible will never be touched. That would open the door to everyone involved in the system being charged, and that simply won’t happen in Iraq right now.


Agence France Presse, “Iraq PM insists some fake bomb detectors work,” 5/20/13
- “Iraq province to ditch fake bomb detectors,” 5/14/13
- “Iraq still using James McCormick’s fake bomb detectors at checkpoints,” 5/3/13

AIN, “Shihaili: Maliki’s assistants, MOI officials involved in corruption,” 5/5/13

Booth, Robert, “Fake bomb detector conman jailed for 10 years,” Guardian, 5/2/13

Al-Mada, “A document proving that Maliki’s office instructed to purchase sonar despite warnings from British inability for detecting explosives,” 5/12/13
- “Iraq’s Integrity Committee pursuing the inventor of explosives detectors and 5 local companies,” 5/14/13

Morris, Steven, Jones, Meirion and Booth, Robert, “The ‘magic’ bomb detector that endangered lives all over the world,” Guardian, 4/23/13

Al Mustaqbal News, “The names of directors of companies involved with explosives detection devices,” 5/14/13

RADIO FREE IRAQ VIDEO: Dust Storm Hits Baghdad May 2013

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Many Killed In String Of Iraq Attacks

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Border Crossing To Iraq Offers Syrians A Lifeline

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Political Analyst Federal System Won't Work In Iraq

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Iraq Sees Worse Violence In Years

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rising Tensions In Iraq’s Anbar Province, Raids, Kidnapped Soldiers, Collapse of Talks Offer

Iraq’s Anbar province is seeing increasing tension. Since December there have been two large protests going on in Ramadi and Fallujah. After the government raid upon the Hawija demonstration site in Tamim governorate in April 2013 there has been an uptick in attacks as well. In May, things picked up with raids upon the residences of two leaders of the protests, as well as the kidnapping of several dozen soldiers and police, and the collapse of an offer to talk with Baghdad. With the way things are going this could be leading up to a security crackdown in the governorate aimed at not only clearing out militants, but shutting down the demonstrations as well.

The latest incident was a raid upon Mohammed Khamis Abu Risha, the nephew of a leading Awakening chief and organizer of the Ramadi protests. On May 18, there were clashes between tribesmen and security forces outside of Ramadi as the latter were looking for Abu Risha. That resulted in the deaths of a woman and her three children, and four army vehicles being set on fire. Abu Risha has an arrest warrant out for him for his alleged involvement in the murder of five soldiers on April 27. The government blamed the leaders of the protest movement for the incident, including Abu Risha, the demonstrator’s spokesman Said al-Lafi, and a prominent preacher Qusay al-Janabi. Abu Risha is the nephew of Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha who helped found the Awakening movement in the province, and is currently one of the organizers in Ramadi. Initially it appeared that local politicians and the protesters were attempting to defuse the situation by cooperating with the authorities. The Anbar provincial council for instance, said that it worked out a deal with the security forces to allow them to search the protest area in Ramadi to look for the culprits, and turned over the names of three suspects soon after the soldiers were killed at the end of April. The Sunni Endowment demanded that the demonstrators hand over the killers, while Sheikh Abu Risha claimed that two people had been given to the Ramadi police. That obviously didn’t work as the army and police are still looking for the younger Abu Risha as the raid showed. The fact that the incident led to fighting is also bad news as it can only increase the already high tensions in Anbar.

Sheikh Sulaiman now has an arrest warrant out for him on terrorism charges (Los Angeles Times)

The government also has an arrest warrant out for Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman on terrorism charges. On May 16, Sulaiman told CNN that the army raided a farm he owned near Ramadi looking for him. His tribesmen surrounded the army headquarters in Ramadi in response, telling them they had to withdraw from the governorate, and threatening violence by the Pride and Dignity Army if they didn’t. Sulaiman is allegedly one of the organizers behind the tribal army, which was set up to defend the Ramadi protesters after the Hawija incident. The sheikh is a member of the powerful Dulaim tribe, and has attached himself to the Ramadi protests. He has been known to give inflammatory speeches threatening violence against the security forces and government, which might be why they are looking for him. This could be another cause for increased violence in Anbar as it could lead Sulaiman’s followers to follow through with his threats.

On top of that insurgents are attempting to exploit the anger in Anbar for their own ends. Gunmen ambushed and kidnapped a number of police and soldiers in the province on May 18. At first, it was reported that 10 policemen were taken at a fake checkpoint outside of Ramadi. Then a spokesman for the Defense Ministry said that 35 soldiers had also been abducted. The Anbar Salvation Council later stated that the army launched an operation around Ramadi looking for the missing security force elements. The Council blamed Al Qaeda in Iraq for the incidents. Three people from Karbala who were travelling through Anbar after visiting Jordan were also said to have been kidnapped. Immediately afterward, a member of the Anbar Tribal Chiefs Council Mohammed Alwani condemned the security force members being taken. It also prompted the protest leaders in the province to hold a meeting to talk about the deteriorating security situation. They told the press they were trying to keep the demonstrations peaceful despite the worsening situation in Anbar. In the last couple years Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups had lost most of their standing in the governorate. The Awakening movement started there, and successfully pushed the militants to the outskirts of Anbar with the help of the Americans. Now, after Hawija, the insurgency has a new life exploiting the growing resentment Sunnis have towards Baghdad. It has used Hawija to claim that the government will ignore their demands, and that the only alternative then is to fight the authorities, which they claim are Persians controlled by Iran. As a result, there has been a dramatic increase in attacks in Anbar and other provinces in the last few weeks.

Spiritual leader of the Anbar protest movement Sheikh Saadi said he gave up on talks with the government (Al Sharqiya)

Finally, the Ramadi movement has given up on negotiating with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Sheikh Abdul Malik Saadi who is the spiritual leader of much of the protest movement in Iraq said that he was ending his initiative to talk with the government. He blamed Baghdad for ignoring his offer, and warned that there might be “dire consequences” as a result. In May, Saadi endorsed forming a committee that would meet with the government. He suggested Samarra in Salahaddin as a suitable site since it is in a predominately Sunni province, but the city holds a holy Shite shrine. The idea of talks between the two sides seemed to come about after the efforts of Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq to meet with various officials such as Governor Qasim al Fahadawi, protest organizers, and tribal leaders in Anbar. Afterward, they agreed to negotiate with Baghdad. Saadi then announced that a committee be formed. How far any talks would have gone is an open question. The protest movement has some unrealistic demands such as completely ending deBaathification and calling for the removal of Premier Maliki. At the same time, negotiations could have helped the two sides come to some kind of compromises. Now that option has ended for now.

Anbar has been a hotbed of opposition to the government for the last several months. When arrest warrants were issued for former Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi’s bodyguards in December 2012, Anbar immediately began organizing protests in support since the minister was from Fallujah. This eventually became the impetus for similar movements across several other provinces. Originally, the demonstrators voiced complaints about what they saw as their victimization by the authorities such as mass arrests, the use of the anti-terrorism law, and secret informers. Since then the movement has become more militant and sectarian with constant denouncements of Baghdad being run by Iran, and some organizers being connected to the insurgency. The recent raids, kidnappings, and the end of the call for talks with the authorities can only add to this growing fire. Even if the mainstream protest movement like the one in Ramadi attempts to remain peaceful, it is apparent that more and more people in the governorate are at least open to the passive if not active support for attacks upon the security forces. That is giving new life to the insurgency, which has been attempting to exploit the demonstrations since they began as an organizing and rally point for a renewed fight against the government. The political deadlock in Baghdad is not helping the matter, because parliament is incapable of passing any legislation right now that might satisfy some of the demands made by Anbar. This all might be leading to a larger and sustained security operation in the province to crackdown on the insurgency, and perhaps end the protest movement at the same time. That would end two problems for the prime minister with one stone. If that choice is made there’s no telling what the lasting effects might be. It could simply make the situation worse by proving the militants’ propaganda correct that the government has no intent of dealing with the demonstrators, and that violence is the only answer. That doesn’t mean Iraq is heading for a new civil war, but security is definitely worsening with no end in sight for the immediate future.


Al-Abdeh, Malik, “Sunnism is Our Slogan,” The Majalla, 4/30/13

AIN, “AOC assures kidnapping 5 security elements,” 5/18/13
- “Breaking news…Several tribes form military force in Anbar,” 4/27/13
- “Sunni Endowment calls Anbar protestors to hand over killers of 5 soldiers soon,” 4/28/13
- “Urgent…..IPs kidnapped eastern Anbar,” 5/18/13
- “Urgent….Many tribes withdraw from Anbar protests yard,” 4/27/13
- “Urgent …Security forces allowed entering demonstrations square,” 4/30/13

Al-Ali, Daoud, “ball in PM’s court: anbar’s protestors agree to negotiate,” Niqash, 5/16/13

Aswat al-Iraq, “Two Fallujah killers handed over,” 4/28/13

Independent Press Agency, “Anbar operations threaten stormed Square sit-in and a curfew imposed,” 4/27/13

Al-Janoob, “Mohammed al-Askari declares the readiness of the army to attack and free the kidnapped soldiers in Anbar,” 5/19/13

Al Jazeera, “Deadly Iraq violence spills into fourth day,” 5/18/13

National Iraqi News Agency, “BREAKING NEWS Anbar’s protest organizers hold emergency meeting,” 5/18/13
- “BREAKING NEWS. The declaration of formation of “ Alizah wa-Akharamah/pride and dignity/ army by the protestors in Anbar province,” 4/26/13
- “BREAKING NEWS. Maliki threatens to confront armed elements formed in Anbar sit-ins,” 5/1/13
- “Member of Anbar Tribal Chiefs Council condemns kidnapping soldiers,” 5/18/13
- “Saadi directs to form a committee constituent of protesters to negotiate with the government,” 5/13/13

Parker, Ned, “Sword of division is poised over Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 5/10/13

Reuters, “Thirteen killed, 10 police kidnapped in Iraq violence,” 5/18/13

Sadah, Ali Abel, “Sunni Tribes in Anbar, Kirkuk Prepare for Battle,” Al-Monitor, 5/3/13

Saeed, Samer Elias, “Inside Iraq: Sunni tribes call for arms,” Azzaman, 4/26/13

Shafaq News, “Anbar reveal disagreement within Ramadi and Fallujah Sit-in squares,” 5/13/13
- “Breaking News … Iraqi army forces backed by helicopters start security operation in Ramadi,” 5/19/13
- “Saadi gives up his initiative,” 5/19/13

Tawfeeq, Mohammed, “Tribal fighters clash with Iraqi army amid rising tensions,” CNN, 5/16/13

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