Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Another Election Surprise For Iraq?

April 30, 2014 Iraqis head to the polls in the general election. Iraq’s last few elections have all provided surprises, and this one looks to be no different. In 2009, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s new State of Law (SOL) party swept the south and Baghdad in the provincial elections building upon his success against Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra, Maysan, and Baghdad, his military campaign against insurgents in Mosul, and challenging the Kurds over the disputed territories the year before. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) was the big loser as the voters punished it for its poor performance after being the big winner in 2005. Then in 2010 it appeared that Maliki would again have a big win, but was surpassed by one seat by the Iraqi National Movement. Maliki had to resort to the courts to get a ruling to allow him to put together a coalition after the voting instead of letting the winner with the most ballots do it. He then played upon the divisions within the INM, and the Kurdish parties’ fear of the INM to obtain a second term. In the 2013 provincial level balloting it was State of Law that lost seats for its lack of good governance. More importantly the Sadrists and Supreme Council formed cross sectarian coalitions to shut SOL out of some new local governments.

Most Iraq watchers now seem to believe that the prime minister will get the most seats in parliament, and then go through a very long process of negotiations that could drag out for up to a year, and ensure himself another four years in office. The premier is hoping that his Shiite base will come out for him out of fear of the growing insurgency, and give him a plurality of votes. He will then be able to play upon the splits within the Sunni parties to ally with Deputy Premier Salah al-Mutlaq. If that gives him momentum the history of Iraqi politics is for the other parties to jump on board to assure themselves positions within the new government.

An alternative scenario could play out however. Last year ISCI was able to cut into Maliki’s base, and are hoping to repeat that again. It has portrayed itself as a nationalist party that has the support of the religious establishment in Najaf. The Sadrists’ Ahrar bloc believes that it can maintain its alliance with the Supreme Council that it forged in the 2013 elections. If they get anything near the number of seats of Maliki it will be a free for all for to create the majority necessary for a new government. The two Shiite religious parties could play upon the mutual hatred of the prime minister felt by other lists such as Speaker Osama Nujafi’s Mutahidun and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to counter SOL. In previous years Maliki has been able to play off the differences of his opponents, but this year their opposition to him could be strong enough to actually unite them. This might give the prime minister a 50-50 chance to stay in power. The problem is that it will be months before the actual winners are determined, and in the meantime the status quo will remain. It should also be noted that if the anti-Maliki factions prevail they will not be able to form a majority government that does not include SOL. The courts are under the sway of Maliki and he will likely turn to them to overturn any coalition that does not include him.

A third possibility is that the government formation process becomes so deadlocked that Maliki will give up the premiership, but demand that SOL retain the position. That would require a new candidate within the list to be found. Besides Higher Education Minister Ali al-Adeeb, who is a rival to Maliki, the party lacks other prominent members. Then again, the prime minister was a middling official in Dawa before he assumed the top spot in 2006, so there is a precedent of someone emerging from the wings to assume power. Deputy Premier Hussein Shahristani of the Independents could be another alternative as well.

Last there is the role of outside powers. The Obama administration appears to be trying to re-engage with Iraq due to the rising violence. It will likely try to play a neutral role however, and just ensure that the process is as fair as possible. That’s not true of the other players. Turkey has gone back and forth on Maliki, but is allied with Mutahidun and the KDP. It could push the two to work together over their opposition to the prime minister. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are against Maliki as well, but they also oppose Shiite rule overall, which is a dead end given the ethnosectarian quota system that the ruling parties believe in. That will limit their influence. Finally, Iran might play a pivotal role. It may back Maliki to maintain the status quo in Iraq, because it is more concerned about the fighting in Syria right now. Then again, it could be angry with Maliki for playing divide and conquer with the Kurdish and other Shiite parties that have close ties to Tehran, which has led to political instability in Iraq. That could be a game changer if it throws its weight behind the Supreme Council and Sadrists during negotiations for a new government. Given these factors it appears that Iraq’s 2014 elections will have many more uncertainties than givens.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Iraq Holds Special Voting Despite Terrorist Attacks

Iraq held its special voting on April 28, 2014. The early balloting is mostly for the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The Iraqi Election Commission said there was over 90% participation. That was despite a wave of attacks by the insurgency. That showed that the militants were not able to disrupt the voting despite their best efforts.

The ISF, prisoners, and those in hospitals came out in high numbers on April 28 to cast their ballots. The Iraqi Election Commission claimed there was a 91% turnout in the special voting. In Anbar only 40% participated. The on going fighting there and difficult security situation were the likely causes of the low percentage. There are 9,039 candidates representing 277 parties competing for 328 seats this year. The general public will vote on April 30. There are questions about the political loyalties of the ISF. Political parties have accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of attempting to sway their votes towards his State of Law party. In Kurdistan there is no such uncertainty as the peshmerga, Asayesh and others work for the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan despite talk of them being integrated into a regional force.
Peshmerga voting in Irbil (AFP)
Female Peshmerga showing their died fingers after voting in Irbil (AFP)
Voting in Ramadi where there is on-going fighting (AFP)
SWAT voting in Najaf (AP)
More died fingers in Karbala (AFP)
Police lining up in Baghdad to vote (AFP)

Voting took place despite a wave of terrorist attacks by the insurgency. From April 22-28 the Iraqi press and international news agencies reported 226 security incidents, 347 deaths, and 744 wounded. That was much like the week before when there were 252 attacks, 406 killed, and 786 injured. On the special voting day alone there were 25 attacks, 86 fatalities, and 157 wounded. That was below the 33.9 attacks per day average for the month so far. Militants have been going after voting centers and candidates in the last several weeks. April 22 there were four attacks including one on a candidate’s house in Khalidiya, Anbar, a school, which was being used as a voting center in Niamiya, Anbar, on another voting center to the south of Kirkuk, and an IED on a rally for Ahmed Chalabi in Mahmudiya, Babil. April 23 saw an IED on an election center in Hit, Anbar, an IED on a candidate’s house in Sulaiman Bek, Salahaddin, and shooting at a campaign car in Tikrit, Salahaddin. April 24 had a mortar on a school in Ramadi, Anbar, IEDs on voting centers in Hit, Tel Zatar, and Mohammadi, Anbar, and one in Baquba, Diyala. April 25 a member of the Election Commission was shot at in Rutba, Anbar and another was bombed in Sadiya, Diyala. Voting centers were attacked in Wasti, Kirkuk and Hit. The deadliest event however was the multiple bombings of a rally by the League of the Righteous in eastern Baghdad that left at least 160 casualties. April 26 polling centers in Qaim, Anbar, southeast of Mosul, Kirkuk, and three in Baiji and four in Siniya, Salahaddin were all attacked. April 27 a candidate was hit by an IED in Qaim, and voting centers in Siniya, and two in Kirkuk were targeted again. Finally, on April 28 suicide bombers hit polling stations in Ramadi, Tuz Khormato, Salahaddin, Adhamiya, Baghdad, Wasti and Hawija, Kirkuk, and four in Mosul, Ninewa, while there were shots fired at ones in Wasti and Kirkuk, an IED on one in Mosul, and a mortar barrage on another in Ramadi. Vehicle traffic is usually banned during the balloting, which makes car bombings extremely difficult, and accounts for the high number of suicide bombers on April 28. That didn’t seem to deter many, especially since all the violence was concentrated in just seven of Iraq’s eighteen provinces. The real test will be April 30 when the general public comes out, because that will provide far more targets.

There has always been violence on election days. April 28 was no different. The insurgents were held below their average for the year however, which is positive. More importantly the vast majority of the security forces and others eligible for early voting participated. The general election will not be as high as it usually averages around 50%. This year it might be lower as many Sunnis have lost confidence in politics, and might be intimidated by the militant groups that have launched their own campaign against voting. Whatever the final percentage is this is an important election as it is a competitive one, and thus another important event in the development of Iraq’s democracy.


Agence France Presse, “Five key questions on Iraq’s election,” 4/27/14

AIN, “40% of security elements participate in special voting in Anbar,” 4/28/14
- "Candidate of Motahidoun Alliance survives assassination attempt western Anbar," 4/27/14
- "Electoral center shelled eastern Ramadi," 4/28/14
- "Gunmen attack cars carrying leaflets for Mutleg's electoral propaganda," 4/23/14
- “IHEC: Participation rate of security elements all over Iraq, 91%,” 4/28/14
- "Mortar shells target primary school western Ramadi," 4/24/14

Aswat al-Iraq, "10 persons killed, 6+ wounded south of Kirkuk," 4/22/14

Buratha News, "The bombing of an elementary school south of Fallujah," 4/22/14
- "Bombing of the home of a candidate for election east of Ramadi," 4/22/14
- "The death of 3 elements of the security forces in bombing of polling station west of Ramadi," 4/24/14
- "Martyrdom and wounding 12, in an explosion targeting a rally for the candidates of the Citizen's Alliance Dr Ahmed Chalabi in Mahmudiya," 4/22/14
- "Soldier was wounded after a suicide bomber targeted polling station in Mosul," 4/28/14
- "Unidentified blow up a house of a candidate for Allawi's coalition in Sulaiman Bek," 4/23/14

Al Forat, "Salah-il-Din: Armed attack against polling station injures soldier & policeman," 4/27/14
- "Tuz's suicide bombing death toll hits 17 deaths, injuries," 4/28/14

Al Mada, "104 killed and wounded in the final outcome of suicide bombings that targeted a rally in eastern Baghdad," 4/25/14
- "Killing a child and wounding a captain in two separate attacks on polling stations in Kirkuk," 4/27/14
- "Killing and wounding 88 people in a suicide bombing at a gathering to celebrate healing of Talabani in northern Diyala," 4/28/14
- "Unidentified blow up polling station in western Baquba," 4/24/14

Al Masalah, "3 civilians killed bombing campaign in rally in Hit," 4/23/14
- "40 dead and 120 injured .. Toll rises bombings of gather League of the Righteous," 4/25/14

NINA, "A civilian killed, two injured, a gunman killed and two others arrested in two incidents in Kirkuk," 4/28/14
-"Director of the Office of the Electoral Commission in Ratba, in Anbar escapes an assassination attempt," 4/25/14
- "Five soldiers wounded by a roadside bomb exploded near a polling station in eastern Mosul," 4/28/14
- "gunmen attack a polling station, injuring a soldier in Kirkuk," 4/27/14
- "The number of victims of the suicide attacks in Mansour and Adhamiya up to 53 killed and wounded," 4/28/14 - "One civilian killed, another one wounded, northeast of Baquba," 4/25/14
- "Polling station blown up in Anbar province," 4/24/14
- "A polling station for private voting blown up in western Anbar," 4/26/14
- "Six policemen killed, nine injured in a suicide bombing in Kirkuk," 4/28/14
- "A soldier killed,an officer and a soldier wounded in central Mosul," 4/28/14
- "A soldier killed while preventing a suicide bomber from entering a polling station in Kirkuk," 4/28/14
- "Three policemen killed, two others wounded by blowing up polling stations in Baiji," 4/26/14
- "Three suicide bombers killed in Ramadi," 4/28/14
- "Two soldiers, a civilian injured in attack on a polling station north of Kirkuk," 4/26/14
- "Urgent…Security forces kill a suicide bomber dressed as security uniform," 4/28/14
- "Urgent…Suicide bomber blows himself up near polling station in Mosul," 4/28/14

Radio Nawa, "Gunmen open fire on a polling station south of Kirkuk," 4/25/14

Al Rayy, "Electoral center bombed west of Ramadi," 4/24/14
- "Targeting polling station west of Anbar," 4/25/14

Salah, Hemin, “Iraqi commanders bribe soldiers to vote for State of Law and Coalition,” Bas News, 4/22/14

Salman, Duraid, Ammar, Tarek, "Soldier wounded by a sniper targeting polling stations south of Kirkuk," Alsumaria, 4/28/14

Tariq, Amar, "Wounding two policemen and eight civilians by a roadside bomb targeting polling station in Nineveh," Alsumaria, 4/26/14

Xinhua, "33 killed, 90 wounded at election rally in Iraq," 4/26/14

IRAQ DEFENSE MINISTRY/AP VIDEO: Fighting In Iraq's Anbar Province, Ramadi

EURONEWS VIDEO: Iraq Poised For Parliamentary Renewal

Monday, April 28, 2014

Insurgents Ramp Up Violence Before Iraq’s April Elections

Iraq is due to have parliamentary elections on April 30, 2014. Many insurgent groups are opposed to the voting and are doing their best to disrupt the process. They have attacked polling stations and candidates along with their regular operations against the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the general public. The result is that April has seen some of the heaviest violence and casualties so far this year.

In March 2014 the number of security incidents dipped in Iraq, but have picked back up since then. From March 1-7 there were 253 security incidents reported in the press. That was an average of 36.1 attacks per day. That was followed by 206 incidents March 8-14, an average of 29.4, then 216 March 15-21, 30.8, 211 March 22-28, 30.1, and 108 from March 29-31, 36.0. In April those figures have gone up to 238 incidents April 1-7, 34.0, 223 April 8-14, 31.8, and 252 from April 15-21, 36.0 per day. For the year there has been an up and down pattern. There were a total of 1,012 attacks in January for an average of 32.6 per day, 945 incidents in February, average of 33.7, 996 in March, 32.1 per day, and 713 from April 1-7, 33.9. This month the insurgency is obviously picking up their operations to try to disrupt the elections.

The number of security incidents only tells part of the story of Iraq’s current problems, the casualties tell another part of the story. The number of dead and wounded has steadily increased since the beginning of the year. In January there were 1,379 deaths and 2,634 wounded. In February there were 1,274 killed and 2,526 wounded, 1,606 fatalities in March, and 2,901 wounded, and 1,027 killed and 1,982 injured from April 1-21. The rising costs of the insurgency are shown more clearly by the averages. There were 44.4 deaths per day in January, 45.5 per day in February, 51.8 in March, and 48.9 over the first three weeks of April. The same trend is seen with the wounded going from 84.9 per day in January to 94.3 in April. 

Security Incidents In Iraq Jan-Apr 2014
Jan 1-7
Jan 8-14
Jan 15-21
Jan 22-28
Jan 29-31
Jan Total
Feb 1-7
Feb 8-14
Feb 15-21
Feb 22-28
Feb Total
Mar 1-7
Mar 8-14
Mar 15-21
Mar 22-28
Mar 29-31
Mar Total
Apr 1-7
Apr 8-14
Apr 15-21
Apr 1-21

Security Incident Averages Jan-Apr 2014
Apr 1-21

The number of shootings has decreased since the beginning of the year, while bombings have gone up. There were 470 gunfire incidents in January, going down to 444 in February, 419 in March, and 289 so far in April. At the same time the number of bombings, mostly improvised explosive devices (IEDs), but also including sticky bombs, car bombs, and suicide bombers has gone from 514 in January to 466 in February, to 579 in March, and 385 in the first three weeks of April. That last month the number of car bombs has increased. For instance there were 18 vehicle born improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) from April 1-7, 21 from April 8-14, and 20 from April 15-21. These are launched in waves by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and usually coordinated across the country. The third week of April provides a brief sample. The first wave started April 15 when there were two suicide car bombs on the government complex in Ramadi. The next day two suicide bombers attacked the Anbar Operations Command in Ramadi, while two car bombs hit Sadr City and Obeidi both in eastern Baghdad. April 17 three VBIEDs struck Karrada, Obeidi and Sadr City in the capital. April 18 there were no such attacks. Then the second wave started on April 19 with a car bomb on an army base in Sumer, Ninewa and another in Baiji, Salahaddin. Then there was a car bomb in Musayib, Babil, a car bomb on a checkpoint in Mosul, Ninewa, and two VBIEDs on Rumaitha, Muthanna on April 20. Finally, April 21 car bombs hit Sadr City and Shaab, and a suicide VBIED in Madain on a checkpoint in Baghdad, another such incident in Mosul, and another checkpoint hit in Wasit. In total these attacks cost the lives of 83 people and wounded an additional 219. The number of car bombs goes up and down as ISIS expends its stocks and has to wait for the next batch to be manufactured.

Types of Attacks Jan-Apr 2014
Car Bombs
Suicide Bombers
Apr 1-21

Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) April 15-21
Ramadi, Anbar x 2
Ramadi, Anbar x 2, Sadr City & Obeidi, Baghdad
Karrada, Obeidi & Sadr City, Baghdad
Sumer, Ninewa, Baiji, Salahaddin
Site of a car bombing in Baghdad Apr 21, 2014 (AFP)

Militants have also gone after voting centers and candidates to deter people from voting. Just in April there was an IED against a voting center in Ramadi on the 5th. April 6 a grenade was thrown at a candidate’s house in Hit, Anbar. April 7 an IED went off outside a candidate’s home in Hawija, Kirkuk. April 9 two people putting up election posters in Tikrit were shot and wounded. April 11 another candidate’s house was bombed in Kirkuk wounding his wife and son. The same thing happened the next day in the same city. April 14 the son of a candidate in Kirkuk was kidnapped. April 17 and 18 two candidates were shot and wounded in separate incidents. April 19 a sticky bomb attached to his car in Qaim, Anbar, wounded a candidate for Mutahidun. Finally, April 21 a voting center in Daquq, Kirkuk was stormed by gunmen who killed six and wounded another 10. These types of incidents have only increased as the voting draws nearer.

While violence has picked up in recent weeks not all insurgent groups are opposed to the election. Reportedly ISIS, the Naqshibandi, the Army of the Mujahedeen, Ansar al-Islam, and armed factions connected to Harith al-Dhari are all against participating in the balloting. The Islamic State has even launched a campaign telling and threatening people not to vote. The Islamic Army, Hamas Iraq, the Salahaddin Brigades, and the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance support people going out and casting ballots. Since the two largest groups ISIS and the Naqshibandi are trying to stop the vote that likely means attacks will continue to increase. More importantly there’s a questions of whether the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are competent enough to protect the polling stations and public on April 30. Usually the government tries to shut down normal activities by declaring a day off, setting up checkpoints, and banning vehicle traffic. With the ISF stretched thin with its commitment in Anbar, and its inability to contain the growth of the insurgency these may not be enough this year, and serious incidents may take place.


Agence France Presse, "Bombers kill five at Iraq provincial govt compound," 4/16/14

AIN, "Car bomb explodes in northern Babel," 4/20/14
- "Voting Center detonated in central Ramadi," 4/5/14

Al Forat, "Wasit car bombing kills, injured 27 persons as initial count," 4/21/14

Iraq Times, "A car bomb explosion north of Wasit 29 martyrs and wounded," 4/21/14
- "The explosion of two car bombs in Sadr City led to 25 martyrs and wounded,"4/17/14

Al Jazeera, "Dozens killed in Iraq attacks and bombings," 4/21/14
- "Many dead in Iraq violence ahead of vote," 4/20/14

Al Mada, "Bomb kills carriers and infects a woman north of Tikrit," 4/19/14

Al Masalah, "3 killed and 39 injured by a roadside bombs north of Samawah," 4/20/14
- "5 killed 18 wounded by a car bomb in New Baghdad," 4/16/14
- "Killing three civilians and wounding 14 by a roadside bomb," 4/16/14

New Sabah, “”Daash” Dari and suites and the league are boycotting the elections…and the Islamic Army and “Hammas” and “Council of Resistance” with the ballot,” 4/25/14

NINA, "Army kills three bombers and destroys their car bombs," 4/20/14
- "One civilian killed, 11 others wounded in two separate incidents in Baghdad," 4/21/14
- "One soldier killed, two others wounded by a car bomb west of Mosul," 4/21/14

Al Rayy, "Martyrdom and wounding 13 people, including soldiers in car bomb detonation south east of Mosul," 4/19/14
- "Martyrdom and wounding a number of people in a car bombing in Mosul," 4/21/14

Salaheddin, Sinan, "Gunmen Attack Iraq Military Base, Kill 10 Soldiers," Associated Press, 4/17/14
- "Iraq: Separate attacks kill at least 12 people," 4/20/14

Xinhua, "36 killed, 53 wounded in violent attacks across Iraq," 4/16/14

Iraq’s Oil Exports And Revenue Drop In May

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