Saturday, January 31, 2009

Iraq’s Provincial Elections And Abuses

Wednesday January 28 was the beginning of the Iraqi provincial elections. Prisoners with five years or less, hospital employees, and members of the security forces were all eligible to vote on that day. The Iraqi Election Commission held a press conference where they claimed 90% of possible voters turned out for this special polling, but the numbers they provided were not even close to that. They said 21% voted in Basra, 27% in Baghdad, 49% in Basra and Maysan, 50% in Najaf, and 55% in Qadisiyah. In the Karrada district of Baghdad for example, the Election Commission said that less than half of the 4,000 police on duty there showed up to cast ballots. The New York Times interviewed some of the officers who said that they talked with their commanders who told them their security duties were more important than voting.

There were also several dozen reports of abuses by those same security forces. According to an Iraqi organization to protect journalists there were 64 incidents where reporters’ rights were violated. In Basra, Babil, and Anbar reporters and photographers were beaten or stopped from entering voting centers by members of the security forces. In Basra guards beat 15 reporters and took their equipment when they tried to cover voting at the Ma’qal Prison. An Associated Press photographer said he was beaten and cursed at when he tried to take pictures there. The guards objected to photos that would show the faces of the detainees. The group was held for around 90 minutes until they were finally allowed to observe the voting. Even then they were still eventually told to leave by the Iraqis. In Baghdad the Army stopped 20 reporters from doing their job, while in Fallujah soldiers beat journalists that didn’t stay 100 meters away from polling stations.

Regular voting on January 31 seems to have gone smoothly. There was only minimal violence. Some voters were confused about which center to go to vote, but the stations were opened for an extra hour until 6 p.m., and a vehicle ban was lifted in some areas to facilitate participation. So far there have been no stories of abuses by the security forces, but the first reports of election violations have begun to trickle in. In Salahaddin fake voting boxes were intercepted near Tikrit. In Irbil, a voting center’s director filled out the ballots instead of the voters. That province is not holding elections, so the voters must have been displaced who are now living there. An Iraqi monitoring group Iraqi Ein said that soldiers from the 3rd Division stopped people in Mosul from voting. Before the election there were dozens of reports of parties trying to buy votes by offering money, blankets, etc. The actual results are not expected for several weeks.

Provincial Elections Facts And Figures

Elections are being held in fourteen of Iraq’s eighteen provinces. Voting in Tamim was delayed until a power sharing agreement can be determined. The Kurdistan Regional Government will decide when voting will be held in Irbil, Dohuk, and Sulaymaniya.

Each province has at least 25 provincial council seats. There is one additional seat for every 200,000 people.

The Iraqi Election Commission will determine what parties win seats based upon a proportional system. They will take the total number of votes cast and divide by the number of council seats available to determine the minimum number required to gain a seat. The positions will then be given to the candidates from the winning lists with the most votes. According to the United Nations, this system is used in Germany, Macedonia, Spain and Bosnia.

There are also two quotas, one for women and one for minorities. Women are to be given every third seat on the councils. Christians will get one seat in Basra, one in Baghdad, and one in Ninewa. Sabean Mandeans will get one seat in Baghdad, and the Yazidis and Shabaks one seat each in Ninewa.

Number of Seats Per Province And Seats Set Aside For Women

Anbar 29 – 7 women
Babil 30 – 7 women
Baghdad 57 – 14 women
Basra 35 – 8 women
Dhi Qar 31 – 7 women
Diyala 29 – 7 women
Karbala 27 – 6 women
Maysan 27 – 6 women
Muthanna 26 – 6 women
Najaf 28 – 7 women
Ninewa 37 – 9 women
Qadisiya 28 – 7 women
Salahaddin 28 – 7 women
Wasit 28 – 7 women


Aswat al-Iraq, “90% turnout in Iraq’s special voting – IHEC,” 1/28/09
- “Serious electoral violations reported in Arbil, Tal Afar,” 1/31/09
- “Violations mar elections – network,” 1/31/09

BBC, “Iraqi PM hails vote as ‘victory,’” 1/31/09

CNN, “Turnout high in peaceful Iraqi provincial elections,” 1/31/09

Fadel, Leila, “A test for the vote,” Baghdad Observer Blog, McClatchy Newspapers, 1/28/09

Farrell, Stephen, “Under Tight Security, Elections Are Calm in Iraq,” New York Times, 1/31/09

Graff, Peter, “Early voting starts in Iraq provincial poll,” Reuters, 1/28/09

Ibrahim, Waleed, “Spotlight on vote-buying on eve of Iraqi ballot,” Reuters, 1/30/09

Al Jazeera, “Polls close in key Iraqi elections,” 1/31/09

Middle East Online, “Iraqi Candidates Making Free with Election Gifts,” 1/30/09

New York Times, "Electing the Provincial Councils," 1/30/09

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Iraqis Stream to the Polls Amid Tight Security,” Washington Post, 1/31/09

Susman, Tina, “Iraq elections: Security tight for provincial vote,” Los Angeles Times, 1/31/09

Visser, Reidar, “Iraqi Minorities Get Special Representation in the Provincial Elections Law,”, 11/3/08

Williams, Timothy and Myers, Steven Lee, “Early Voting in Iraq Is Mostly Smooth,” New York Times, 1/29/09

Friday, January 30, 2009

Information On Iraq’s Voting System

As reported before, Iraq’s 2009 provincial elections will have a proportional, open-list system. Blocs or individuals will have to meet a minimum number of votes to win office, and then provincial seats will be divided up to those that pass this threshold and have the most votes. Blocs that don’t reach the minimum will have their votes given to the winning ones. There is also a quota for women candidates, and for minorities in specific provinces that could complicate matters. The system is obviously weighted towards the largest, most well known lists that have the organization, money, and access to the media to win enough votes to be seated.

As has often been reported, there are a huge number of candidates and parties running in this election. There are 14,431 candidates running for 440 seats. There are more than 400 lists running, along with 125 individual candidates, mostly in Baghdad. Lists are made up of political parties and coalitions. 75% of the lists running this time are new compared to the 2005 election. Some however are old parties just running under a different name. In 2005 for example, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party was part of the United Iraqi Alliance with the Supreme Council, and a series of independent Shiite parties. This time they are heading the State of Law list that also includes the Dawa Party - Iraqi Organization, the Independent Bloc, the Solidarity Bloc, the Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkmen, the Kurdish Feli Fraternity Movement, and the Shaabani Uprising Bloc 1991. The number of positions available on each council is 25 seats plus one for every additional 200,000 residents in the province. Baghdad will have the most with 57 seats. This will actually reduce the number of slots open. In 2005 the average number of council seats was 41, in 2009 thirteen of the fourteen provinces will average 30. Fewer seats will mean less opportunity for representation by a variety of parties and candidates.

How Iraqis will actually vote is a bit complicated. First, voting will take place in fourteen of Iraq’s eighteen provinces. The Kurdistan Regional Government will decide when elections will be held in Dohuk, Irbil, and Sulaymaniya, while balloting has been postponed in Tamim province. All Iraqis over 18 years old have been automatically registered through their food ration cards. There are around 37,000 voting centers in fourteen of Iraq’s eighteen provinces, with voting allowed from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Iraqis will pass through a series of security checks to enter, and then sign in with a monitor. Voters will then have three choices, vote for just a list, select a specific person from a list, or pick an independent candidate. If a person wants to vote for an independent they have to find their name and number on a list posted on a wall chart, and then mark them on the ballot. If they plan to just select a bloc they will be listed on the ballot with their name, number, and party logo. If they want to vote for a specific individual on a list they need to find the person’s name on the wall chart, and mark that as well as their party on the ballot. If they don’t have the list number and the candidates number their vote will be invalidated. The charts with the people’s name on them can be massive. Baghdad for example has more than 2,400 candidates running. When finished they will have their finger dipped in ink, just like in the 2005 election to prevent repeated voting. The big change from that election is the fact that Iraqis have the opportunity to vote for individual candidates if they want. In 2005 they could only pick lists that then selected the people to fill the provincial councils.

When voting is completed on January 31 the Iraqi Election Commission will then determine what parties win seats based upon a proportional system. They will take the total number of votes cast and divide by the number of council seats available to determine the minimum number required to gain a seat. The positions will then be given to the candidates from the winning lists with the most votes. According to the United Nations, this system is used in Germany, Macedonia, Spain and Bosnia.

There are also two quotas that will affect the distribution of seats, one for women, and one for minorities. The election law said that 25% of council positions will go to women, but there were no specifics on how to implement it. The Election Commission decided to give every third seat to women on the assumption that many parties would have no female candidates. The minority quota sets aside six seats for Christians, Yazidis, Sabean Mandeans, and Shabaks. Christians will get one seat in Basra, one in Baghdad, and one in Ninewa. Sabean Mandeans will get one seat in Baghdad, and the Yazidis and Shabaks one seat each in Ninewa.

An example of how this might work is the following. If there were 1,000,000 votes cast for 32 seats, a list would need 31,250 votes to gain one seat. Every additional 31,250 votes that list received would earn them another position. If Maliki’s State of Law bloc won half of the vote, they would receive half of the seats. The eight male candidates and four women from that list that received the most votes would then go on to hold office. If this were Basra, the top vote getting Christian group would get one seat as well.

There are a couple points that could complicate the results of this election. First, the system is obviously biased towards the larger parties that have the name recognition, organization, money, and access to the media to gain enough votes to reach the minimum. The election law also says that parties that fail to reach that amount will have their votes given to the ones that do. That may lead to bitter feelings amongst both lists and voters who feel cheated by the results. The two quotas will also mean positions will be given to candidates that don’t have as many votes as other possible winners. The women quota especially, may shut out some smaller parties who have no female candidates. Last, while much has been made of the 14,000 people running for office, it’s not known how many of them are actually known by the public, and whether they are qualified. Maliki’s list is expected to do well because of the Prime Minister’s newfound popularity, but will that mean those candidates will do any better than the current provincial councils, many of which have proven to be corrupt, incompetent, and full of cronies?

For more on the provincial elections see:

Sadrists Announce Parties They Support For Provincial Elections

New Iraqi Opinion Poll On Preferences And Federalism Before Provincial Elections

National Media Center Poll Of Iraqis And Provincial Elections

Jockeying For Position Before The Provincial Elections In Diyala and

The Anbar Awakening Splits

Importance Of The Upcoming Provincial Elections

Controversy Could Be Growing Over Ban On Using Religious Symbols During Provincial Elections

Maliki's Tribal Support Councils Appear To Be Paying Off

Who Rules Iraq's Provinces And How Are They Doing?


Aswat al-Iraq, “Presidential Board approves Art. 50 of elections law,” 11/8/08

Carpenter, J. Scott and Knights, Michael, “Provincial Elections Kick Off Iraq’s Year of Choices,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1/26/09

Gamel, Kim and Yacoub, Sameer, “Iraqi voting rules raise concern about challenges,” Associated Press, 1/14/09

Hanna, Michael Wahid, “Through the cracks,” The National, 12/19/08

Kaplow, Larry, “How to Vote in Iraq’s Elections,” Checkpoint Baghdad Blog, Newsweek, 1/29/09

Niqash, “state of law coalition,” 1/28/09

Parker, Sam, “not so open,” Abu Muqawama Blog, 9/25/08

Visser, Reidar, “Iraqi Minorities Get Special Representation in the Provincial Elections Law,”, 11/3/08

Williams, Timothy, “The Ballot: Inside Iraq’s Voting Booth,” Baghdad Bureau Blog, New York Times, 1/13/09

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Divided Sadr Trend

The Institute for the Study of War recently released a report “The Fragmentation of the Sadrist Movement." The paper argues that there is a major divide within the movement between the clerics and politicians on the one side who stress social, religious, and educational programs along with participation in the political process, and the militiamen on the other who want to fight the U.S. and the government. The first splits began shortly after the end of the second Sadr uprising in 2004 when some agreed to the cease-fire, while others did not and began their own militias as a result. Later, Iran’s creation of Special Groups, the Surge, Maliki’s offensive, and Sadr’s political missteps led to more and more break away groups. At this point the study believes that the movement is at a turning point where the two sides have irreparable differences, and are facing a new political and military situation, which they are not in a good position to deal with.

Origins Of The Sadr Trend

The Sadr movement began in the 1990s after the Shiite uprisings that followed the Gulf War. Saddam Hussein started a program to reach out to and co-opt the country’s Shiites. He picked Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, Moqtada’s father, as his Shiite representative to head this initiative because of his family’s prominent clerical background, and a belief that he would follow the traditional quietist form of Shiitism that stayed out of politics. Sadeq al-Sadr set up a network of mosques, schools and offices throughout central and southern Iraq, and stressed charitable work for the poor. He also negotiated ties with southern tribes and gave them religious authority that they did not enjoy before. With his new following Sadeq al-Sadr began calling for a larger role for clerics in society. He began stressing Iraqi nationalism and an anti-Iranian stance that began to challenge Saddam. In response, he was killed in February 1999 along with two of his sons who were pinned to be his successors. Moqtada, who at the time was in charge of security for the movement, was placed under arrest, while others went underground or fled the country. The group was largely kept in tact secretly by some of Sadeq al-Sadr’s top followers: Riyad al-Nouri, Mohammed Tabatabai, Mustafal al-Yacoubi, Jaber al-Khafaji, and Qais Khazali. Tabatabai and Yacoubi were the most powerful of the group. At the time, Moqtada was not seen as a leader because of his age, lack of religious training, and immaturity.

Rise Of Moqtada al-Sadr

Shortly after the U.S. invasion in 2003, the Sadr Trend re-emerged from the shadows. On April 7, 2003 Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri, the teacher of Sadeq al-Sadr who lived in Qom, Iran, proclaimed Moqtada as his representative in Iraq. This allowed him to collect Islamic taxes that proved to be the largest source of income for the group. It also gave Moqtada religious standing he otherwise would not have. The next day, Haeri told Iraq’s Shiites that they should seize power. Sadrists began setting up Offices of the Martyr Sadr across Iraq. Sheikh Ahmed al-Fartousi became the head of the Sadr offices in Sadr City and was a representative for Haeri, while Riyad al-Nouri ran the Sadr headquarters in Najaf as Sadr’s deputy. Besides the social programs, Sadr tried to impose Islamic law such as banning alcohol, and telling all women, even those who were not Muslims to wear a veil. Sadr made opposition to the U.S. and Iraqi nationalism major points of his political stance. To protect his operation he created the Mahdi Army, which quickly grew in size. To many it appeared that Sadr was following the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is an integrated social, political, and military organization.

At the same time, the Trend moved to challenge the Shiite religious establishment. Sadr began attacking the Hakim family, the leaders of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, for having fled the country for Iran during the Saddam years. More importantly, Sadrists attacked and killed Sheikh Abdel Majid al-Khoei. Khoei was from another prominent Shiite family who might have challenged for a leadership position. Shortly afterwards Sadr members also surrounded Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s residence in Najaf and tried to force him out, but were stopped by tribal leaders. For the Khoei murder an Iraqi court issued an arrest warrant for Sadr, and two of his top aides Mustafa al-Yacoubi and Riyad al-Nouri.

2004 Uprisings And Cracks In The Movement

While the Iraqis didn’t follow up on the warrant, it did give the U.S. the first opportunity to target the movement. The Coalition Provisional Authority shut down a Sadrist newspaper in March 2004, and then arrested Yacoubi. This led to the first uprising by the Mahdi Army in Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf and Kufa that included fighting around various Shiite holy sites. The fighting ended in May 2004 with the militia losing many men. A second round of shooting began in Najaf in August when some militiamen believed a U.S. patrol was going to arrest Sadr. That ended on August 26 with the help of Ayatollah Sistani. The cease-fire included a clause that said there would be a demilitarized zone around Shiite shrines in the city, and that the Iraqi forces would provide security exclusively, shutting out the Mahdi Army. The effect was to ensure that the established Shiite clerics remained in control. Sadr dropped out of the public eye for several months afterwards as he regrouped and recalculated a new strategy.

Iran was opposed to Sadr’s second uprising, and began trying to curtail his activities and influence as a result. That began with Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri coming out against the second uprising in Najaf. He said that Sadr was no longer his representative in Iraq, and cut him off from collecting religious taxes. This was a huge financial lose for the movement as they relied on that money to finance their offices. They also had extra costs at the time paying for the dead and wounded from the two rounds of fighting. Iran was afraid that Sadr’s uprising would disrupt the 2005 elections that Tehran was hoping would usher in friendly Shiites parties into power. Supreme Iranian Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei even went so far as to tell the Revolutionary Guards Qods Force to tame Sadr. This led the Qods Force to offer money and weapons to members of the Mahdi Army in an attempt try to establish some kind of direct control over the militiamen.

The Najaf fighting also led to the first rivals to Sadr’s control. Cleric Mohmmad al-Yacoubi, a follower of Sadeq al-Sadr, had already established the Fadhila Party based in Basra in July 2003. Now Qais Khazali, one of Sadr’s top deputies who had kept the movement alive after his assassination, left to lead his own militia. The break began during the second uprising when Khazali disagreed with Sadr over the direction of the fighting, and began issuing his own orders to militiamen. Afterwards he went to Sadr City where he and Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji created what has been called the Khazali Faction.

Other militia commanders also began breaking away. Ismail Hafiz al-Lami, better known as Abu Dura, fought with the Sadrists in Najaf. He went on to set up his own militia group in Sadr City. They carried out some sensational attacks such as the kidnapping of the speaker of parliament in July 2006, and workers from the Ministry of Higher Education in November, and were known for their sectarian attacks on Sunnis. Attempts by the U.S. to arrest him led al-Lami to flee to Iran where he continued to run his militia until at least 2007.

Political Ascendancy And More Cracks

In 2005 Sadr took a new tract focusing upon politics and society, while starting the first of many re-organizations. In the light of his failure to use force to gain power, Sadr now turned to the ballot. He joined the United Iraqi Alliance with the Dawa and Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and ran in the November 2005 election. His followers ended up getting 30 seats in parliament. The Resalyoon Party, which was pro-Sadr, also gained two seats. His followers were given control of the Ministries of Health, Transportation, and Agriculture that opened up new forms of patronage and income for the movement. He also wanted greater control over his militia after the defections and interference by Iran. To accomplish that he set up the first discipline unit to vet the Mahdi Army. Khazali was convinced to rejoin the fold, and he and Akram al-Kabi were put in charge of Sadr’s offices. Top aids such as Riyad al-Nouri and Hazem al-Araji were also pushing for a return to social programs, which was the origins of the movement with Sadr’s father.

Not all were happy with the move away from confrontation however. There were some militia members who wanted to continue the fight against the occupation rather than participate in politics. They found an ally in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force who was looking to peel off parts of the Mahdi Army in an attempt to weaken Sadr, and gain control over Shiite militias. They expanded their recruiting in 2005, and began using Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the effort. Ali Mussa Daqduq for example, a senior Hezbollah officer was sent to Iraq to coordinate with the Qods Force. By 2006 the U.S. claimed that Iran was trying to form these Special Groups into Hezbollah like organizations.

One new breakaway faction was headed by Ahmed al-Farousi, a Mahdi Army commander in Basra. He carried out attacks against the British in 2004 and 2005. He eventually stopped taking orders from Sadr, and became an independent militia leader. Sadr banished him from the movement, but to little effect. In September 2005 he was arrested by English troops.

More importantly, in June 2006 Iran turned to Qais Khazali to head their new militia effort. He was put in charge of the Iranian trained fighters that became known as Special Groups. They called themselves Asaib Ahl al-Haq, League of the Righteous. Daqduq was the link between Khazali and the Qods Force. Khazali was still officially part of the Sadr Trend and his lieutenant Akram al-Kabi was commander of the entire Mahdi Army until May 2007. The paper believes that both were using their positions to further then own movement and Iran’s goals. The Special Groups therefore operated within the Mahdi Army, but followed their own orders, not Sadr’s.

The Khazali faction was receiving arms and money at the time through Mustafa al-Sheibani. Sheibani was a former Badr Corps member who was based in Iran, and was in charge of operations against Saddam in Baghdad and central Iraq in the 1990s. By 2005 he had built up an extensive network based upon his old Badr routes that included 280 men and seventeen groups. Iran used his network to try to control the Special Groups and the level of violence in Iraq by regulating the amount of weapons and money they received. After the relative calm of the 2005 elections, Iran upped their support by having Sheibani deliver explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) that were capable of destroying any vehicle the U.S. had. Sheibani also helped Iraqi militiamen go to Iran for training.

Despite all these problems, the Sadr Trend seemed at its highest point in 2006. After the February bombing of the Shiite shrine in Amarra, both the mainstream Sadrists and the Special Groups had a common cause, protect Shiites and attack Sunnis. By mid-2006 both factions had taken over large parts of Baghdad and were one of the largest armed groups in the country. Sadr had also put the new Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in power in May, and he was indebted for it. Maliki in turn largely prohibited the U.S. from entering Sadr City. At the beginning of November for example, Maliki ordered the end of a two-week long blockade of Sadr City by U.S. forces that were looking for a kidnapped American soldier they believed the Mahdi Army had snatched, as well as militia commander Abu Dura. Sadr’s 30 parliamentarians were an important bloc in the legislature, necessary to win over to pass any laws.

The expansion of Sadr’s power also led to further fragmentation of the Mahdi Army. Many militia commanders began funding themselves, largely using criminal rackets such as selling houses taken from Sunnis, selling fuel on the black market, extorting money, etc. Iran was also stepping up support. These both allowed them to operate independently. In response, Sadr repeatedly tried to regain control of his militia, but to little avail. The armed wing was always a loosely organized, bottom up group, which Sadr had little actual control over.

The Surge And Maliki’s Offensives Against The Sadrists

In late-2006 the U.S. began pressuring the Maliki government to allow its forces to go after the Mahdi Army. As the sectarian war increased, the U.S. launched Operation Together Forward to secure Baghdad. By October the U.S. military was admitting that the offensive was failing. One problem was that the government was protecting one of the major combatants in the fighting. By the end of the year, President Bush announced the Surge that was aimed at increasing the U.S. troop presence to protect the population, especially in the capital.

Sadr facilitated the crackdown that was coming by making a political misstep. At the end of November 2006, he withdrew his ministers from the cabinet to protest Maliki’s cooperation with the Americans. The act was meant to pressure the Prime Minister, but in fact ended up pushing Maliki into the camp of Sadr’s opponents. In December Maliki met with the Supreme Council and forged a new alliance to move against Sadr. By January 2007 he had agreed to allow the U.S. to launch operations against the Mahdi Army.

Sadr’s departure, the military pressure of the Surge, along with the political moves of the new Shiite alliance further degraded Sadr’s movement. First, Sadr left for Iran in January or February 2007. The Sadr movement at first tried to deny his absence from the country, but he was in Iran in the city of Qom studying to be an ayatollah. Sadr was always criticized for his lack of religious training, and becoming a high ranking cleric would give him greater stature, allow him to issue fatwas, as well as collect taxes. The problem was the process usually takes years. Sadr might have also been afraid that the U.S. would arrest him during the Surge, giving him added incentive to leave the scene. In the meantime, Sadr’s absence led to a leadership vacuum within his movement. By the second half of 2007 the tide was turning against Al Qaeda in Iraq and the insurgency, which freed up resources to go after the Mahdi Army more intensely. Hundreds of militiamen were either killed or rounded up in the process. Finally, in September 2007 Sadr withdrew his parliamentarians from the United Iraqi Alliance, breaking his final tie with the ruling alliance. To cement his blocs isolation, Maliki made a new coalition between his Dawa Party, the Supreme Council, and the two Kurdish parties. Sadr, who put the Prime Minister in office, now found himself with little say in political decisions.

By 2007 the Sadr movement had broken up into at least five major groups. The mainstream Sadrists were led by the clerics in Najaf and the politicians in Baghdad, and were still loyal to Sadr. They wanted to get rid of the criminals and the Iranian backed Special Groups. They set up a unit known as the Golden Battalion to take care of breakaway groups. The U.S. tried to bolster this group against the Special Groups and rogue elements by releasing several moderate Sadrist officials that they had arrested. The second group the paper identified was called the Noble Mahdi. They were also concerned with the factionalism rampant in the movement, the criminal elements that had been attracted to it, and the rackets many militiamen had taken up to fund themselves. They operated in northeast Baghdad, and in the Shula and Hurriyah neighborhoods secretly worked with U.S. and Iraqi forces in an attempt to purge groups they were opposed to. The third group was in the same section of the capital led by the brothers Hazem al-Araji, a cleric, and Bahaa al-Araji, a parliamentarian. They controlled the Shiite shrine in the Kadhimiya neighborhood, which provided them their own source of income from the pilgrims that went there. By the spring of 2007 they had their own militia, and were no longer listening to Sadr. The fourth group was the Khazali Faction. It sometime worked within the mainstream Sadr Trend, but was in fact independent, and received money and weapons from Iran and Hezbollah. After a bold attack on the Karbala Joint Coordination Center where they killed five American soldiers after infiltrating the complex, Khazali, his brother Laith Khazali, and the Hezbollah operative Ali Mussa Daqduq, were all captured. Documents found with them revealed that Iran were providing them with between $750,000 to $3 million a month. The fifth group was made up of various gangs that had joined the movement during the sectarian war. They were opposed to Sadr’s demand for restraint and greater discipline, because it would cost them their sources of income.

The situation got so bad that Sadr returned from Iran around May 2007. He talked with his deputies about what should be done. The results were more purges by the Golden Battalion, and eleven leaders being expelled. One of those was Akram al-Kabi who was the commander of the entire Mahdi Army. He took over the Khazali network. Like previous moves, this had little actual affect.

While back in Iraq, Sadr also discussed a cease-fire. It wasn’t until August however, that he actually ordered it. That came after a battle with security forces loyal to the Supreme Council in Karbala that left over fifty civilians dead and two hundred wounded. The Sadrists were largely blamed for the fighting, and came away with a black eye. The next day Sadr ordered a six-month stand down. He also said that he would go after all the breakaway groups, and banned attacks upon the Coalition forces. The Sadrists also signed a reconciliation pact with the Supreme Council, that didn’t last. The decision brought more divisions even with the mainstream faction. Some thought it would make the movement look weak, a few believed that it would lead younger Shiites to leave the movement for the Special Groups, while others were afraid that it would open them up to attacks by their Shiite rivals and the Iraqi and U.S. security forces.

In 2008 Prime Minister Maliki made his move by launching military operations against the Mahdi Army. In early 2008, Basra had become largely lawless with various militias and political parties competing for control of the port and oil infrastructure after the British had withdrawn. The offensive began in March, with violence quickly spreading across the south all the way to Sadr City. The fighting was ended by two separate deals brokered by General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards Qods Force. In June Maliki sent forces to Maysan, the one province that the Sadrists controlled, and a major way station in the flow of weapons and fighters from Iran. Hundreds of mainstream militiamen, Special Groups, and members of the Khazali Faction fled to Iran, where many still reside.

Towards the beginning of the Basra operation, Sadr gave a rare interview to Al Jazeera. He said that he wanted to re-organize his militia, and stress education and culture instead. He also believed that the various factions would re-unite under his leadership. In a move in that direction, he called for the release of Qais Khazali. Last, he complained about the interference of Iran. The turn of events however showed that he had lost control of major parts of his movement, and that Iran was the real power broker, a role that he had aspired to.

The Aftermath

The Sadrists found themselves at a low point, and reflected on their predicament. One point of discussion was whether to continue on with the Mahdi Army. During the government offensives, Maliki warned that he would ban any party that had a militia from participating in provincial elections. The politicians in the movement wanted to emphasize politics, culture, and education instead, while the militia commanders wanted to maintain the armed wing. The clerics were divided. At first, Sadr said that he would only disband his militia if the leading clerics such as Ayatollah Sistani wanted it. In June he finally made a decision and announced that the Mahdi Army would end, and that a new group, Mumahidoon, Those Who Pave The Way, would replace it as a cultural and religious group. Hazem al-Araji would lead this new organization. Sadr did say that he would maintain a small elite armed group as well, but there is no evidence that this has happened. The Sadr bloc in parliament also convinced him to support independents in the elections rather than run on their own to get around Maliki’s threats.

On the flipside, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Special Groups are currently retooling in Iran. There are now two main Special Groups, The Khazali Faction, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and Kata’ib Hezbollah. Akram al-Kabi who succeeded Khazali after his arrest, has tried to move into politics as well, saying that his group is the rightful heir to Sadeq al-Sadr. In late 2008 Sadr tried to reach out to them once more asking their fighters to give up their group and rejoin the mainstream, but it failed as before. Both groups have received training in new tactics such as the use of sticky bombs and assassinations, and continue to carry out operations in Iraq, although at much lower levels. Allegedly President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad told Maliki that he would tone down violence in the month before the provincial elections. Iran has done this before, as political influence, rather than the use of violence is their major focus in Iraq, and balloting is the way to have their Shiite allies ascend to power.


Today the Sadrist movement is divided in two. On the one hand there is the mainstream made up of politicians, clerics, and the new social group Mumahidoon led by Hazem al-Araji, who have gotten rid of their militia. On the other side is Asaib Ahl al-Haq commanded by Akram al-Kabi, and the other Special Groups. Kabi is claiming the mantle of leadership from Sadr, while continuing to attack the government and U.S. forces. They have been blamed for killing moderates in the movement, such as Saleh al-Ugaili, a parliamentarian, who was assassinated in October 2008. The Sadrists have also lost the support of many Shiites who no longer need their protection since the sectarian war is over, and have grown tired of their turn towards criminality for funding. The Mahdi Army no longer controls local economies either after the security crackdowns. In politics, Prime Minister Maliki has appropriated much of Sadr’s nationalist rhetoric and call for a U.S. withdrawal. He has moved aggressively to sway Sadr’s followers to his side before the 2009 elections. Sadr could still be a factor in Iraq if he can keep his movement together. The report believes that this is unlikely, as Sadr needs his militia and a mass following, but has lost both.


Anderson, John Ward, “General Says Mission In Baghdad Falls Short,” Washington Post, 10/20/06

Associated Press, “Iraqi leader drops protection of militia,” 1/22/07

Bennett, Brian, “Underestimating al-Sadr – Again,” Time, 2/12/08

Cochrane, Marisa, “The Fragmentation of the Sadrist Movement,” Institute for the Study of War, January 2009

Felter, Joseph and Fishman, Brian, “Iranian Strategy in Iraq, Politics and ‘Other Means,’” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 10/13/08

Knickmeyer, Ellen and Anderson, John Ward, “Iraq Tells U.S. to Quit Checkpoints,” Washington Post, 11/1/06

Los Angeles Times, “Sadr aides deny the cleric is in Iran,” 2/14/07

Paley, Amit, “Sadr’s Militia Enforces Cease-Fire With a Deadly Purge,” Washington Post, 2/21/08

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 2009 International Organization for Migration Report on Returns and Displaced

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) recently released a report on Iraq’s internally displaced and the process of returns in January 2009. The IOM found that while the number of people going back to their homes is increasing, many have found them destroyed and the process of rebuilding difficult. At the same time the majority of Iraq’s internal refugees are still facing hardships, especially with housing, employment, access to services, and aid.

There are approximately 1.6 million internally displaced Iraqis. The number of those going back to their homes is growing, especially in Baghdad, which saw the most fighting and displacement during the sectarian war of 2006-2007. Some want to go back but lack the means. Many returnees have found their homes destroyed. The government has encouraged this process by offering 500,000 dinars, around $432 to families that go home to a different province, and 250,000 dinars to those that return with their own province. The offers were made from October to December 2008, but the IOM is not sure whether they will still be available in 2009. Not all refugees have received the money either. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also issued Order 101 that requires all squatters to vacate their current residences. The security forces have carried out some evictions, but they have been very limited. The squatters have been given between 24 hours to several days to leave, and some have received aid from Baghdad, while others have not.

The IOM reported families going home in Anbar, Baghdad, and Diyala, and departing from Karbala, Sulaymaniya, and Wasit. More than 170 families left Karbala to go back to Baghdad from November to December 2008, 14 families left Sulaymaniyah, and an unknown number departed from Wasit. Almost all the displaced families from the Al Tooaitha Al Gharbia village in Baghdad have come back. Many said they returned because of the improved security, and the government’s offer of money. Families from several different provinces have gone back to Anbar. Things have not gone well for all of these families. In the Abu Ghraib district of Baghdad a returning family was hit by an IED. Locals have created their own security force in response. Many in the capital have found their homes destroyed, and there are over 400 families waiting for the government aid promised to them. In Diyala some families have been threatened after they went back.

The vast majority of Iraqi refugees have not returned, and are facing continued difficulties in the country. The IOM recorded several instances where families did not want to go back to their homes. In Diyala, Ninewa, and Wasit, Iraqis said they would not return. 13 families from Muqdadiya now living in the al-Kahlis district of Diyala, 25 families from Talafar who fled to Mosul, and several families in Wasit said their original neighborhoods lacked security. Salahaddin has ordered all displaced families from Diyala to leave because security is better there, but it has not been enforced. Finding adequate housing was another major issue. The IOM found 233 families living in mud huts in Babil, Tamim, Maysan, Muthanna, and Qadisiyah. Displaced in Basra, Karbala, Tamim, Maysan, Muthanna, Najaf were also facing evictions for squatting, while in Qadisiyah, four families were kicked out of the Afaq district. Najaf has the largest internal refugee camp in the country, but the provincial government wants it closed. They have offered $3,467 to leave, and around 70 families have taken up the offer. Lack of services was the other major issue amongst Iraq’s displaced. 163 families in Anbar, Babil, and Dohuk lack access to food or their government rations. 274 families in Babil, Karbala, and Dhi Qar lack water. Health care, sewage systems, schooling, and jobs are other problems the displaced face.

Overall, the International Organization for Migration noted that Iraqis are slowly and increasingly returning to their homes, but that this is only a small percentage, and their experiences are uneven. Most are going back to Baghdad, followed by Anbar and Diyala. Some families have been threatened and attacked in the process, but that appears to be a small number. The majority are still displaced however, facing a wide variety of difficulties. The government has also been uneven in applying its refugee policy. While it is important that some Iraqis have decided that it is safe enough to go back to their homes, the others still need assistance, which has been largely lacking. Baghdad also requires a real return policy, rather one that seems largely aimed at improving its image rather than actually helping people.

Statistics On Iraq’s Internally Displaced

Origin of:
Baghdad 63.9%
Ninewa 5.7%
Salahaddin 3.1%
Tamim 2.9%
Anbar 2.6%
Basra 1.7%
Babil 0.9%
Wasit 0.2%
Irbil 0.2%
Dhi Qar 0.1%

Shiite Arab 57.7%
Sunni Arab 30.7%
Sunni Kurd 3.7%
Assyrian Christian 2.8%
Chaldean Christian 1.7%
Shiite Turkomen 1.1%
Sunni Turkomen 0.9%
Shiite Kurd 0.6%
Armenian Christian 0.1%
Yazidi Arab 0.1%
Yazidi Kurd 0.1%

Access to property left behind:
Don’t know 38.7%
No 41.8%
Yes 16.7%

If don’t have access, main reason why:
Occupied by another family 35.4%
Destroyed 22.1%
Security 8.6%
Used by military 2.5%
Occupied by government 0.5%

For more recent reports on Iraq’s displaced and refugees see:

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Dec. 08 Report on Iraq

International Organization for Migration’s Report On Displaced In Kurdistan

Human Rights First Report On What To Do About Iraq’s Refugees

International Organization for Migration Report on Internally Displaced In Tamim, Ninewa and Salahaddin

International Organization for Migration’s Year End Report On Displaced Iraqis In Anbar, Baghdad & Diyala Provinces

International Organization for Migration’s Numbers On Refugee Returns

United Nations Humanitarian Report On Iraq

Government Moves Against Squatters In Hurriyah, Baghdad

International Organization for Migration’s November Report on Iraq’s Displaced

Refugees International Report On What Needs To Be Done About Iraq’s Displaced


International Organization for Migration, “Summary of Current Iraqi Displacement and Return,” 1/1/09

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Iraq Revises Down Budget Once Again

Iraq has again cut its planned 2009 budget. This is at least the third time it has been revised. Originally, the budget was set at $78.8 billion, the largest in the country’s history, and a 13% increase from the 2008 budget. Now it is estimated to be at $53.7 billion, a $25.1 billion reduction. The new budget is based upon a $50 a barrel price of oil. The original one was based upon $80 a barrel. Oil accounts for over 90% of Iraq’s revenue as there are few taxes or tariffs. Baghdad is hoping for a rebound in world crude prices, but the world economic slowdown could go into 2010 meaning continuing low prices, and a drag on Iraq’s revenues. In mid-January for example, a barrel dropped to $34 before going up to $44. This compares to the highest price of $147 during the summer of 2008.

There appears to be little relief in the near future. The government says they have $32 billion in the Central Bank from money not spent in previous budgets to cover some of the difference. Officials have been calling for a boost in oil exports to help alleviate the issue. The problem is Iraq has no flexibility in its petroleum production. Output has gone up and down. Despite government hopes to boost exports to 2 million barrels a day in 2009, the World Bank doubts that will happen because the infrastructure is so old and run down.

To deal with this crisis the Ministry of Finance says that the government will have to have massive budget cuts, and even then will still run a deficit. They will hold off on buying new cars, equipment, hiring, and benefits. There is also a push to cut wages, which were increased in 2008, but the Deputy Minister of Finance Dr. Fazil Nabi said they are trying to put that off. More importantly, Baghdad will cut its reconstruction budget 40% from $21 billion to $12.54 billion. This has already had concrete effects as the Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced in early January 2009 that they will postpone building housing projects and integrated living areas for Iraq’s displaced. There is also pressure to cut the nation’s food rations program by relegating it only to the poor. The Kurdistan Regional Government has also cut its budget 20%. The Planning Ministry announced a 50% cut for the provinces overall. Even with these reductions, Iraq might still run a $19 billion deficit.

These budget problems come at a time when U.S. development aid is coming to an end, and Iraq’s economy is full of trouble. In September 2008, the U.S. appropriated its last large reconstruction package for Iraq. After that money is spent Iraq will be largely responsible for its own development. As reported before, oil is the only thing keeping Iraq’s economy afloat. The rest of the country’s industries are suffering from cheap imports, little to no protection, a lack of credit and banks, fuel and electricity shortages, and security issues that have put many out of business, increased costs for the rest, and led to high unemployment and underemployment. It hasn’t helped that many of the large U.S. and Iraqi projects have not trickled down to the average Iraqi who still faces high rates of poverty as well. Government jobs and food rations are some of the few things that actually provide relief to people, and both of those are now under pressure due to the budget deficit. There is little that can be done but to ride out the storm as Iraq is more dependent upon oil than its Arab neighbors, and there’s little hope for a rebound in the rest of the economy in the short to mid-term.


Abbas, Mohammed and Ibrahim, Waleed, “Iraq fears budget crisis, urges oil export boost,” Reuters, 12/3/08

Aswat al-Iraq, “Austerity could save 20 trillion dinars for 2009 budget – expert,” 12/9/08
- “KRG cuts ministries’ operational costs by 20%,” 1/1/09
- “No decrease in salaries because of oil prices – planning minister” 12/19/08

Chon, Gina, “As Crude Falls, Iraqi Leaders Scramble to Plan Budget,” Wall Street Journal, 10/22/08

IRIN, “IRAQ: Budget cuts threaten IDP housing projects,” 1/6/09
- “IRAQ: Iraqis want free food programme to continue, finds survey,” 1/4/09

Karouny, Mariam, “Iraq reviews 2009 budget due to falling oil price,” Reuters, 10/23/08

Mawloodi, Aiyob, “Iraqi government sharply cuts its expenditures,” Kurdish Globe, 1/22/09

Reid, Robert, “AP: Iraq forced to cut spending as oil price falls,” Associated Press, 1/22/09

Reuters, “Basra Oil Exports Nearly Double to 1.03m Bpd After Earlier Drop,” 12/30/08
- “Iraq earns $60 billion from 2008 crude exports,” 1/5/09

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/08

Monday, January 26, 2009

Iraqis Unwilling Or Incapable Of Maintaining U.S. Reconstruction Projects

On January 13, 2009 the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) released an audit of a $1.2 billion contract to fix and rehabilitate oil and gas infrastructure in southern Iraq by the U.S. company KBR. Like previous reports, it found that costs went over budget, there was little oversight, and that while some improvements were made, overall, the projects’ potential was unfulfilled. What was most important for the future of the country however, was the finding that Iraq was either unwilling or incapable of maintaining many of these U.S. funded reconstruction projects.

Much of Iraq’s oil infrastructure is dated, and needs massive investment to continue production. The industry suffered years of sanctions, and then looting immediately after the invasion. SIGIR found major damage at several facilities costing millions of dollars from the theft and vandalism in 2003. KBR did improve the facilities it worked on, but the SIGIR thought that it might be futile because of the attitude of the Iraqi government. U.S. officials are worried about Baghdad’s commitment to reconstruction as it appears they don’t care about finishing some of the U.S. projects, maintaining them, or even using some.

For example, KBR worked on a $146.7 million project to improve gas plants in southern Iraq. It bought rotors for gas compressors at one, but didn’t have time to install them. They were left in a nearby warehouse when KBR was done, but the Iraqis have yet to install them. The plant is producing below benchmarks as a result, and SIGIR believes that the U.S. money was wasted because Baghdad doesn’t have plans to finish it.

Another case was in June 2004 when KBR was given a contract to fix the loading arms at Al Basra Oil Terminal. SIGIR found that the company ended its work early at the request of Baghdad in January 2005. In April 2006 a U.S. contractor told the state-run South Oil Company that they had to maintain the loading arms by oiling them, but the Iraqis never did. The contractor witnessed Iraqis using the rusted equipment in ways that might break the arms. KBR and other companies repeatedly told South Oil that they had to do preventive maintenance, but nothing was done. The government didn’t seem to want the project in the first place, and after the work was finished, showed little interest in keeping it up.

There have been similar reports before. In November 2008, Reuters reported on Al Qods, a new U.S.-funded power plant opening in Baghdad that cost $170 million and would service 180,000 households in central Iraq. Right next to Al-Qods was another energy facility that was abandoned by the Iraqis. The $20 million turbines in the plant broke because the Iraqis couldn’t operate them. The government may never repair them.

This is of major concern since the U.S. has spent billions on Iraq, but it is an open question about how much of it was effective. In total, the U.S. has spent almost $18 billion on reconstruction. On September 30, 2008 the last amount of money was appropriated. All the way back in 2005 however, the SIGIR warned that the Iraqi government was not ready to take over many of these projects, and had even rejected responsibility for some of them. The U.S. often turned over projects to the local government whether they wanted them or not. Sometimes the Americans had to continue to operate them because there was no one else willing to. Others remain idle and unfinished because of Iraqi neglect. Baghdad has also been unable to spend most of its capital budget that goes into infrastructure. The war has caused a brain drain of Iraqi professionals and skilled workers leaving the country, leading to a talent deficit to operate and fix facilities. Iraqis also seem to have created a culture of just getting by in industry after years of sanctions. That has led simple preventative measures such as oiling equipment to be ignored. That’s not to say that the U.S. has not contributed to Iraq’s rebuilding, but the amount that was wasted on large projects Iraqis either didn’t want or couldn’t maintain appears staggering.

For more on reconstruction and development see:

Maysan Province Remains Underdeveloped

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s Quarterly October Report

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction July Report’s Major Findings

Iraq Outspends U.S. on Reconstruction


Pincus, Walter, “Report Details Iraq Contract Failures,” Washington Post, 1/14/09

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Official: Oil Infrastructure Needs Major Upgrade,” 1/15/09

Ryan, Missy and Qusay, Aws, “Iraqis Measure Progress with Flip of Switch,” Reuters, 11/14/08

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Cost, Outcome, and Oversight of Iraq Oil Reconstruction Contract with Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc.,” 1/13/09
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/08

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sadrists Announce Parties They Support For Provincial Elections

As the January provincial elections near the Sadrists have announced that they support two lists of independents. A spokesman said that the Sadrist Trend stands by the Blameless and Reconstruction List, No. 376, and the Independent Trend of the Noble Ones, No. 284. Both parties appear in the south, while the Independent Trend is also running in Ninewa and Diyala. The Resalyoon bloc that participated in the 2005 elections, although not officially part of the movement, is also loyal to Sadr, with its leader re-affirming his allegiance in December 2008. They are running in Maysan, Najaf, Babil, and Diyala. Some from the Sadr Trend have also gone to former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s National Reform Party. In June 2008, Jaafari broke away from the Dawa Party and formed his own. There is also the Fadhila Party formed by Mohammed al-Yacoubi in July 2003 who claimed he should take over from Sadeq al-Sadr, Moqtada’s father, after the U.S. invasion. Fadhila is largely based in Basra. The Sadr al-Iraq party in that province might also be pro-Sadr.

The Sadrists are not running on their own as a result of the crackdown Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched against them in 2008. In April Maliki said that Sadr had to disband the Mahdi Army or they would be barred from politics, while the Political Council for National Security warned they would not be able to participate in the elections if the movement didn’t disarm. The Iraqi cabinet went on to draft a law to ban political parties that had their own militias from the provincial voting. As a result, Sadr announced that he was breaking up his militia in June, and forming a new social, religious and educational group called Momahidoun, Those Who Pave The Way, in August. During this time, Sadr also said that his followers would not run as a party in the upcoming elections, but would support independents instead.

Up until now, the movement has been largely silent on their exact position with regards to the vote. Recently however, Sadr spokesmen have begun stressing that they need to do well in the election to show the strength of their movement after the government’s offensives against them. One said they expect to maintain control of Maysan, and hope to win up to one-third of the seats in the nine southern provinces. They are hoping that will not allow the Supreme Council and the Dawa to monopolize power. If they have a poor showing, especially in Maysan, it would be a major setback. They are preparing for that possibility, by complaining that the major Shiite parties are trying to keep them out of the vote through their control of government agencies and the security forces.

As reported before, the Sadr movement is in disarray. The Surge and Maliki’s moves have cost Sadr thousands of fighters and commanders. His movement is still under pressure as government forces arrested the Baghdad head of the Momahidoun in December 2008. Tehran has peeled off large numbers of his militia into Special Groups. His control of violence was always one key to his power, but now that is gone. Sadr doesn’t have any say in political decisions either as he withdrew his ministers in 2007, while his parliamentarians are part of the divided opposition. With the sectarian war over there is no need for Shiites to turn to them for protection, and some have grown resentful of their criminal activities, leading to a lessoning of popular support. Rival parties now consider his followers up for grabs. Sadr himself has been off in Iran undergoing religious training for over a year and does not have day-to-day control of his movement. This has caused increasing divisions within the Sadrists that have led to the assassinations of two moderates in 2008. The Prime Minister has also been able to appropriate many of Sadr’s political stances having successfully passed the Status of Forces Agreement which sets a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal, championed Iraqi nationalism, and Baghdad’s authority over the country.

Moqtada al-Sadr has increasingly lost control of his own movement, and has tried over and over to re-organize it and re-claim his leadership. U.S. and government crackdowns along with the lessening need for Mahdi Army protection and anger against them have also cost them followers. The 2009 elections are definitely going to be a bell weather moment for them, especially if they do poorly. If nothing else though, Moqtada al-Sadr has proven to be a survivor, so one could expect him to still be on the Iraqi scene after the ballots are cast.


Associated Press, “Al-Sadr’s Followers Eye Comeback in Jan. 31 Vote,” 1/20/09
- “Iraqi Cabinet approves measure barring parties with militias from elections,” 4/13/08

Aswat al-Iraq, “Resalyoon chief says quit bloc,” 12/25/08
- “Sadrists assert attempts to remove them from elections,” 1/22/09

Cochrane, Marisa, “The Fragmentation of the Sadrist Movement,” Institute for the Study of War, January 2009

Dagher, Sam, “Gunmen Kill Iraqi Cleric Campaigning for Council,” New York Times, 1/17/09

Graff, Peter, “Influence wanes for followers of Iraq’s Sadr,” Reuters, 11/24/08

Middle East Online, “Maliki threatens to Bar Sadr party from politics,” 4/7/08

Mohsen, Amer, “Iraq Papers Mon: Australian Troops to Depart,”, 6/1/08

Paley, Amit, “Aides to Sadr Refine Stance On Elections,” Washington Post, 6/16/08

Parker, Ned and Hameed, Saif, “Iraq releases detained security officers,” Los Angeles Times, 12/20/08

Peter, Tom, “After setbacks, Sadr redirects Mahdi Army,” Christian Science Monitor, 8/11/08

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Sadr Movement Seeks Is Way As Others Gain Power in Iraq,” Washington Post, 12/5/08

Shadid, Anthony, “Despite Discontent and Fragmentation, Islamic Parties Dominate,” Washington Post, 1/19/09

Visser, Reidar, “The Candidate Lists Are Out: Basra More Fragmented, Sadrists Pursuing Several Strategies?,”, 12/22/08
- “The Sadrist Parliamentary Bloc Confirms Its Support of Two Electoral Lists,”, 1/11/09

Zahra, Hassan Abdul, “Iraq’s Sadr plans new armed group to fight US forces,” Agence France Presse, 6/13/08

Saturday, January 24, 2009

New Iraqi Opinion Poll On Preferences And Federalism Before Provincial Elections

The government run National Media Center (NMC) released another public opinion poll recently, this time asking 4,500 Iraqis on their preference for parties and their views on federalism. The results closely follow an October 2008 survey conducted by the Iraq Center for Research & Strategic Studies reported on before. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his State of Law Coalition got the most responses, while there was little support for federal regions outside of Kurdistan.

Prime Minister Maliki has fashioned himself into the most popular Iraqi politician, however two former leaders of Iraq closely follow him. The NMC questionnaire found Prime Minister Maliki’s Coalition of the State of Law had the most support at 23%, followed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List 12.6%, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) 11.4%, former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s National Reform Party 11.3%, the Iraqi Accordance Front 4.5%, and the Iraqi National Dialogue Front 3.6%. When asked whom they wanted as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came in first at 23%, Allawi was second 17.7%, and Jaafari third 10%. It’s been widely reported that Maliki is popular with the Iraqi public because of his offensives against the Sadrists in Basra, Sadr City and Maysan along with his increasing use of nationalism. Allawi’s and Jaafari parties however, have hardly been mentioned in the English language reporting on Iraq. Allawi was the interim prime minister after the Coalition Provisional Authority returned sovereignty to Iraq in 2004. His Iraqi National List is a secular and nationalist one. Other Iraqi polls have found growing support for just such parties. Jaafari was the Prime Minister after the 2005 elections. He was originally one of the leaders of the Dawa party, but was replaced by Maliki in 2007 after coming under increasing criticism for the country’s decent into sectarian war in 2006. In June 2008 he announced that he was leaving Dawa to form the National Reform Party made up of his wing of the Dawa, independent Shiites, and some Sadrists. Jaafari has been working with the loosely organized opposition since then consisting of the Sadr Bloc, the Fadhila Party, the National Dialogue Front, and Allawi’s Iraqi National List.

The second half of the National Media Center poll asked Iraqis about their views on federalism. 72% rejected the idea. As would be expected, 78% of Kurds supported it as they have the Kurdistan Regional Government. 80% were opposed to the partition of the country, 80% were against autonomy for Basra, while 94% of those surveyed within Basra were against turning it into a federal region.

These results were very similar to an October 2008 survey conducted by the Iraq Center for Research & Strategic Studies. In that poll Maliki again was the most popular politician at 17.2%, followed by Allawi 16.7%, and Jaafari 7.9%. When asked what political party they would vote for Maliki’s Dawa Party came out on top 14.7%, and the Iraqi National List was second 13.3%. Don’t know 8.5% and no answer 7.4% were the next results, followed by the two Kurdish parties, and then Jaafari’s at 4.3%. Likewise, there were few in favor of federalism with 69.9% saying they wanted a strong central government, with only 17.7% saying they would prefer more power in the provinces. 70.0% said they were against forming another regional government outside of Kurdistan.

It should be noted that while these two polls show a realignment in preferences, and the collapse of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, they are both national polls. They may not transfer directly to the provincial elections where parties need organization and money to launch campaigns across the governorates to gain enough votes to win seats on the provincial councils. While its often been repeated that over 14,000 candidates are running in the upcoming election, few of these newcomers can compete with the Supreme Council’s two satellite TV channels, dozens of local channels and newspapers, five women’s organization, three student groups, and over 1,000 offices in the south. Maliki has shored up his popularity by forming Tribal Support Councils across Iraq. Allawi and Jaafari may not have the resources to match these two. What they do have going for them is the rising popularity of secularism and nationalism, and resentment against the poor governing by the ruling parties. How things turn out will soon be known when voting begins at the end of January.

Below are the results of the National Media Center and Iraq Center for Research & Strategic Studies polls.

National Media Center January 2009 Poll

What party would you vote for?
State of Law Coalition 23%
Iraqi National List 12.6%
Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council 11.4%
National Reform Party 11.3%
Iraqi Accordance Front 4.5%
Iraqi National Dialogue Front 3.6%

Who would be the best prime minister?
Nouri al-Maliki 23%
Iyad Allawi 17.7%
Ibrahim al-Jaafari 10%

Ideas on federalism
Opposed 72%
Kurds in favor of 78%
Opposed to partition of country 80%
Opposed to autonomy for Basra 80%
Basrans opposed to autonomy for the province 94%

Iraq Center for Research & Strategic Studies October 2008 Poll

Which one of the following person could make the most positive change in country?
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki 17.2%
Former Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi 16.7%
None 13.2%
Former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari7.9%
President of Kurdish Regional Government Masooud Barzani 6.3%
President Jalal Talabani 4.3%
Don’t know 4.2%
Moqtada al-Sadr 3.8%
Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi 3.6%
Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi 3.6%
Iraqi National Dialogue Front head Saleh al-Mutlaq 2.9%
Head of Anbar Awakening Council Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha 2.2%
Deputy Prime Minister Barhem Salih 1.9%
Prime Minister of Kurdish Regional Government Neachirevan Barzani 0.9%
Kusart Ali 0.7%
Ummah Iraqi Party Mithal al-Alusi 0.7%
Assyrian Democratic Movement Younadim Kanah 0.5%
Iraqi National Congress Ahmed al-Chalabi 0.5%
Iraqi National List Ayad Jamal al-Deen 0.5%
General Council for the People of Iraq Adnan al-Dulaimi 0.4%
Iraqi National Dialogue Council Khalaf al-Ulayyan 0.4%
Association of Muslim Scholars Harith al-Dhari 0.4%
Former speaker of parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani 0.3%

Who will you vote for in next election?
None 17.9%
Dawa 14.7%
Iraqi National List 13.3%
Don’t know 8.5%
No answer 7.4%
Kurdistan Democratic Party 7.2%
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan 6.4%
National Reform Party 4.3%
Sadr Movement 4.1%
Islamic Party of Iraq 3.4%
Ummah Iraqi Party 2.5%
Anbar Awakening Council 2.4%
Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council 2.4%
Iraqi National Dialogue Front 2.4%
Iraqi National Dialogue Council 0.9%
Islamic Dawa Party-Iraq 0.6%
Iraqi National Congress 0.4%


Agence France Presse, “Iraqi PM Calls for Strong Central Government,” 1/22/09
- “Iraqi PM’s Allies On Course To Win Provincial Elections – Poll,” 1/21/09

Associated Press, “Six parliamentary factions to coordinate efforts in Iraqi parliament, lawmakers say,” 6/8/08

Daniel, Trenton, “Iraqi candidates stumping for Jan. 31 provincial elections,” McClatchy Newspapers, 1/23/09

Iraq Centre For Research & Strategic Studies, “Public Opinion Survey in Iraq; The Security & Political Situation in Iraq,” October 2008

Hardy, Roger, “Iraq conflict thwarts PM Jaafari,” BBC, 4/21/06

Mohsen, Amer, “Iraq Papers Mon: Australian Troops to Depart,”, 6/1/08

Shadid, Anthony, “Despite Discontent and Fragmentation, Islamic Parties Dominate,” Washington Post, 1/19/09

Friday, January 23, 2009

Basra Federal Region Plan Fails

On January 20 the Iraqi Election Commission announced that the supporters of a Basra federal region had failed to acquire the necessary signatures to hold a referendum on the issue. Independent member of parliament Wail Abd al-Latif and the Fadhila Party that currently rules Basra were behind the effort. In November 2008 they turned in a petition with 34,800 signatures, 2% of the province’s voting population, which was the first step necessary to hold a vote on making Basra an autonomous region. They then had one month to collect 135,707 signatures, 10% of Basra’s voting public to move forward with their plan. They came up with only 32,448, less than their original November amount. This was always a risky move as it came just before provincial elections at the end of January, and appears to be a major setback for the embattled Fadhila party.

The drive for a Basra federal region was an uphill battle from the beginning. A recent poll by the Iraqi government run National Media Center found that 94% of the residents of the province were opposed to the idea. Latif and Fadhila were never able to bring a large number of residents over to their side because their argument appeared to be contradictory, and had major opposition from many of Iraq’s ruling parties. Supporters said they were nationalists who wanted to stop the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) from forming a southern Shiite region and limit Iranian influence. Many believe that can best be done by strengthening the central government in Baghdad, rather than breaking Basra off. Federalists also criticized the Kurdistan Regional Government for signing their own oil deals, yet wanted some control of petroleum revenues themselves. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the SIIC, and the Iraqi Islamic Party were all against the plan as well. Ironically, the Kurdish Alliance was the only outside group to stand by the Basra plan. As a result, the supporters were always on the defensive. Wail Abd al-Latif and others often complained that the Election Commission was biased against their effort, and blamed the Prime Minister and the United Iraqi Alliance for working against them. All together this led for a disjointed campaign that failed to garner much public approval in the end.

That didn’t stop the Fadhila Party from pulling out the stops to gain signatures. According to The National, Fadhila members pressured government workers to go along with the plan. The paper interviewed several provincial employees who said they were intimidated into signing the petition. All said they did not make formal complaints about the moves because they were afraid the ruling Fadhila party would fire them, arrest them, or have militiamen go after them.

The Fadhila Party came out the biggest loser in this effort, but it has implications for the Supreme Council as well. Fadhila put their full weight behind the Basra plan, even trying to strong-arm government employees into supporting it. They are already under pressure for failing to provide services, jobs, and development in Basra, and this could be a further sign that they will lose seats, and probably control of the province in the upcoming elections. This was also the first real attempt to form an autonomous region outside of Kurdistan. The Supreme Council has aspired to create a nine province southern Shiite region. They haven’t talked about it for a while, but recently a member of the Hakim family said that the SIIC still wants a federal region, and will work towards that goal after the elections. The few signatures that Wail and the Fadhila were able to acquire, and the low approval rating for such a plan in opinion polls should be a warning to them that there is little support for their idea. In fact, Iraqi nationalism is re-emerging after the sectarian war, with Arab Iraqis at least supporting a stronger central government based in Baghdad. Both Fadhila and the SIIC could come out losers in the elections, which could mean the end of any ideas for an autonomous region in the south.


Agence France Presse, “Iraqi PM Calls for Strong Central Government,” 1/22/09

Alsumaria, “Lights shed on federalism in Iraq Basra,” 11/13/08

Aswat al-Iraq, “Establishing Basra region easing off political congestion – MP,” 11/14/08

CNN, “Basra’s bid for autonomy stalls,” 1/22/09

Hendawi, Hamza and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Momentum builds for a self-ruled southern Iraq,” Associated Press, 1/16/09

Kurdish Globe, “Basra Seeks a Region of Its Own Within Iraq,” 11/13/08

Mohammed, Aref, “Thousands demand separate region for Iraq’s Basra,” Reuters, 12/27/08

The National, “Ballot tests Iraq’s integrity at polls,” 1/22/09

Reuters, “Autonomy Referendum For Iraq’s South Struck Down,” 1/20/09

Visser, Reidar, “An Initiative to Create the Federal Region of Basra Is Launched,”, 11/13/08
- “Basra, the Failed Gulf State, Part II: Wail Abd al-Latif Concedes Defeat,”, 1/17/09

Al-Wazzan, Saleem, “basra’s dominant parties expect to maintain power,” Niqash, 12/15/08

Thursday, January 22, 2009

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Dec. 08 Report on Iraq

The attacks on Christians in Mosul in October 2008 seemed to spur interest by a variety of different groups on Iraq’s minorities. As reported earlier, the Brookings Institution and the University of Bern released a study on the subject noting that all of Iraq’s small ethnic and religious groups were disenfranchised, displaced, and victims of attacks. They are also caught in the power struggle between Arabs and Kurds in the northern section of the country. At the same time, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released a report on religious tensions overall in Iraq that largely focused upon minorities. Their findings were that while fighting between Shiites and Sunnis has largely subsided, violence against minorities such as Christians, Mandeans, and Yazidis is on going. All of Iraq’s smaller religious groups have been targeted, and the government has failed to protect them. Many have fled the country as a result, and they are not coming back. The Commission concluded by saying they are fearful for the future of Iraq’s minorities, and believes their continued existence is at risk.

The victimization of Iraq’s minorities begun under Saddam Hussein, but was greatly exasperated by the U.S. invasion. Saddam discriminated against Iraq’s smaller religious groups. His Arabization program of the south not only forced out Kurds, but Turkomen and Christians as well. After 2003 tensions increased. The 2005 Iraqi elections, while touted at the time as a step towards democracy and reconciliation, actually increased divisions, which turned into the sectarian war in 2006. Minorities proved to be the most vulnerable during this time. They continue to face attacks today, especially in the northern section of the country where they are concentrated in cities like Mosul and Ninewa province. Most minorities have fled Iraq except for the Ninewa Plains and Kurdistan.

The government has done little to help them. Services and reconstruction aid have not been distributed to them evenly. The Kurds have tried to exploit them, and also mistreated them. During the 2005 elections for example, Kurds worked to exclude minorities from voting through threats and denying them ballot boxes in their areas. The 2008 Provincial Election law originally dropped Article 50 that set up quotas for minorities. When this was later re-instated, the quotas were much lower than before. Minorities were supposed to have twelve seats, but ended up with six instead. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has tried to address the concerns of minorities by created a committee to deal with their issues, but it has been largely rejected as not being representative since the Prime Minister picked all of its members.


Iraq is home to a variety of Christian groups including Chaldeans, Assyrian Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox, Armenians, Protestants, and Evangelicals. In 2003 there were approximately 1.4 million Christians in Iraq, today there is around 500,000-700,000. Their victimization since the U.S. invasion is shown by the fact that before 2003 they were 3% of Iraq’s population, but make 15-20% of the registered refugees in Jordan and Syria, and 35-64% of the refugees in Lebanon and Turkey.

The most recent attacks against Christians occurred in Mosul in October 2008. Fourteen Christians were killed in the city, which led 13,000 to flee. 400 families went to Syria. The United Nations believes that was half of the city’s Christian population. By early November some had come back to Mosul, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent extra police to help with security. However on November 11, two Christian sisters were killed in their home, keeping the fear level high and deterring most families from returning.

Violence against Christians was widespread before Mosul, beginning in 2004. Since that year 40 churches and Christian buildings have been destroyed. On January 8, 2008 six churches in Mosul and Baghdad were bombed in a single day. From January to June 2008, the U.N. reported 17 attacks and kidnappings, including the murders of ten Christians. Community leaders have been murdered, tortured, and kidnapped. In February 2008, the Chaldean Bishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Raho was kidnapped and later found dead. In April 2008 an Assyrian Orthodox priest was killed in Baghdad. Many churches have closed as a result. Shiite and Sunni extremists have also tried to impose Islamic codes on Christians. Businesses such as alcohol shops, beauty salons, movie theaters, and video stores owned by Christians have been attacked. Christians also suffered during the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad during the sectarian war. There use to be 2,000 Christian families living in the Dora section of Baghdad, but by the summer of 2007 there were only 300 left due to concerted efforts by Sunni insurgents. There have been small signs of change however as in 2007 and 2008 Christians were able to celebrate Christmas in the capital, and 45 families did return to Dora.


Sabean Mandeans are followers of John the Baptist. 90% have either fled the country of been killed. There are only 3,500-5,000 left in Iraq. Of the 28 religious leaders that were in the country during the Saddam era, only five are left. The community’s top religious leader fled to Syria after he was threatened. The Mandean Human Rights Group said that from April 2003 to March 2007 144 Mandeans were killed, 254 kidnapped, 238 threatened or attacked, 11 raped, and 35 forced to convert to Islam. From January 2007 to February 2008 42 were killed, 46 kidnapped, 10 threatened, and 21 attacked.

Mandeans are faced with the added difficulty of being pacifists, which means they can’t protect themselves. They are also afraid of extinction because one can only be born into the religion, and the displacement may make it harder and harder for them to find marriage partners. Mandean refugees also do not want to go back to Iraq, and wish to be repatriated to a third country.


Most Yazidis are concentrated in the north of Iraq in Dohuk and Ninewa provinces. Like Mandeans, they can only be born into the religion. Some believe that they originate from Zoroastrianism. Muslims do not consider them “People of the Book,” and have persecuted them as a result. On April 22, 2007 gunmen killed 23 Yazidis in the Kurdish town of Bashika after stopping a bus and only taking the Yazidis off of it. On August 14, 2007 four suicide bombings in the towns of Qahtaniya and Jazeera killed 786 Yazidis and wounded 1,562. Around 1,000 families became homeless as a result. Attacks on the community have continued into 2008 with 2 killed in a liquor store in Mosul on December 7, and seven were killed in Sinjar. Many are now afraid to leave their own communities. Many have stopped practicing their religion openly in fear that it will bring attention and attacks. Many farmers have either gone out of business or now rely upon middlemen to sell their products because Muslims refuse to work for them.

Other Minorities

There are around 2,000 Bahais in Iraq. They face legal repression as a 1970 law prohibits their religion. In April 2007 the Interior Ministry cancelled Regulation 358 from 1975, which said identity cards could not be given to Bahais, but now that they can receive them they are listed as Muslims instead of their own faith.

Iraq also used to have a small Jewish community. Now there are ten or less left. Those that have stayed in the country are hiding their religion. Like most of the Arab world, anti-Semitism is alive in Iraq.

Internally Displaced

Most of the displaced minorities have moved to the north, specifically Kurdistan and Ninewa. According to the International Organization for Migration 52.2% of the displaced in that province are Christians. This is because 53% of Ninewa are minorities. The Ninewa Plains for example, have been the historical homeland of Iraq’s Christians. The problem is that the north is one of the most violent areas of Iraq, especially Mosul, which remains the last major insurgent redoubt left in the country. Kurdistan has also been a popular destination. 24.6% of the displaced there are Christians. They have an easier time than Muslims to gain entry because they are not considered suspicious by the authorities. Kurdistan is also more secure than the rest of the country, which also makes it a draw. Yazidis are historically from Ninewa and Dohuk. Christians, Mandeans, and Yazidis all told the Commission that they are free to practice their religion in Kurdistan, and can set up their own private schools as well.

Political Pressure

Their residence in the north has placed minorities in the center of the increasing battle between Arabs and Kurds for political power. The United Nations reported that political parties in Diyala, Tamim, and Ninewa are attempting to pressure minorities to vote for them in the 2009 elections. The U.N. also reports that minorities are being forced from their houses, and their farms are being confiscated as part of this intimidation campaign. Many are pressured to identify themselves as either Kurds or Arabs. One of the major reasons why the number of seats set aside for minorities was reduced was because Arabs were afraid the minorities would vote with the Kurds for annexation of disputed territories in the north, while Kurds did not want them listed as minorities fearing that they would dilute the Kurdish vote.

Kurds have also been intimidating and pressuring minorities. They have set up an extensive patronage system that hands out money for churches and relief to win over loyalties. At the same time the Kurdish militia the Peshmerga have gone into disputed territories, taken land from minorities, only given them services if they agree to back the Kurds, stopped minorities from forming their own local security forces, and joining the police to protect themselves.

Christians have been one of the main focuses of this carrot and stick approach by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). In 2006, the deputy governor of Ninewa stopped Baghdad from using Christian police in the Ninewa Plains. Instead they were sent to Mosul. The Chaldean Syrian Syriac Council of America said that the Ninewa council attempted to deny jobs to Christians in the provincial police. Those that have been able to join say they have been marginalized within the force. By mid-2008 there were reports that there was some progress on this situation with 269 Christians being hired. The Kurds have also only allowed the Christians to form their own security forces if they are funded by the KRG. The Kurdish Minister of Finance Sarkis Aghajan Mamendu is a Christian, and is in charge of funding for Christians by the Kurds. Christians have also been pressured to sign forms supporting the annexation of their areas into Kurdistan, and the Kurds have cut off water to certain Christian villages.

The Yazidis have also come under similar pressure. They claim that the Kurds are trying to Kurdify them. In 2008 the State Department said that the Kurds confiscated Yazidi land and started to build settlements on them illegally. The Kurdish Finance Minister said that the Kurds would return that land, but it would take up to two years. Yazidis have also said that their villages are the last to receive aid from the KRG. In March 2008, the Kurdish Interior Ministry told the Commission that they were working on forming a Yazidi police force.


Because of all the violence and political pressure, a disproportionate number of minorities have fled the country. Minorities are only 3% of Iraq’s population, but are 15% of the U.N. registered refugees in Jordan and 20% of those in Syria. Christians are 64% of the registered refugees in Turkey, and 35% of those in Lebanon. The Ministry of Migration and Displacement believes that 50% of the country’s minorities have left since 2003. Many will probably never come back because they do not believe they have a future in Iraq, and are seeking asylum in other countries.

Iraqi refugees in general are finding it harder and harder to live in neighboring countries, and minorities have it especially difficult. Iraqis are facing stricter controls on their entry, and many are running out of money. They are increasingly feeling that they will be kicked out or imprisoned for staying illegally. Access to services is extremely limited. In all of the countries except for Lebanon, Iraqis are not permitted to work. There are reports of women turning to prostitution, and children not going to school to support their families. Mandeans report that they are discriminated against in Jordan, and are hiding their religion as a result.

Because of these hardships, Iraqis have begun returning to their country. This is not true of its minorities. The Ministry of Displacement and Migration counted 3,657 families registered as returnees in Baghdad, and an additional 6,000 wanted to at the end of 2007, but there are no reports of minorities going back however.

The Commission ended with some recommendations. First Baghdad needs to ensure free and fair elections that will include the selection of at least six new minority representatives in the provinces due to the quotas. The government also needs to provide security for everyone, and set up police for minority communities. Iraqi identity cards should also not state religion or ethnicity, and the lingering sectarianism needs to be eliminated from the government and security forces. Baghdad also needs to work with minorities to ensure their needs are being met. The Kurds need to respect minority rights. Finally, the U.S. should provide aid to minorities, and help their refugees. Few of these suggestions are likely to happen as the government is increasingly divided between Arabs and Kurds who see minorities as a pawn between them in the north. This will only increase as elections near, and both sides are looking for votes.


The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom did a good job detailing the situation of Iraq’s major minority groups. All of them have been singled out for attacks because of their beliefs and being different. This has threatened the existence of some, and forced members of all groups to leave. These fissures in Iraq are unlikely to be overcome any time soon. The divisions between the major groups in the country still exist. To expect the smallest groups to be treated equally and be given representation before the larger problems are overcome is hard to believe. Until then, Iraq’s minorities will continue to be attacked, and will be the focus of political manipulation between Arabs and Kurds, which threatens their ability to maintain their religion and communities.


Ferris, Elizabeth and Stoltz, Kimberly, “Minorities, Displacement and Iraq’s Future,” Brookings Institution-University of Bern, December 2008

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, "Iraq Report - 2008," December 2008