Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Iraq Most Oil Dependent Country In Middle East/North Africa

According to an October 2010 report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Iraq is the most oil dependent country in the Middle East and North Africa. In its Regional Economic Outlook: Middle East and Central Asia paper, Iraq was ranked number one out of twelve countries with 90% of its government revenue and 58% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) deriving from petroleum. The only other country that came close was Libya with around 55% of its GDP and 85% of its earnings coming from oil. Saudi Arabia, which is the largest producer in OPEC, depends upon oil for less than 30% of its GDP and approximately 78% of its revenue. Iraq's economy thus rises and falls based upon its oil industry.
(Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction)

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) corroborates Iraq's heavy reliance upon oil. From 2004-2010 it noted that the country's GDP has largely been based upon the state budget, which is mostly based upon petroleum revenue. In 2010 for example, Iraq earned $48.83 billion from oil, had a budget of $72.36 billion, and a GDP of $84.14 billion. That close correlation between government spending, oil, and the GDP remains true for the last seven years. Farming is the other major sector of the Iraqi economy, but it has declined because of underinvestment, neglect, and drought, making the nation even more dependent upon oil.

Correlation Between Oil, Government Spending, And GDP In Iraq
(in billions)
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 
GDP $25.77$31.38$45.08$56.98$86.53$65.84$84.14
Oil Revenue $16.52$21.86  $28.13  $35.88  $58.79  $37.02  $48.83  
Budget $33.39  $35.99  $32.10  $41.05  $72.18  $58.61  $72.36  

Economists talk about the resource curse, and Iraq is a perfect example. It has a large amount of oil, which dominates its economy. As a result, the government has neglected other industries. In fact, dependence upon petroleum usually proves to be a disincentive to develop other parts of the economy. Not only that, but oil is not labor intensive. That means without other productive businesses, the government usually has to step in to become the largest employer. That usually comes in the form of thousands of useless and unproductive jobs. All of those are true for Iraq. None of these factors are likely to change. Baghdad talks a lot about diversifying the economy and free market reforms, but given its position it will not be able to wean itself of oil or the state any time soon.

SOURCES

International Monetary Fund, "Regional Economic Outlook: Middle East and Central Asia," October 2010


Rodriguez, Paul, "How Iraq can build a robust economy," Washington Post, 3/6/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction," Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress," 1/30/11

Iraq Plans Fourth Bidding Round On Oil And Natural Gas Fields

On March 20, 2011 a spokesman for Iraq’s Oil Ministry announced that it was making plans to conduct a fourth auction for petroleum and natural gas fields in November. The licensing round is supposed to include 12 underdeveloped blocks in Najaf, Karbala, Muthanna, Qadisiyah, and Anbar. Oil Minister Abdul Karim Luaibi said that 70% of the fields would only contain natural gas, with a total of 29 trillion cubic feet of reserves, and the rest would have both oil and gas. The Ministry is hoping that developing these areas will help provide fuel for the country’s power stations. Many of Iraq’s electrical turbines are supposed to be run off of gas, but because of shortages use heavy fuel oil instead, which wrecks the equipment. While Iraq has been successful recently in developing its oil industry, it has run into a series of problems with natural gas.

The Oil Ministry has been negotiating with foreign firms since 2008 to develop the country’s natural resources. From 2009 to 2010 it held two oil auctions and a gas one. The petroleum deals that were signed have gone off without a hitch, and are finally beginning to pay off. That can’t be said for all of the gas contracts. The Akkas field in Anbar, which was put up for bidding in October 2010, drew local protests that may lead to the deal being scrapped. Since 2008, Baghdad has been talking to Shell and Mitsubishi over a proposal to extract natural gas from the oil fields in Basra, but the two sides have run into one delay after another. That’s not a good record when it comes to natural gas, and Anbar is going to be included in the new round this year as well. Their demands have still not been met over the Akkas field, so there’s a good chance that they will protest again if another block gets a winning bid and they are not included in the talks.

Iraq sits atop a sea of oil and gas that has been neglected for twenty years due to wars and international sanctions. Some of the largest petroleum fields in southern Iraq have attracted international energy companies, but there are still plenty of others that have barely been touched. Natural gas is in an even sorrier state. Most of the gas produced is burned off and wasted, and there is a lack of infrastructure such as pipelines and storage facilities. Iraq desperately needs to attract foreign investment and know how to develop these two important fields. At the same time, the government has to be able to finalize any deals that it signs, and avoid more Shell and Akkas situations. The fourth planned auction therefore, holds many promises and possible problems for the country’s energy industries.

SOURCES

El Gamal, Rania, “ANALYSIS-Iraq seeks a plan B if Shell gas deal falters,” Reuters, 3/2/11

Hafidh, Hassan, “Iraq To Auction 12 Exploration Blocks In November – Oil Minister,” 3/22/11

Miller, T. Christian, “U.S. Missteps Leave Iraqis in the Dark,” Los Angeles Times, 12/25/05

Al-Tamemi, Noor, “Iraqi oil ministry prepares for fourth licensing round,” AK News, 3/20/11

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Iraq Still Has Problems With Its Oil Meters

In 2007, Iraq began installing meters on its petroleum industry. By 2009, the Oil Ministry said that it would be finished by 2011 at the earliest. The latest quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, noted that the country is still having problems with this issue.

The meters are supposed to be installed not only at the state-run oil companies, but at factories that produce refined products as well. Baghdad told the United Nations that as of September 30, 2010, 158 out of 390 had been placed at the South, Maysan, and North Oil Companies, which would put the government ahead of schedule. 1,533 out of 4,508 had been installed at the various refineries, gas, and oil pipeline businesses, which was behind the set timeline. In total, Iraq wants 4,898 devices up and running. Around 51% of those are currently in place. That was up from 33% in December 31, 2008.

Through the years various organizations have found problems with Iraq’s plans. One group found that the government was not using all the meters installed. Another noted that Iraq was using three different types of devices, which were not integrated, that they were not always calibrated, and that some had low reliability. Corruption at the Oil Ministry has also made false documentation the norm, which means that the numbers recorded from the meters could still be changed.
Click on image for larger view (Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction)
Meters are necessary in Iraq because of oil smuggling. Then deputy Oil Minister, and now current Oil Minister, Abdul Karim Luaibi told the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction in November 2010 that smuggling was no longer an issue. He claimed that the U.S. military had not found any suspicious trucks delivering illegal oil from Iraq. That was an odd assertion as American forces are on the way out, and do not have as much presence in the country as before to collect such information. General Hamid Ibrahim, the head of the Oil Protection Force, contradicted Luaibi in March 2011. Ibrahim told Reuters that there were still gangs breaking into pipelines and smuggling oil. He went on to say that around 450 oil tankers had been seized for trying to ship petroleum illegally, but didn’t give a time period for when that had been done. The Oil Minister also claimed that he didn’t know about smuggling from Kurdistan, but it is going on despite official denials from the regional government there. Baghdad doesn’t make an issue out of it, as the two sides appear to have a tacit agreement on the matter. It couldn’t do anything about it either as it has no forces on the border there. In fact, devices probably are not even going to be placed in Kurdistan, as the Oil Ministry has no role in the industry there.
Tankers captured smuggling oil in Iraq (Reuters)
Without meters installed, Iraq can never be sure how much oil and refined products it is producing, and where they are going. The country has been working on the issue for the last four years, but progress has been slow. It is still behind schedule in fact. Not only that, but when all of them are in place, there’s no telling whether they will all be used, whether the figures collected by the Oil Ministry will be accurate, and there will still be no oversight in Kurdistan. The devices are a necessary step to monitor Iraq’s most important resource, and can be a new tool in the fight against corruption and smuggling, but it will not end all of the country’s problems either.

SOURCES

Davies, Rhodri, “Tanker trucks line up on North Iraq-Iran border,” Al Jazeera Blogs, 2/4/11

Lando, Ben, “IAMB: Iraq lags in oil metering,” Iraq Oil Report, 4/26/09

Mohammed, Muhanad, “Iraq sees more attacks on oil sector, needs police,” Reuters, 3/13/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, "Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/11

Williams, Phil, “Criminals, Militias, And Insurgents: Organized Crime In Iraq,” Strategic Studies Institute, June 2009

World Bank, “Interim Strategy Note For The Republic of Iraq For The Period Mid FY09-FY11,” 2/10/09

Monday, March 28, 2011

Closings, Releases, And Riots At Prisons In Iraq

Iraq’s justice system and prisons have been troubled for decades, and the latter have shown little improvement since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The civil war and continuing insurgency have led to massive abuses. Suspects are routinely detained without warrants, prisoners are held with no access to lawyers, waiting days to months for a court date, abuse and torture are rampant, prisons are overcrowded and have poor conditions, secret facilities exist, with authorities shifting prisoners around to keep them locked up. The lack of oversight, and official denial of any problems perpetuate this system. In March 2011, it resulted in the closing of two detention facilities, the release of prisoners, and a riot.

First, on March 14, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry announced that it would be shutting down Camp Honor in the Green Zone because of human rights violations after a month long investigation. In January, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on the facility saying that it was run by the Baghdad Brigade and the Counter Terrorism Bureau, which report directly to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. At the camp, prisoners had been held incommunicado with no access to legal representation or their families. The Deputy Justice Minister refuted all elements of the story, and claimed that his ministry as well as the Red Cross had visited Camp Honor and discovered nothing wrong. The Red Cross denied that they had ever gone to the prison. A February Human Rights Watch report uncovered Iraqi papers that showed Maliki and the Baghdad Brigade in fact ran the camp, and that they had blocked any inspection of it. The closure would be a small victory as there are plenty of other secret bases where prisoners are held.

Next, on February 21, Premier Maliki released 10,000 detainees for lack of evidence. He said that there should be no arrests without warrants, and denied the existence of any secret prisons. It was reported that he took this move to placate demonstrators who demanded the release of prisoners. The Iraqi Human Rights Society criticized the premier stating that there were lots of prisons run outside the official system, and that Maliki had wide ranging powers to conduct raids and arrests how he saw fit.

Three days later there was a riot at the Rusafa Detention Facility. Earlier, inmates had set up tents in the courtyard to protest poor conditions, mistreatment, and accused the warden of being pro-Shiite. On March 24, some Sunni and Shiite prisoners got into a shouting match that led to fighting, and the tents being set on fire. Seven ended up being wounded as a result. The site has been plagued by problems for years. In 2008, the BBC visited it and found 150 prisoners in a room the size of a classroom. The men there had to take turns sleeping it was so crowded, and many had never been formally charged with a crime. In 2009 prisoners protested against torture there

Parliament’s human rights committee was already investigating Rusafa, and said that it was being closed as a result on March 26. The committee chairman, Salim Jabouri said that it had found that members of the staff had abused prisoners. For example, prisoners claimed that guards assaulted them, leading to one death and several others being wounded. At the time, the prison claimed that civilians had stormed part of the prison and caused the casualties in an attempt to cover up the incident. The committee also found prisoners being held without charges, and said that they should be amnestied.

None of these are a solution to Iraq’s justice or prison system. Abuses will continue. Secret prisons will remain. They do show that parts of the government are concerned about the issue, and are trying to take some action. Unfortunately, the problem is both institutional, and personal. The justice system relies upon confessions, which encourages abuses. Fighting the insurgency has also provided a never-ending number of detainees that leads to overcrowding, and the courts being backed up. Then Maliki refuses to acknowledge any violations, and in fact, actively commits and protects such acts. Until those at the top change their view, nothing else will.

SOURCES

Abboud, Assad, “Iraq minister denies prisoner abuse,” Agence France Presse, 1/24/11

Abdul-Kadir, Saad, “Iraqi police put down riot in Baghdad prison after inmates set fire to tents inside,” Associated Press, 3/24/11

Alsumaria TV, Al-Hayat, “Al-Maliki Releases 10,000 Prisoners, Denies Existence of Secret Prisons,” MEMRI Blog, 3/21/11

Associated Press, “Iraqi Policemen to Face Charges of Prison Abuse,” 6/17/09
- “Official; Iraq to close prison rife with abuse,” 3/14/11

Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Secret Jail Uncovered in Baghdad,” 2/1/11

Al-Issa, Fadi, “Tasfirat prison employees violate human rights says commission,” AK News, 3/26/11

Parker, Ned, “Alleged abuse at Iraqi detention center prompts oversight concerns,” Los Angeles Times, 1/23/11

Tawfeeq, Mohammed, “Iraqi protesters rally in the rain,” CNN, 3/25/11

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Protests Continue In Iraq

Protests continue to occur in Iraq. The general perception that the government has not improved on basic services in the eight years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, nor cares about the average citizen has led to hundreds of people to take to the streets since February 2011. Friday has become a national day of protest for many, especially in Baghdad where there have been repeated demonstrations at Tahrir Square, which is located in the central part of the city near the Green Zone. The capital has not been the only scene for marches, as nearly every province of the country has witnessed one in the last month and a half. The last few days was no exception.

Woman in Tahrir Square holding up pictures of relatives detained by the authorities March 25, 2011
On March 25, Alsumaria reported that the security forces had blocked all the roads and bridges to Tahrir Square. This has been a tactic adopted by the police in many parts of Iraq to limit access and reduce the number of people able to attend any given protest. Those barriers must have been removed because later in the day there were two demonstrations in the square. First, a group came out against coming to terms with former Baathists. On March 23, the National Reconciliation Ministry announced that it had come to an agreement with five insurgent groups for them to lay down their arms and join the political process. The Sadrists have condemned the move as accommodating with former regime members. Later in the day, another crowd gathered to complain about corruption, unemployment, the lack of services, and the treatment of prisoners. Several women were in the group with pictures of family members they wanted the government to release. That demonstration was organized by the Civil Society Organization and Facebook Youth. The internet has proven to be a useful tool for some protest leaders in the capital.

Workers from the Iraqi Election Commission demanding full time jobs, Tahrir Square, March 26 (Associated Press)
Baghdad and Friday have not been the only place and day for assemblies in Iraq. March 25 also saw people gather in Najaf, Diwaniya in Qadisiyah province, Kut in Wasit, and Hillah in Babil governorate to voice their complaints about the government. The next day the Democratic Movement protested in Diwaniya again, against services, unemployment, and corruption. There was also a march west of Ramadi in Anbar. Temporary workers at the Iraqi Election Commission were also seen in Baghdad demanding full time work that day. These events show that demonstrations have not ended in Iraq, and that they are widespread throughout the country, not just in the capital.

Despite the authorities concerted effort, there are still weekly protests in Iraq. Their demands vary, but in general they have emphasized the lack of governance in the country. Services like electricity are still spotty, corruption is rampant, unemployment is highest amongst the young, not all the government positions have been filled one year after national elections, politicians are unresponsive to the demands of the public, etc. While the demonstrations do not threaten to overturn the system of government like in other parts of the region, they do pose a challenge to those in power. Already several governors have been forced to step down, and Maliki has felt the heat as well. As a result, the prime minister has given his ministers 100 days to improve or else. At the same time, he has actively attempted to suppress the demonstrations, and coverage of them as well. Little is likely to change after that deadline, so people will still attempt to hit the streets. That could lead to a battle of wills between those angry at the condition of the country and who demand change, and the prime minister who would rather solidify his power over the nation and be done with the public outbursts.

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “Baghdad Secretary resigns on account of protests,” 3/3/11
- “Iraq protests against bad services ongoing,” 3/26/11

Alsumaria, “In Iraq, Security Forces Block Streets Leading To Baghdad’s Al-Tahrir Square,” MEMRI Blog, 3/25/11

Associated Press, “Temporary workers at Independent High Electoral,” 3/26/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Baghdad demo protests “reconciliation” with Baathists,” 3/26/11

Ibrahim, Waleed, “Analysis: Iraq’s Maliki wields protests to consolidate power,” Reuters, 3/15/11

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Parties Differ On Insurgent Groups Joining Politics,” 3/25/11

Tawfeeq, Mohammed, “Iraqi protesters rally in the rain,” CNN, 3/25/11

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Possible Power Sharing Deal Between Kurds And Turkmen Could Upset The Status Quo In Iraq’s Tamim Province

Tamim's Governor Tafa who is stepping down
Tensions are rising in Iraq’s Tamim province. Not only has a contingent of peshmerga moved into new positions in the governorate, but the governor and head of the provincial council recently resigned as well. This has set off worries that local Turkmen and Kurds have come to a power sharing agreement, which Arabs feel threatened by.

On March 15, 2011 it was reported that the Governor of Tamim Abdul Rahman Mustafa Fata and the head of the provincial council Rizkar Ali were resigning. Both are Kurds from the Kurdish Alliance. Fata was picked to be governor back in 2003 by delegates chosen by the United States. Because the Americans saw Iraq in ethnosectarian terms and believed that the Kurds were a majority in the governorate, they gave them more votes in selecting the governor. Ali on the other hand was elected in the 2005 provincial elections, and held office since then because parliament could never agree upon rules for holding local balloting there since then.

The controversy began when their replacements were announced. The governorship was to go to Najmuddin Karim, a Turkmen doctor with dual U.S. and Iraqi citizenship. Hassan Torhan, another Turkmen, is said to be the candidate for head of the provincial council. Both Karim and Torhan are from the Kurdish Alliance. The directors in the governorate are also supposed to be replaced. Media reports say that this was all part of a deal between Kurds and Turkmen to share the top positions in Tamim. Turkmen have their own political parties, but if they were won over by this move they, along with the Kurds, would be a solid majority, and could have greater control over local decisions.

The Arab bloc in the provincial council immediately rejected any Kurd-Turkmen deal. They said they refused to accept the resignation of Fata and Ali, and demanded that the 2007 power sharing agreement be followed. In December 2007, all the major parties in Tamim signed onto a U.S.-led plan for the major posts and positions in the government to be split between them. The Kurds would get the governor, Arabs the deputy governor, and the Turkmen the head of the provincial council. The agreement has never been fully implemented however because of on-going disputes between all the major parties.

This is just the latest argument in a divided province. Despite the problems, the major groups have kept their bickering in the political field, and have maintained a rough status quo between them despite all the talk of Kirkuk being a flashpoint in Iraq. The movement of peshmerga fighters into new positions in February, and a possible deal between the Kurds and Turkmen for the two top posts in the governorate in March however, threaten to unravel that consensus. The peshmerga are probably only in Tamim temporarily, but an agreement between the Kurds and Turkmen could leave the Arabs out in the cold. There is no confirmation of negotiations between the first two groups, and the Turkmen parties haven’t made any major comments as well. This could just boil down to rumors, which are rampant in the Iraqi press. Still, it is something to keep an eye on in the future.

SOURCES

Ali, Ahmed and Knights, Michael, “Kirkuk: A Test for the International Community,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1/14/09

Alsumaria, “Kirkuk Arab bloc refuses Iraq political agreements,” 3/16/11
- “Kurds, Turkman to share Iraq Kirkuk local appointments,” 3/16/11

Barzanji, Yahya, “2 Kurdish officials resign in volatile Iraqi city,” Associated Press, 3/15/11

Hiltermann, Joost, “Spoils of Babylon,” National Interest, January/February 2010

International Crisis Group, “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line,” 7/8/09

Mardini, Ramzy, “Implications o the New Kurdish-Sunni Alliance for Security in Iraq’s Ninawa Governorate,” Jamestown Foundation, 1/14/08

Rostam, Nabaz, “Kirkuk governor and council leader resign,” AK News, 3/15/11

Al-Sabah, “President: fair posts’ distribution in Kirkuk,” 2/4/08

Travernise, Sabrina, “After The War: Northern Iraq; U.S. Detains 5 Suspected Baath Loyalists at Kirkuk Elections,” New York Times, 5/25/03

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Disputes Over Peshmerga In Iraq's Tamim Province Continue

On February 25, 2011, the date of the Day of Rage protests in Iraq, around 5,000 Kurdish peshmerga moved west of the disputed city of Kirkuk. Kurdish politicians claimed they were only there to protect against terrorist threats, but the real reason was to guard against the demonstrations getting out of hand. The deployment has set off new tensions not only within Tamim between the Kurds, Turkmen, and Arabs, but between the major parties in Iraq, and with Turkey.

The main dispute between all the sides is over when and if the peshmerga will withdraw. The Peshmerga Minister Jaffar Mustafa and the Speaker of the Kurdish parliament Kamal Kirkuki claimed that they would not leave until the province was stable, while the deputy Peshmerga Minister said that they were there because of an agreement between Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and U.S. forces. Later, a Kurdish politician told AK News on March 15 that the Kurdish forces would be out in two weeks. Speaker of the Iraqi parliament Osama Nujafi repeated that claim as well. The United States was allegedly behind this deadline, but the speaker of the Kurdish Coalition in the legislature denied there was any agreement. No date has obviously been set for their removal, but the Kurdish forces are likely to be called back when the threat of more protests in Tamim is over.

While the peshmerga are still to the West of Kirkuk, others inside and outside the province continue to complain. On March 17 for example, a Turkmen parliamentarian stated that the Kurdish forces were raising tensions within Tamim, and that their presence was illegal. A lawmaker from the Iraqi National Movement wanted the peshmerga out before the two weeks because they were only making the situation worse. A Turkish paper also claimed that a delegation from Ankara led by the deputy foreign minister traveled to Kurdistan on March 6, and met with KRG President Massoud Barzani to discuss the peshmerga presence. All of these groups are worried that the Kurds are trying to change the fragile balance between them, the Arabs, and Turkmen that exists within the province. 

The new peshmerga force is probably only temporary, but the KRG will not order them home until they are sure that there will be no more demonstrations in the governorate. The statements in opposition to their presence highlight the confluence of regional, national, and international interests that are involved with Tamim. Because it is at the heart of the disputed territories within Iraq, many major parties are concerned about events there. Some want Kirkuk to be annexed to Kurdistan, some want it to remain under central government control, while still others have advocated for special status. The new peshmerga forces threaten to change the status quo, which has existed since the 2003 American invasion. It’s exactly that fear that is inspiring all the demands for their withdrawal by Turkmen, Arabs, the Iraqi National Movement, and the Turks. The Kurds can end this dispute, but won’t until they feel their interests are secure.

SOURCES

Ahmed, Hevidar, “Minister rejects U.S. demand for Kurdish troops’ withdrawal from Kirkuk,” AK News, 3/4/11

AK News, “Peshmerga forces protect Kirkuk,” 3/3/11

Alsumaria, “Iraq Kurdistan Speaker defends Peshmerga Forces in Kirkuk,” 3/18/11
- “Iraq Security Ministers appointment delayed,” 3/17/11

Aziz, Younis, “Kirkuk not Turkey’s business, says KRG official,” AK News, 3/9/11

Al-Jaff, Wissam, “KBC denies US demands to withdraw Peshmerga from Kirkuk,” AK News, 3/16/11

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “More Iraqi Deputies Criticize Kurdish Peshmerga Deployment,” 3/18/11

Rostam, Nabaz, “Coalition forces set deadline for peshmerga withdrawal from Kirkuk,” AK News, 3/15/11

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sadrist Referendum On Services In Iraq Completed

Results of Sadrist Referendum
The Sadr Movement recently finished its referendum on people’s views of public services in Iraq. The poll started on February 28, 2011 and ended on March 17. The Sadrists claimed that three million people took part. Unsurprisingly, the survey found many unhappy with the state of electricity, water, etc., and that their views were in line with those of the demonstrators. A Sadr official said that the final results would be made public soon. Moqtada al-Sadr also gave his followers the okay to protest in six months if the government hasn’t improved.

As noted before, the modus operandi behind the referendum was to stop people from joining the on-going marches, while attempting to co-opt their demands. Sadr wants to maintain his image as the leader of the Iraqi street, so if there are any protests, he wants his people to be at the forefront. At the same time, he is an important part of the new ruling coalition, and wants to use his poll and the threat of a Sadr led-demonstration to gain greater power within the government. Sadr has given Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a six-month break, but when that time is up the Sadrists may not be able to take advantage of the situation since they control ministries responsible for the delivery of services themselves. They’re likely to blame everything on the premier, but that may not play with the larger population, and could blowback on them as well.

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “Results of Iraq Sadr Front referendum,” 3/18/11

Al-Kadhimi, Bahaa, “Sadrists referendum in Basra: vast majority supports demonstrations,” AK News, 3/17/11

Parliament May End One Major Barrier To Investigating Corruption In Iraq

A member of the integrity committee in the Iraqi parliament said that there is a move underway to get rid of one of the main barriers to corruption inquiries. Article 136B of the Iraqi Criminal Code allows ministers to stop investigations of personnel within their own ministry. A recent example of the use of 136B was when former Interior Minister Jawad Bolani used it to stop his own inspector general from looking into the general in charge of the ministry’s explosives department who was suspected of buying fake bomb detectors. In the first half of 2010 the article was invoked 95 times in cases worth a total of $920,000. That surpassed the 54 times it was used in all of 2009.

This was just the latest example of anti-corruption officials trying to get rid of 136B. Since 2003, the article was repealed twice, and then brought back. This latest example may not be motivated by altruistic motivations. One of the main demands of the protests that have sprung up around the country involves fighting corruption, which is rampant at all levels of the Iraqi government. Transparency International has ranked Iraq the fourth most corrupt country in the world in 2010 for the second year in a row. The integrity committee may just be trying to appease the demonstrators. The bill amending the criminal code, which wound eliminate 136B not only has to be passed, but the government than has to rigorously investigate and prosecute those guilty of graft, taking bribes, etc. Baghdad has shown no commitment to this cause since 2005 when it got its autonomy back from the Americans. If the government began reversing course and taking this problem more seriously that would be a real story in Iraq rather than just an attempt to get rid of one barrier to investigations.

SOURCES

Brosk, Raman, “Plan to abolish immunity from corruption charges for state officials,” AK News, 3/15/11

Commission of Integrity, “CoI Key achievements and indicators from January 1, 2010 To June 30, 2010,” 7/28/10

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement Has More Defections

On March 14, 2011, it was reported that six members of Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement (INM) left the list to form a new party. The group was led by Talal Zubaie, who said the new group would be called the Youth of Iraq Party. Zubaie blamed the leadership of the INM for the defections, claiming that they only thought about themselves. Zubaie said that the Youth Party would be an opposition group.

Just three days before, eight others members of the INM left to form the White Iraqi National Movement. That group was led by Hassan Aliwi and included the Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Jamal Batikh. They personally called out Allawi for failing to follow through with the National Movement’s program. They too said that they would be an opposition group within parliament.

There was another public split within the National Movement back in February. On February 21, Qutaiba Jabouri was kicked out of the list. Jabouri claimed that he had the backing of 60 of the list’s 91 parliamentarians for him to become the nominee for vice president instead of Tariq Hashemi. Hashemi is the leader of one of the six major blocs that make up the INM. Jabouri went on to blame Hashemi and Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq for his expulsion because he had earlier criticized them for only caring about their own personal agendas rather than the needs of the public. Jabouri ended up joining the White Iraqi National Movement.

The Iraqi National Movement has always been an unruly group. Allawi has only marginal control over the list, which is led by many strong personalities. Some of them like Hashemi and Mutlaq have followed their own agendas, sometimes to the detriment of Allawi, their nominal leader. Ever since the March 2010 election there have been rumors and reports that the INM was breaking apart. That finally happened this year as the government has still not been fully formed, and Allawi has been shut out of office, both of which have increased the internal divisions. Those difficulties continue, which could mean more defections in the coming weeks.

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “Two thirds of Iraqiya members name Jibouri as VP,” 2/23/11

Brosek, Raman, “Iraqiya is expected to have another political party,” AK News, 3/14/1

Brosk, Raman, “Another new bloc emerges from al-Iraqiya,” AK News, 3/15/11

Shames, Abdullah, ”Eight al-Iraqiya deputies announce split from bloc,” AK News, 3/7/11

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics Issue No. 10,” Inside Iraqi Politics, 3/11/11

Monday, March 21, 2011

Iraq’s Maliki Closes Down Two Political Parties For Supporting Protests

Offices of the Iraqi Nation Party in Baghdad after being closed (New York Times)

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has turned to increasingly repressive tactics to stymie the protests occurring throughout the country. In March 2011 he shut down the offices of two political parties that had supported the on-going demonstrations. The official reasons given for the closings had nothing to do with that, but it was obviously a message by the premier that those who stood with the marchers would pay for doing so.

On March 6, Maliki ordered the security forces to move against two parties in Baghdad. The Federal Police closed the Iraqi Nation Party’s headquarters, led by former parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi. He told the press that he was not given a reason for why the security forces shut down his office. The Baghdad Operations Command closed down the Iraqi Communist Party as well. When the security forces showed up, the Communists demanded to see the order for their actions. They returned an hour later with a letter signed by the prime minister. Not only was their office closed, but also their newspaper al-Shaab. The Prime Minister’s office claimed that the Communists were being forced out because they were using government owned property.

The Iraqi government denied any political motivations for their moves, but the Communists and Nation Party rejected that. A government spokesman for example, claimed that the Communist Party’s building was needed for the Defense Ministry. Nevertheless, both the Nation Party and Communists had come out in support of the protests, and they were quick to point that out to the media. On March 16, Mithal Alusi went as far as to call for a no confidence vote against Maliki by parliament for the closing of the Iraqi Nation Party headquarters, and trying to suppress their pro-demonstration views. 

Prime Minister Maliki was caught off guard by the marches that started in February. While the premier made conciliatory statements about the right of Iraqis to take to the streets, and made many promises of reforms, he also quickly moved to put an end to them. The closing of the Iraqi Nation Party and Iraqi Communist Party offices were part of that effort. As neither has a seat in the new parliament, and are relatively minor parties, Maliki could move against them with no real political repercussions. It also showed that the prime minister was willing to sacrifice freedom of speech and pluralism to silence his critics. Maliki’s main priority is to stay in office, and these are the latest examples of him trying to achieve that end.

SOURCES

Ali, Saman, “Party leader urges parliament to withdraw confidence from Maliki,” AK News, 3/16/11

Alsumaria, “Maliki explains reform program in Iraq Parliament,” 3/11/11
- “Maliki orders evacuation of Iraq parties headquarters,” 3/8/11

Associated Press, “Attacks On Media, Activists Spur Fears In Iraq,” 3/8/11

Dzaee, Saman, “Iraq: Communists denounce govt. ‘s decision to evacuate party’s headquarters,” AK News, 3/9/11

Ibrahim, Waleed, “Analysis: Iraq’s Maliki wields protests to consolidate power,” Reuters, 3/15/11

Knights, Michael, “Policy Alert: Iraq Closes Offices of Two Political Parties,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 3/7/11

Schmidt, Michael and Healy, Jack, “Protest Organizers Ordered to Shut Offices in Iraq,” New York Times, 3/7/11

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Government Moves To Suppress Protests In Iraq

Although Iraq’s cities are still witnessing demonstrations such as those that occurred in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, Fallujah, Ramadi, and Sulaymaniya on March 18, 2011, and then Anbar’s Rawa on March 19, their numbers appear to be decreasing. That has been due to the concerted effort of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to suppress them.

Security forces met protesters in Baghdad 3/18/11, part of a move to limit their scope (Associated Press)
When 600 people took to the streets of Fallujah in Anbar province on March 18, the local security forces immediately told them to disperse. When they didn’t, police attacked them with electric batons, wounding fifteen of the demonstrators. Afterward a curfew was imposed on the city. When several hundred showed up at Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on that same day, they had their movements tightly restricted by the security forces who set up barriers around ministries and across a bridge leading to the Green Zone. This has been the response of the authorities in most cities across the country.

The state has taken several steps in recent weeks to deter demonstrations. In March it went to tribes to ask them to limit protests claiming that a conspiracy was underway to undermine the government. It has asked clerics to come out against the marchers, and aired their statements on government TV stations. It has taken away the right to issue permits for demonstrations from local authorities, and said only the Interior Ministry now has that power. Vehicle and bike bans and increased checkpoints have been imposed making it harder for people to reach assembly areas. Some neighborhoods in Baghdad claimed that security forces went house to house telling people not to join the protests. These steps have allowed the government to claim that they are allowing people to march, while limiting the number of people attending them.

Prime Minister Maliki and others have stepped up their verbal attacks upon the demonstrators. He gave a speech saying that the protesters were out of step with the majority of the country. He has accused them of killing and wounding members of the security forces, that they were backed by the Baathists and Al Qaeda, and that they were sowing violence and sectarianism. The Deputy Interior Minister said that the February 25 Day of Rage protest was a coup attempt by former members of Saddam’s regime. Again, all this rhetoric was meant to disparage the image of the demonstrators, and make them look like a dangerous threat to the country that others should not join.

As happened in Fallujah on March 18, the security forces are increasingly using force against the protesters, as well as arresting them, subjecting them to abuse and torture, while trying to hunt down organizers. The security forces have admitted that they have detained people, but denied any beatings. That has been disputed. A protester at the Day of Rage in Baghdad for example, claimed that he was picked up, beaten, held for five days, and then forced to sign a letter that he would not demonstrate again. Another person claimed he was arrested on February 24 and held for 12 days during which he was shackled with his hands behind his back and left suspended from the ceiling by his wrists. A journalist picked up the same day stated that he was electrocuted. Another reporter was taken by soldiers while he was eating at a restaurant in Baghdad, brought to the headquarters of the Army’s 11th Division, beaten, given electric shock, threatened with rape, accused of being a Baathist, before being forced to sign a statement that nothing had happened to him, and then released. He claimed to have seen hundreds of other detainees picked up the same day for protesting. In Kirkuk, three marchers were found dead with their hands bound and shot in the head in February. There were several reports of people being arrested and held after protests in Baghdad in March as well. The security forces and intelligence agencies have also attempted to track down the organizers of marches, especially those using the internet. Some of them have been rounded up, although the authorities deny it. These reports of arrests and abuses have led to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to demand investigations. 

Maliki has acted swiftly to clamp down on demonstrators in Iraq. He used many of the same tactics in the summer of 2010 to suppress people taking to the streets over the lack of electricity. The premier is likely to continue with these strong arm tactics to scare, intimidate, and in some cases, beat and torture people to keep a lid on anything that might shake his hold on power. He gives lip service to people’s rights, but has shown no qualms about violating them if he can get away with it as the rule of law is still weak in Iraq. This year’s demonstrations are far more widespread and dispersed across almost the entire country than last year’s, which has proven hard for the authorities to contain. Still, they appear to be occurring in fewer numbers and in fewer places as time moves on. That may be victory enough for the authorities.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “15 hurt in Iraq demonstration,” 3/18/11

AK News, “Peshmerga forces protect Kirkuk,” 3/3/11

Alsumaria, “Baghdad Command: No requests for demonstrations on Friday,” 3/18/11
- “Iraq Forces arrest March 4 protest organizers,” 3/3/11
- “Iraq government urges tribes cooperation to contain protests,” 3/12/11
- “Maliki explains reform program in Iraq Parliament,” 3/11/11

Amnesty International, “Iraqi activists’ torture allegations spark fears for detained protesters,” 3/10/11

Associated Press, “Attacks On Media, Activists Spur Fears In Iraq,” 3/8/11
- “PM: Protesters are out of step with Iraq’s will,” 3/12/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Demonstration in Anbar’s Rawa city, demanding release of detainees,” 3/19/11
- “Protestors stream into festivities square in Mosul despite curfew,” 3/4/11
- “Tight security measures before protest in Falluja,” 3/11/11

Bamandi, Karzan, “Nineveh under traffic curfew,” AK News, 3/4/11

DPA, “Iraqi premier warns against violence amid protests,” 3/4/11
- “Iraqi security disperse hundreds of protesters by force,” 3/18/11
- “Tense calm after 18 people killed in Iraq protests,” 2/26/11

Juhl, Bushra, “Iraq protesters accuse security troops of beatings,” Associated Press, 3/11/11

Juhi, Bushra and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraqis defy checkpoints, vehicle bans in demos,” Associated Press, 3/4/11

Karim, Karzan, “Interior official: Recent demos were coups against Iraqi govt.,” AK News, 3/1/11

McCrummen, Stephanie, “Iraq protests followed by detentions, beatings,” Washington Post, 2/26/11
- “Protesters say Maliki is using special security forces to shut down demonstrations in Iraq,” Washington Post, 3/3/11

Najm, Hayder, “government and clerics disrupt the day of dignity,” Niqash, 3/9/11

Raine, Andrew, “Iraq authorities ‘using violence and bribes’ to curb dissent,” The National, 3/2/11

Rostam, Nabaz, “Second curfew imposed in Kirkuk,” AK News, 3/1/11

Shatt News, “Al-Maliki Deliberately Tries To Frighten Religious, Political Forces Regarding Demonstration,” MEMRI Blog, 2/25/11

Al-Tamemi, Noor, “Govt. withdraws issue of rally permits from local authorities,” AK News, 3/6/11

Friday, March 18, 2011

American Teams Predicted Causes Of Protests In Iraq

Some of the major reasons why Iraqis have taken to the streets in the last couple weeks and protested against their government are the lack of services, unemployment, and corruption. Right before the demonstrations started, the fifteen U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) issued a report on Iraq’s Kurdistan and fifteen other provinces. They found that almost every one of the country’s governorates cold not provide stable services, and were failing at developing their local economies.

The PRTs have been evaluating Iraq’s provinces since 2006. In January 2011, they used a new method called the Stability Development Roadmap (SDR) that was based upon public opinion of whether there would be civil unrest. That foreshadowed what would actually break out across the country the next month.

The SDR looked at five specific areas: basic services, government effectiveness, political effectiveness, economic development, and rule of law. Each could receive one of five rankings: very unstable, unstable, moderately stable, stable, and very stable. Most governorates received very unstable or unstable ratings in each category.

Click in image for larger view (Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction)
For basic services, 15 out of 16 provinces had the lowest rating. The one exception was Muthanna, which received an unstable. Services include things like water, sewage, electricity, etc. Nine of those 15 governorates received very unstable in every service asked about by the PRTs. For those surveyed the biggest issue didn’t appear to be the actual state of services, but the lack of any improvement in them.

Government and political effectiveness were one to two steps better than services. In governance, 15 of the 16 areas received an unstable ranking, with one, Najaf, getting a moderately stable. In politics, Baghdad, Ninewa, Salahaddin, Tamim, and Wasit were rated unstable, while Anbar, Babil, Basra, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Karbala, Kurdistan, Maysan, Muthanna, Najaf, and Qadisiyah were moderately stable. Many provincial governments were perceived as being divided, which hindered their ability to make decisions, but that was not seen as a possible cause of civil unrest by the PRTs.

Economic development was seen as lacking. Maysan received a very unstable, Kurdistan was moderately stable, and the fourteen others were unstable. Some of the outstanding problems were unemployment, the collapse of Warka Bank, the largest private bank in Iraq, and lack of irrigation for farming. The jobless rate was perceived as the greatest threat to stability.

Rule of law showed the greatest variety. Anbar had the highest ranking in any category with stable, while Ninewa was at the bottom with very unstable. Babil, Baghdad, Basra, Karbala, Maysan, Muthanna, Najaf, Salahddin, and Wasit had unstable, while Dhi Qar, Diyala, Kurdistan, Qadisiyah, and Tamim were rated moderately stable. The biggest issue raised by those polled was corruption. The PRTs were not sure whether that issue would lead to public discontent however. The biggest concern for Iraqis was the treatment of prisoners. Torture, abuse, and poor conditions are widespread throughout the country. 

The SDR proved prophetic in some cases, and off in others. Services received the worst ratings, and unemployment and prisoner mistreatment were also singled out, and marchers mentioned all those in February. On the other hand, the political situation was not seen as destabilizing and given the best rankings, but many demonstrators have demanded that their local politicians resign because of their failure to govern. The PRTs were concerned about social unrest, and just the month after the rankings were released the nation exploded in protests in several different cities and provinces. Overall, the American teams did a pretty good job at noting the seeds of discontent in Iraq.

SOURCES

McCrummen, Stephanie, “In Iraq protests, a younger generation finds its voice,” Washington Post, 3/17/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction,” Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/11

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Iraqi Government Cracks Down On Media Coverage Of Protests

As protests have continued throughout Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has attempted to squash the media’s ability to cover them. That has consisted of curfews being imposed to limit reporters’ access to events, arresting and beating journalists, and attacks upon media rights groups and press offices.

Demonstrations in Iraq started in mid-February 2011, and culminated on February 25 with the Day of Rage. On that day there were protests in eighteen different cities in ten provinces that led to 39 deaths, with more wounded. The Iraqi Society for Defense of Press Freedoms said that dozens of reporters were arrested that day by the security forces. In Baghdad, the Al-Diyar TV channel was attacked, its transmission cut, and seven employees arrested, Alsumaria TV had two reporters plus a photographer taken in, and the Society had three members arrested, with two beaten. Photographers from Reuters and Al-Salam were assaulted in Karbala as well. Human rights activists also accused the government of targeting journalists in Mosul and Anbar. The greatest excess however, occurred when four reporters were arrested after the protest in Baghdad in a restaurant. They were taken to a military base, accused of being Baathists, tortured, and then eventually released that night. 

Iraqi journalist beaten by security forces in Basra, 3/4/11 (Journalistic Freedoms Observatory)
Harassment of the media continued into the next month. On March 4, the Day of Regret, five reporters were arrested and beaten in Basra. On March 7, security forces banned live coverage of the protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.

Iraqi political and media organizations condemned these incidents. The head of the Iraqiyat Center for Studies and Development stated that the government was threatening the freedom of speech within the country. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory repeated that claim, and believed that this was the result of Baghdad trying to limit coverage of the protests occurring across the country. The Observatory recorded 160 attacks upon the media in the two weeks following the Day of Rage. It found 33 reporters were arrested, 40 were obstructed from reporting and had their equipment damaged or confiscated, twelve were injured by security forces, nine media organizations were raided, with only five able to re-open afterward. Finally, the Journalists’ Syndicate filed charges against the Interior Ministry’s anti-riot unit for its assault upon the reporters in Basra on March 4. 

The situation got so bad that the U.S. Embassy even got involved. In early March it issued a statement saying that the government had to investigate and punish any perpetrators who attacked journalists.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has often been accused of being an autocrat. He has also never been good at taking criticisms. His response to the protests highlights both of those negative traits. The marchers are increasingly focusing their rage against the premier for his inability to improve services, fight corruption, or develop the country. In turn, he has clamped down on the media to limit the spread of the demonstrators’ ideas. He has not only used the security forces to limit the ability of the press to cover the demonstrations, but has subjected them to beatings, arrests, torture, and their offices being raided and vandalized. Journalists are still out in the streets everyday reporting on the marches, but the word has been put out that this could be a dangerous job, which may incur the wrath of the government.

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “Iraqis rally in Baghdad, media banned from liver coverage,” 3/7/11

Associated Press, “Attacks On Media, Activists Spur Fears In Iraq,” 3/8/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Feb. 25th – Bad Day for freedom of press and democracy in Iraq:,” 2/26/11
- “Journalists detained in Basra,” 3/4/11

BNO News, “Over 160 attacks against Iraqi journalists, media institutions in two weeks,” 3/10/11

DPA, “Iraqi premier warns against violence amid protests,” 3/4/11

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Journalists Press Charges Over Assault At Protest,” 3/9/11

Raine, Andrew, “Iraq authorities ‘using violence and bribes’ to curb dissent,” The National, 3/2/11

Reuters, “Iraqi police use water on protesters,” 3/4/11

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Women Marginalized In New Iraqi Government

Parliamentarian Safiya al-Suhail quit State of Law saying that she was shut out of the list
On March 10, 2011, Aswat al-Iraq reported that parliamentarian Safiya al-Suhail had decided to leave Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law list. Suhail said that the party was acting undemocratically, that she was shut out and marginalized within the list, and that was due to autocrats amongst the leadership. She stated that she would now be an independent lawmaker. Other female members of Iraq’s new legislature share Suhail’s experience.

There are 86 women lawmakers in parliament, but only five won enough votes to gain their seats. The rest were named by their parties to meet a constitutional quota that 25% of parliamentarians be women. There is also only one woman minister in Maliki’s new government, compared to five in his previous administration, and six in Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s. Women have also been kept out of the leadership of the lists, and were not included in any of the negotiations to form a ruling coalition as power resides firmly in the hands of men. One member of State of Law said that the women appointees were simply window dressing to meet the constitutional requirement. This is despite the fact that the Election Commission estimated that 55-62% of the voters in the March 2010 voting were women.

Women’s power within the government seems to be going in the wrong direction. In the first two post-Saddam administrations, there was an attempt to embrace women as a large number were given ministries. After the latest election however, the political parties showed no desire to repeat that precedent, and only gave one woman a cabinet position as Minister of Women’s Affairs. That was perceived correctly as tokenism, and the lawmaker refused the post. Eventually another woman was named to the position, but it didn’t change the fact that females have taken a step back in Iraqi politics. Until more women are actually elected to office, and those women come up with a unified plan for what they want to achieve, this situation is likely to continue.

SOURCES

Aswat al-Iraq, “Suhail says quit Maliki’s bloc,” 3/10/11

Schmidt, Michael and Ghazi, Yasir, “Iraqi Women Feel Shunted Despite Election Quota,” New York Times, 3/12/11

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Iraq’s Parliament May Cancel Akkas Natural Gas Deal

(Energy-Pedia News)
Akkas natural gas field in Anbar has been troubled since the day it was put up for auction on October 20, 2010. On that day, South Korea’s KOGAS and Kazakhstan’s KazMunai put in a winning bid for it. At the same time the Anbar provincial council protested against it. Now members of Iraq’s parliament are threatening to cancel the license for the field.

On March 12, 2011 a lawmaker from the oil and gas committee in the Iraqi parliament said it was thinking of revoking the license for the Akkas field. The politician went on to say that the committee would look over the contract with KOGAS and KazMunai on March 13. He claimed that a majority of parliamentarians were against the Akkas deal, and supported looking for new investors.

This is just the latest setback the Oil Ministry has faced in trying to develop Akkas. Immediately after the October auction, the Ministry said that it would hold talks with the Anbar provincial council about their issues. Officials there complained that the field should be under local control, that its gas should go to local needs first rather than being exported, and that Baghdad had ignored their earlier efforts at developing Akkas. By January 2011, the Ministry told reporters that the deal for the field would be signed by February because the differences with the Anbar provincial council had been resolved. That same month the Anbar governor confirmed that its demands had been met by Baghdad. Those included building a new pipeline to Hit to delivery gas for a power station being built there, another energy facility was to be built next to Akkas, that domestic use would have priority over exports, and that 85% of the employees would be local. Still, an Oil Ministry official was quoted as saying that signing an agreement with the foreign companies had now been pushed back to March. Then in February the Ministry announced that the deal had been delayed once again because Anbar politicians were demanding that housing units be built and services improved in the governorate. 

The oil and gas committee’s threat to overturn the auction for Akkas is the third delay Baghdad has faced in developing the field. At first, Anbar politicians had a never ending list of demands they wanted the central government and foreign energy companies to fulfill before they would sign off on any license otherwise they would not cooperate. Now parliament has run out of patience, and may force the Oil Ministry to re-auction the field. That may not turn out any better as the real issue is placating Anbar rather than finding new companies interested in Akkas.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Iraq postpones gas field draft agreement again,” 2/24/11

Daood, Mayada, “gas and oil protests: “a misunderstanding,”” Niqash, 1/31/11

Dazae, Saman, “Iraq signs soon contract to develop Ukaz gas field,” AK News, 1/9/11

Hafidh, Hassan, “UPDATE: Iraq Akkas Deal Includes Provincial Demands –Governor,” Dow Jones, 1/25/11

Al-Wannan, Jaafar, “Parliament set to cancel Ukaz oil field license,” AK News, 3/12/11

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sadrists Hold Survey Of Iraqis, Trying To Take Over Leadership Of Protests

Sadrists conducting referendum (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)
On March 1, 2011 the Sadrists began their “Voice of the People” week to conduct a survey about services. Some of the questions included an evaluation of how the government was doing delivering electricity, water, etc, whether the state should improve those services, and if there should be demonstrations if the situation didn’t get any better. The polling was just the latest example of Muqtada al-Sadr trying to play both sides of the on-going demonstrations in Iraq. On the one hand, the Sadrists have become more vocal in their criticism of Maliki’s handling of the government. On the other hand, they have told their followers not to participate in any protests, and that the new administration should be given time to make good on their promises. This represents Sadr’s attempt to maintain his image as a leader of the street, while also being part of Maliki’s ruling coalition.

On February 23, Sadr returned to Najaf from Iran after leaving the country for two weeks. This was two days before the planned Day of Rage protests across Iraq. Sadr told his followers not to join the marches. Instead, he instructed his movement to carry out a nationwide referendum on services that would collect information about people’s demands. He then said there would be a one million-person demonstration in six months if the government didn’t deliver on better services. The move was meant to cap the turnout for the Day of Rage, while trying to get the public behind his own drive for reforming the administration and gaining greater power. Obviously, there are many upset with the state of electricity, water, sewage, corruption, etc. in Iraq, as there have been protests everyday in the country for several weeks now. Sadr hopes to harness this discontent so that he can have greater influence in the government by claiming that he speaks for the masses, while threatening it with even greater demonstrations if Maliki doesn’t meet Sadr’s demands.

As the other half of this strategy, Sadrists have stepped up their criticism of the prime minister. On February 28 for example, members of the movement said that many of the problems with services were due to the years of neglect under Saddam Hussein, but that the current cabinet also included many unqualified ministers. They went on to say that Maliki shared responsibility for the country’s problems, as he was head of the government. Sadr himself said that Maliki had to stand up for the shortcomings in the nation, that he needed to find solutions, and demanded that Baghdad’s governor, who was a member of the prime minister’s State of Law list, had to step down or he would be forced out. A Sadrist parliamentarian also blamed State of Law for the demonstration in Basra on February 28 because it had ignored complaints about Governor Shitagh Abbud’s incompetence because he belonged to Maliki’s list. On March 2, Sadrists were quoted as saying that they wouldn’t support Maliki in the future if he kept on failing, and accused him of protecting 4,000 corrupt officials. They threatened to back Iyad Allawi instead and form a new ruling coalition if the government didn’t meet its six-month deadline. Then on March 5, Sadrists in Karbala called on their supporters to clean up the streets of the city as a way to show the authorities what they should be doing. Again, all of these statements were meant to increase the pressure on Maliki, and appropriate the people’s demands for better governance in Iraq.

While Sadr did surprisingly well in the March 2010 elections and has always tried to portray himself as connected to the streets, he has limited influence with the on-going protests. Organizers in Baghdad have tried to keep their events free of religion and partisanship. One Facebook organizer in the capital even accused Iran of being behind Sadr’s statements against the Day of Rage event. At the same time, Sadr’s drive to use the protests for his own political gain may be more successful. Obviously his referendum is going to come out condemning the government’s performance. There is little it can do in six months to make the situation any better, so Sadr is almost guaranteed to call for a large march when his deadline passes. His threats to abandon Maliki will also be felt, as the Sadrists provided the support the premier needed to form his new ruling coalition. The problem for Sadr is that he can win greater influence for himself by using these tactics, but he can’t improve the country. His followers hold important ministries such as Planning and Public Works that are directly responsible for the delivery of services. While he may be able to rally his people behind his drive, and put all the blame on others like the premier, that may not go over with the demonstrators, which means they will continue no matter what Sadr tries to do.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Radical Shiite cleric Sadr ‘back in Iraq,’” 2/23/11

Alkadiri, Raad, “Rage Comes to Baghdad,” Foreign Affairs, 3/3/11

Alsumaria, “Ahrar bloc to stop supporting Maliki,” 3/2/11
- “Sadr Front threatens to ally with Allawi,” 3/3/11
- “Al Sadr to conduct referendum in Iraq,” 2/23/11

Brosk, Raman, “Ahrar bloc MP blames SLC for Basra Governorate storming,” AK News, 3/1/11
- “Sadr accuses Maliki of passing blame for Iraqi protests,” AK News, 2/28/11
- “Sadrists launch referendum on public services across Iraq,” AK News, 2/28/11

Al-Haffar, Hasoon, “Sadr calls on supporters to clean up Iraqi streets,” AK News, 3/5/11

Najm, Hayder, “government and clerics disrupt the day of dignity,” Niqash, 3/9/11

Al-Rafidayn, Al Arab online, Alsumaria TV, “Al-Sadr Calls On Al-Maliki to Meet Demonstrators’ Demands, Threatens Action,” MEMRI Blog, 3/1/11

Schmidt, Michael and Ghazi, Yasir, “Iraq’s Top Shiite Leaders Urge Delay or Protests,” New York Times, 2/23/11

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, “Sadrists Initiate Public Survey To Evaluate Government Performance, Threaten Mass Demonstrations,” MEMRI Blog, 3/2/11

Sunday, March 13, 2011

No Date Set For When Iraqi Government Will Begin Hiring Sons Of Iraq Again

An Iraqi general in charge of integrating the Sons of Iraq (SOI) said that there is no timeline for when they will again be offered jobs. Beginning in October 2008, the U.S. began handing over the SOI to Iraqi government control. It promised to give 20% of the fighters jobs in the security forces, and the other 80% would go to civilian ministries. In November 2009 that plan was put on hold because of the March 2010 parliamentary elections, and the protracted government formation process. No SOI has been hired in the last fourteen months as a result, and its unclear whether any will be in the future either.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s new regime has drafted a plan on restarting employment offers to the SOI, but the Iraqi general said the details are still under discussion. An analyst from the Iraqi Institute for Strategic Studies told Reuters that he didn’t think Baghdad was serious about hiring the SOI. There are already anecdotal stories that many SOI have walked off their jobs as a result. An SOI commander in Garmah, Anbar for example claimed that half of his 3,000 fighters had left to look for other work because they didn’t believe they would ever got a public sector job.

Many top officials, including the premier himself, were always weary of the Sons of Iraq program because it was created by the Americans without any Iraqi input. The U.S. was still able to pressure Maliki into accepting control of all the SOI. Now the U.S. is not in the same position as the majority of its troops are out of the country. There are some members of the Iraqi National Movement that support the integration of the SOI, but they don’t seem to have any real influence over Maliki. The result is that probably only a few more SOI if any are going to find employment in government agencies because they are just not a priority.

SOURCES

Ibrahim, Waleed, “Iraq Sunni fighters still waiting for promised jobs,” Reuters, 3/11/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Sons of Iraq Program: Results Are Uncertain and Financial Controls Were Weak,” 1/28/11

Fake Bomb Detectors At Center Of Corruption Case At Iraq’s Interior Ministry

The Inspector General at Iraq’s Interior Ministry believes that 75% of the money used on the fake ADE-651 bomb detectors actually went to kickbacks to Iraqi officials. Baghdad spent approximately $122 million on the devices beginning in 2007. That would mean around $91.5 million was pocketed by corrupt members of the Ministry. In February 2011, General Jihad al-Jabiri, the commander of the Ministry’s bomb division was arrested for purchasing the detectors, so he probably took the lion’s share of the money. His detention was only possible because former Interior Minister Jawad Bolani stepped down after the March 2010 parliamentary elections. Before, he had evoked Article 136(b) that allows ministers to stop investigations. The Inspector General was also able to recover $20 million from the purchase of the devices and return it to the government. This is just one example of the high level of corruption that goes on within the Iraq. It’s yet to be seen whether General Jabiri will be prosecuted as no other high officials have ever been sent to jail for graft.

SOURCES

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/11