Monday, September 30, 2013

Explaining The Political Factors Behind The Increasing Violence In Iraq, An Interview With Maria Fantappie, Iraq Researcher At The International Crisis Group

 
Violence in Iraq has escalated to the worse levels seen since 2008. The insurgency is making a comeback, while the central government is repeating many of the mistakes made by the United States after the 2003 invasion. The cause of this crisis is a breakdown in the country’s politics. Members of the Sunni community feel increasingly alienated from the government, because their national leadership has failed, their local politicians are ignored, Baghdad has focused the security forces upon their areas, and the protest movement has not achieved any tangible results. To help explain how this situation has led to the current security crisis is Maria Fantappie, a former visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center and currently an Iraq researcher for the International Crisis Group. You can follow her on Twitter @Maria Fantappie and the International Crisis Group @CrisisGroup.
(Abdul Raheem Yasir)

1. In 2009, Sunnis went to the polls after largely boycotting the 2005 provincial vote, and helped put a slew of parties into power. In 2010, many of those same voters came out for Iyad Allawi and Iraqiya, the Iraqi National Movement (INM) which won a plurality of seats in the new parliament. How did Allawi and the other members of the INM turn out to be as national leaders, and how did their performance affect their followers’ opinion of participating in politics?

The key for political success in Iraq is to branch out power from Baghdad into the provinces. Iraqyia leaders focused all efforts on the assignment of government positions in Baghdad, neglecting local officials and constituents in the provinces. This was fatal to the future of the list. Starting from early 2011, while Iyad Allawi persisted in claiming the premiership for himself and the implementation of the Irbil agreement in Baghdad, Maliki ingrained power in the provinces: governors were replaced, police chiefs sacked and Sahwa tribal militias deprived of their salaries. Sunni constituents felt disappointed by their national leader and left under the grip of the government security agencies. Their disappointment evolved into distrust towards the political process altogether. In their eyes, Iraqyia leaders appeared not dissimilar from others of different political colors: locked within Baghdad Green Zone walls and far from people’s concerns.

2. In December 2012, Premier Maliki decided to go after then Finance Minister Rafi Issawi of the INM by issuing warrants for some of his guards. Exactly a year before, a similar situation unfolded with Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi who ended up being convicted in absentia for involvement in attacks. Previous to that, selected leaders of the local security forces known as the Sons of Iraq faced detentions as well. How did these events shape Sunni views of the security forces and Maliki’s rule?

These arrests created the premises for conflict, shaping Sunni self-perceptions and their perception of the government. Sunnis started viewing themselves as victims —targeted by the security forces, excluded from state-institutions, persecuted as terrorists or Baathists —and the government as the source of all this injustice. Al-Issawi events brought these feelings to the boil, exacerbating perceptions of the government’s anti-Sunni agenda, serving the Shiite interests within Iraq and the Iranian agenda in the Middle East. Nine-months of political crisis have turned perceptions into reality. Now more than ever, Sunnis are what they feared to be—excluded, discriminated and criminalized —and the government close to the way they had accused it to be: repressive, discriminatory and bound to Iran’s agenda.

3. How did the regional environment and Syria contribute to the escalation of Iraq’s domestic crisis into a conflict?

The regional environment polarized Iraq along sectarian lines, reducing the space for negotiation between the government and protesters. Earlier in 2013, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the prospect of a Sunni power governing Syria nurtured Iraqi Sunnis hopes for a political comeback boosted the Iraqi Islamic Party aspirations to leadership and mobilized Iraqi Sunnis in protests. This, in turn, directly fed Maliki fears’ of the rise of Sunni radicals in the region pushing the government to assume a defensive position, close to Iran and the Shiite crescent in the region.

4. What divisions have emerged within the demonstrators, and have they been able to achieve any meaningful results?

The conflict evolved over a series of missed opportunities for dialogue from both the government’s and the demonstrators’ side. But the demonstrations’ failure to bring about political leadership gave the government one more reason to shun dialogue and persist in its immovable positions. Sunni tribes, clerics, Iraqi Islamic Party members and insurgency militants gathered into demonstrations against the government, because of a shared feeling of injustice. But protest leaders were often concerned with gaining legitimacy as prominent politicians, clerics, tribal chiefs and thus pushed forward parochial agendas rather than lobbying for the protesters’ demands. Among others, the Iraqi Islamic Party project of establishing a Sunni federal region divided the demonstrations square between proponents and opponents of federalism, and challenged the formation of any negotiation committee.
The Sunni protest movement was a symbol of the dissatisfaction with politics, but also allowed militants to gain more supporters as shown in this photo with black Al Qaeda in Iraq flags flying (AP)

5. How has the failure of national parties, arrests of leaders, and the protest movements inability to bring about changes in government played into the hands of extremists and the insurgency?

Above all, the government’s violent response provided Sunni armed groups opportunities to increase their recruitment and safe-heavens. On 23 April, the government’s violent crackdown on Hawija’s protest sit-in empowered the most radical voices among protesters and silenced those calling for dialogue. The government sowed hostility among Sunni tribes as it armed a new Sahwa faction, depriving others of their salaries, as well as among Sunni citizens, policing their neighborhoods and limiting their mobility. Baghdad lost Sunni local support and with that, the human intelligence needed to counter the re-emergence of armed activities in their areas. Insurgency cells who fought against the U.S. troops found fresh recruits among the frustrated Sunni youth and reactivated their operations in the Kirkuk and Salahaddin provinces. For the first time in years al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, can count again on local support.  Iraq’s al-Qaeda is now operating with impunity in western Anbar, across the Iraq and Syria border as well as in Syria under the name of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, gaining the support in Sunni areas, helping Iraqis and Syrians in their struggle against their respective governments, Baghdad and Damascus and the resurgence of Sunnis in the region. 

6. A major problem faced by the Sunni community since 2003 is the lack of unity. They have been split between armed struggle and participation in the government, between local and national politicians, nationalist and regional agendas, and other issues. Why do you think there have been so many divisions, and how could they start working together more effectively?

Sunnis do not necessarily need their leaders to ally on the basis of their belonging to the Sunni sect. What Sunnis need is what Iraqyia failed to provide them with: representative leaders. I see the existence of different ideological trends (e.g. Sunni secular and Islamist trends) as rather beneficial to the formation of inter-sectarian and inter-ethnic alliances that will help overcome a rather communitarian political system. Whether together or separately, both Sunni secular and Islamist trends should focus their efforts in effectively representing their base, reach out to provincial officials, help to define the demands of their constituents in the provinces and represent them in Baghdad central institutions.

7. These splits have allowed Maliki to play divide and conquer. Could you provide one or two examples of how the premier has been able to use that tactic, and why do you think he could face long-term troubles if he continues down that path?

So far, Maliki’s policy towards the Sunnis has been rather self-damaging.  Al-Issawi events unified Sunnis against the government, crashed the PM’s image as an Iraqi national leader and compelled him to seek even more U.S. and Iranian support to maintain power. The PM’s policy toward Sunni tribes is archetypal of the short-term benefits of a divide-and-conquer strategy. On February 2013, the government dismantled the Sahwa leadership and supported the formation of  new pro-governmental Sahwa corps— the New Sahwa —providing them with weaponry, salaries and privileges, leaving the former one with empty hands. Last May, al-Qaeda could expand its operations across the Iraq-Syrian frontier, mostly counting on co-operation, weaponry supplies and recruits of former Sahwa, now disenfranchised by governmental policies. In the absence of a radical change of approach, the government risks to further alienate Sunnis from the state, bolster Sunni solidarity with the Syrian armed oppositions, pushing them to cooperate with radical armed groups as a way to weaken the government legitimacy. If there is any way to insulate Iraq from the impact of the Syrian conflict and also for Maliki to secure his own power, this consists in an inclusive Iraqi state.

8. Rather than using greater force, what Iraq needs is some serious concessions and reconciliation to pull the Sunni community back to politics and away from the use of force. What kind of reforms should Baghdad consider?

In order to end violence, the government should win Sunnis back to its side. No security improvement will be reached without involving the Sunni population, security forces and tribes in fighting al-Qaeda and insurgency groups. A first step consists in dealing with outstanding issues that have generated the divide between the government and the Sunni population: deployment of security forces in Sunni populated areas, Sunni participation to the security forces, waves of arrests and exclusions upon alleged affiliation to terrorist groups and or Baathist regime. Also, Sahwa should return to be a united corps and ensured with monthly salaries. Any security plan should involve the co-operation with Sunni local officials, locally recruited police forces and Sahwa corps. Considering the number of missed opportunities to solve this conflict, it is legitimate to question whether or not the government ever made a serious effort to avoid reaching to the current level of violence.  
One of the major issues facing PM Maliki is whether he can put aside his immediate concerns and think long-term to hold onto power

9. Maliki would have to start thinking long-term to try to push for those changes. Right now he seems more focused upon looking strong in the face of the increasing violence, and preparing for next year’s parliamentary elections where he will face tough competition. Do you think he’s capable of putting aside those immediate concerns, and thinking big picture, which might assure him of a longer reign, and a more governorable country?

The lack of a legitimate Sunni leadership to ally with might turn into the prime minister’s biggest liability to a third term on power. The recent crisis delegitimized those Sunnis loyal to the prime minister and empowered a Shiite anti-Maliki bloc, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) in particular. Last June, the formation of local councils proved that a Shiite anti-Maliki bloc is a winning formula. ISCI and the Sadrists forged an alliance, and together with the Sunnis’ Mutahidun list garnered the majority needed to rule out Maliki’s coalition from Baghdad governorate. An isolated prime minister will hardly succeed for a third term. If, before or after the parliamentary elections, Shiite groups will stand together against the prime minister, only an alliance with a strong Sunni group could ensure Maliki a third term.

SOURCES

Carnegie Paper, “Contested Consolidation of Power in Iraq”, February 2013

International Crisis Group, “Make or Break: Iraq’s Sunnis and the State,” 8/14/13

NRT VIDEO: Bombing In Irbil Sep. 29, 2013


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Understanding Anbar Before And After The Awakening Part V, Sheikh Jassim Mohammed Salah al-Suwadawi And Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Janabi

 
Sheikh Jassim Mohammed Salah al-Suwadawi of the Albu Soda tribe and Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Janabi of the Albu Mahal tribe were two prominent tribal leaders in eastern Ramadi. They found themselves unemployed after the 2003 invasion, but unlike many of their compatriots they did not turn that frustration into armed struggle against the Americans and Iraqi government. Instead they attempted to reach out to Baghdad and the U.S., but their initial attempts were failures. Eventually they joined the Anbar Awakening and helped secure the province. Along the way they lost many relatives and followers to violence. Their story shows the early struggles and consequences of joining the tribal revolt in Western Iraq.

Sheikh Suwadawi and Sheikh Janabi were both military men who found themselves without jobs after 2003. Suwadawi was a non-commissioned officer in the Air Force who worked on jet fighters. Janabi was an officer in the special forces during the Iran-Iraq War, but left the army in 1991, only to be recalled in 2001. When the Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded the military in 2003 they both lost their jobs. They needed to decide what to do next. Many fellow soldiers became angry with the Americans for costing them their jobs, and were early recruits for the insurgency. Suwadawi and Janabi went in another direction.

Faced with their situation, the two sheikhs attempted to reach out to the new powers that be, Iraqi officials and the United States. In September 2003 Janabi got in touch with his uncle General Ibrahim Said who was afraid of an Iranian invasion after the downfall of Saddam. General Said wanted Janabi to help him organize the tribes of central Anbar into a protection force that was later called the Eagles Cell, which was to report on any Iranian or terrorist moves in the province. Suwadawi made friends with Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samarraie in November 2003 as a way to reach out to the new Iraqi government. Through that contact, Suwadawi began providing information to Baghdad and the United States about what was going on in Anbar. Despite these early moves, neither sheikh got any real support. At the time, the United States was only really concerned with protecting their own forces, and were unsure of which Iraqis to work with, while Minister Samarraie and General Said ended up only giving marginal support to the Anbar tribes. That left Suwadawi and Janabi on their own.

After a series of attacks upon their families Suwadawi and Janabi each decided to fight the insurgents. In April 2004, militants kidnapped Janabi’s brother and three children in Fallujah, and then in October his uncle was taken as well. By the end of the year Janabi was attempting a revolt against Al Qaeda in retaliation. He met with Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samarraie, who promised to get U.S. support for Janabi’s plan, but nothing came of it, and Samarraie was replaced in government after the 2005 elections. Suwadawi followed a similar path. In September 2006, one of his brothers and three of his tribesmen were kidnapped. That led him to declare war on the insurgents, and the two began working together. Janabi and Suwadawi went to the local Marine commanders in Anbar looking for support, but got nothing. Suwadawi thought that the Americans did not take them seriously because they only had a few fighters under them. The insurgents took Suwadawi and Janabi much more seriously. They immediately began attacking the two sheikh’s men with small arms and mortars. Later they called for a meeting with Suwadawi, but he felt like it was a trick to kidnap him and backed out. Al Qaeda in Iraq was notorious for using violence against those that did not agree with them. The Islamists victimized many tribes to get their support or allow them to operate in their area. Suwadawi and Janabi were just two of many that eventually had enough of this intimidation, and decided to take a stand. Unfortunately, the U.S. did not recognize the changing situation in Anbar. Starting in 2005 several other sheikhs tried fighting the insurgents, but received only sporadic help from the Americans.

By late-2006 Suwadawi and Janabi were prime targets of Al Qaeda. On November 25 they were attacked in Suwadawi’s compound in what became known as the Battle of Sufiya. He claimed that 850 fighters came after him, while only 17 men defending him. They were able to hold on for the entire day until U.S. forces finally came to their aid at night. This was a huge battle that would later make Suwadawi and Janabi famous. The numbers might be an exaggeration, as the two liked to embellish their stories as part of their propaganda campaign against the insurgency, and to gain more followers. That worked out for them, as the two were able to convince 12 tribes in East Ramadi to join them afterward. The two sheikhs also got more cooperation from the local U.S. commander, and began conducting joint operations and got their men recruited into the local police. At the same time the two felt like they were still in constant danger. They didn’t trust the local Iraqi officials and other tribes, because they were convinced that insurgents had infiltrated them. As a result, they would tell Anbar officials they were going to raid one area, and then go to another. They also would not discuss important information over the phone, as they believed militants were listening in. Suwadawi and Janabi eventually began working with Sheikh Abdul Abu Risha and joined the Anbar Awakening. Together they helped establish tribal security forces stretching from Ramadi to Fallujah. They still faced heavy losses as Al Qaeda conducted a series of assassinations against their men. By 2006 the U.S. had almost written off Anbar. Insurgents had free reign in the province and had co-opted many of the tribes there often through threats and murder. That caused a backlash that eventually created the Awakening. For those sheikhs who first decided to take on Al Qaeda life could be short as the group intensified their attacks upon those who defied them. Suwadawi and Janabi were not only personally targeted, but lost dozens of men in the process. That was the cost of turning around Anbar.

Sheikh Jassim Suwadawi and Sheikh Abdul Janabi became famous in Ramadi for their heroism in the Battle of Sufiya. It was a long road however from being unemployed soldiers after 2003 to being Awakening members. Despite their determined efforts they received little support from Baghdad or the Americans. Their families and tribes suffered kidnappings and murders by Al Qaeda in Iraq, which only increased when they decided to join the tribal revolt. They paint an important picture of what a difficult situation many Anbar sheikhs were going through from 2003 to 2006, and how that led a few to stand up to the insurgents, and finally secure the governorate.

SOURCES

Allam, Hannah and al Dulaimy, Mohammed, “Marine-led Campaign Killed Friends and Foes, Iraqi Leaders Say,” Knight Ridder, 5/17/05

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

VIDEO: Iraqi Kurdistan


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Iraq’s New 5-Year Development Plan Sets Nice Goals But Will Have Little Effect Upon Policy


Iraq just issued its new 5-year National Development Plan (NDP). Its main goal is to use the country’s vast oil wealth to diversify the economy towards agriculture, industry, and other sectors. It has the same basic goals as the previous plan. The problem is that the NDP is not a real path of action for Baghdad to follow rather it just sets broad goals for Iraq. More importantly, the government does not pay attention to it when passing legislation or making policy, which means it has no real affect upon the future of the country.

September 2013, Iraq’s latest National Development Plan (NDP) was announced. Its main focus is upon diversifying the economy away from oil dependence. Deputy Premier Hussein Shahristani said that the country would use its oil revenues to build up industry. The NDP also emphasizes developing building and services, agriculture, education, transportation and communication, and energy. In farming for example, it wants Iraq to reduce imports and move towards self-sufficiency. It calls for wheat production to be expanded to 6 million tons and barley to 1.2 million tons by 2017. By doing so, it hopes to alleviate some of the differences between rural and urban areas. These goals are to be achieved by $357 billion in investment over the next five years. That would be just over 50% of predicted oil revenues during that same time period. Since Iraq is the most oil dependent country in the world, developing other industries is a necessity. Other sectors of the economy have witnessed a drastic decline since 2003 due to some ill conceived policies implemented by the Americans and Iraqis. Dependence upon petroleum also has wide ranging effects upon politics and society such as breaking the social contract between the public and the government, decreasing the competiveness of other industries, and causing corruption. The NDP recognizes these negatives that derive from the natural resource curse, and advocates for an alternative path for the country to follow.

The problem for Iraq is if the new NDP suffers the same fate as the previous one. The old development plan set out the same broad goals to diversify the economy. The issue is that neither includes a real plan for the government to follow. Instead it just sets a possible direction for the country with some broad benchmarks to reach. More importantly, the government does not base its laws or policies upon the NDP. Each development plan therefore, is simply a recommendation for what Baghdad should do, not what it actually does. For example, the NDPs have called for a huge increase in public investment, yet each budget traditionally commits 60-70% of its funds to salaries and pensions. The 2013 budget only sets aside 38% of its money for investment. Another issue is that Iraq’s politicians only think short-term. They have control of a huge amount of money each year, and want to use it to expand their own base via large patronage networks. That means more government jobs and increasing the role of state-owned enterprises even though that means less money for Iraq’s development. There are few incentives for Baghdad to change its ways, which is another reason why the NDPs are never followed.

Iraq’s economy is in desperate need of diversification. Last year the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) warned that the country was at a crossroad. It could choose to develop its other industries or become even more dependent upon oil. So far, it has followed the latter. That was despite the fact that the previous 5-year development plan called for moving away from the energy sector. That’s because the NDP is put together by the Planning Ministry, but then rarely followed up with any specific policies that could help achieve its goals. Even if it was made official policy there’s no reason for politicians to follow it. The huge revenues that oil generates allow politicians to increase the public sector by funding more and more government jobs to hand out to their followers, and leaves plenty leftover to steal as well. There is little inducement therefore to change, and to make the Development Plan a reality. The country will suffer the consequences as its future will be determined by an oil industry that it has little control over, and politicians who only think about their own selfish goals.

SOURCES

Al-Salhy, Suadad, “Iraq budget battle opens new front in Kurdish feud,” Reuters, 2/15/13

Salman, Raheem, “Iraq five-year plan will attempt to diversify economy,” Reuters, 9/19/13

Tijara Provincial Economic Growth Program, “Assessment of Current and Anticipated Economic Priority In Iraq,” United States Agency for International Development, 10/4/12

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Iraq’s Federal Court Returns Chief Justice To Top Position

 
Opponents of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have recently focused upon the judiciary as one way to lesson his power. They have targeted Chief Justice Medhat Mahmoud who dominates the courts as head of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Federal Supreme Court, and the Cassation Court. In December 2012, parliament passed a law separating the head of the Judicial Council from the Supreme Court, and then the Accountability and Justice Commission attempted to remove Judge Mahmoud from office for his work under Saddam Hussein. The very courts that Mahmoud controls overturned both of those moves. The judge therefore remains at the top of the courts, and a key ally of the premier.
Opponents of PM Maliki have tried and failed to limit his powers by going after Chief Justice Mahmoud (Shafaq News)
On September 17, 2013, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court canceled the December 2012 law separating it from the Supreme Judicial Council, and announced that Judge Medhat Mahmoud would officially return to head both. The ruling was due to an appeal made by the head of the State of Law bloc in parliament Khalid Atiya. The law was passed at the end of last year by a coalition of opponents to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made up of the Iraqi National Movement (INM), the Sadrists, and the Kurdish Coalition. The legislation was meant to cut down Mahmoud’s domination of the courts as he not only heads the Council and Supreme Court, but the Court of Cassation as well. Mahmoud was removed from the head of the Council back in February, but his short hiatus was now put to an end by the very court that he heads. The legal committee in parliament said it would abide by the ruling, but individual lawmakers from the Sadr bloc and Iraqi National Dialogue Front, which was formerly a member of the INM, voiced opposition. Judge Mahmoud has been a staunch ally of the prime minister issuing one ruling after another enhancing his power over the government. Maliki’s critics therefore targeted him several times earlier in the year. Each attempt has failed however, since Mahmoud controls the courts.

From December 2012 to March 2013 there was a flurry of activity by parliament and the Accountability and Justice Commission to try to limit Judge Mahmoud’s power. In March, it was announced that the judge would go on trial for alleged crimes during Saddam’s times. The charges were filed by independent lawmaker Sabah al-Saadi, who said he had collected evidence from ten families who accused Mahmoud of passing death sentences against their relatives during the former regime. (1) Saadi has been one of the judge’s greatest critics, calling him a supporter of Maliki’s dictatorship. Back on February 12, the Accountability and Justice Commission, which replaced the old DeBaathification Commission, said it removed Chief Justice Mahmoud from the head of the Judicial Council for his ties to the Baath. The next day, the December judicial law took affect, and Mahmoud lost control of the Supreme Court as well. The Cassation Court ended up rejecting the Accountability and Justice Commission’s decision claiming there was no hard evidence against him. Of course, this was another court that Mahmoud was in charge of. Saadi and others also demanded that the judge step down, because he is far past the retirement age of 68. While Maliki’s opponents used a variety of means to get rid of Mahmoud they all failed in the end, because they could be appealed to the courts. The conflict of interest between them ruling upon their own chief justice was not an issue, because rule of law is weak in Iraq. Not surprisingly then, they issued one judgment after another in favor of Judge Mahmoud beating back the attempts to lesson his influence.

Judge Mahmoud has a very long history with Iraq’s courts. He served under the Baathist regime, and then was appointed the supervisor of the Justice Ministry in June 2003 by the Coalition Provisional Authority. He was then made deputy president of the Federal Appeals Court, before assuming its head in March 2005. He went on to become the Chief Justice of the federal Supreme Court, which by law also gave him leadership of the Supreme Judicial Council. Many believe that his history under Saddam made him deferential to whoever was in power, and thus he has forged close ties with the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He has issued controversial decisions that have increased the premier’s control over the independent commissions, influenced the 2010 national election, and reduced the parliament’s power to issue legislation to name just a few.

Judge Medhat Mahmoud has provided a rare target that has unified the diverse opponents of Maliki. Even erstwhile allies of the prime minister like the Sadrists have been angered by Mahmoud’s judicial rulings as they have cut into the power of the parliament, and lessened the divisions between the different parts of the government. That allowed rare cases of consensus amongst lawmakers to pass the judicial law in 2012 attempting to separate the Judicial Council from the Supreme Court. The Sadrists and independent Parliamentarian Saadi also attempted to use the Accountability and Justice Commission against the judge. All these moves failed however, because they could be appealed, and the courts were not going to rule against Judge Mahmoud. He thus has been able to hold onto his various positions in the judiciary, much to the chagrin of his critics. The next question facing him is what will he do if Maliki is defeated in the 2014 elections, which is an increasing possibility given the deteriorating security situation. Will the Chief Justice make some ruling to help the premier hold onto power or will he acknowledge the change in direction, and attach himself to however comes out on top?

FOOTNOTES

1. Shafaq News, “Ten complaints submitted against Mahmoud,” 2/20/13

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “Justice and Accountability: Denunciation de Mahmood and legal Badri began working,” 2/19/13
- “Saadi: referral Medhat al-Mahmoud, Tariq Harb of the Supreme Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity,” 3/27/13

Independent Press Agency, “Supreme Judicial Council is a proposal to nominate the President of the Federal Court of Cassation constitutional violation,” 6/27/13

Al-Mada, “Shanshal announce the start of the audit request inclusion Medhat al-Mahmoud and some judges of accountability and justice,” 2/7/13

National Iraqi News Agency, “Adel Maliki demands JA to show legal evidence for including Medhat al-Mahmoud with its measures,” 2/15/13
- “BREAKING NEWS Medhat al-Mahmoud included in Justice, Accountability measures,” 2/13/13
- “Sabah al-Saadi: The “Fetish” of Medhat al-Mahmoud has fallen,” 2/14/13

Salaheddin, Sinan, “Iraq panel clears senior judge over Saddam ties,” Associated Press, 2/19/13

Shafaq News, “Federal Court returns Medhat Mahmoud as head of the Supreme Judicial Council,” 9/16/13
- “Judge Hassan Humairi head of the Supreme Judicial Council,” 2/12/13
- “Saadi announced filing 18 new lawsuits against al-Mahmood and Harb,” 3/4/13
- “Ten complaints submitted against Mahmoud,” 2/20/13

Al-Tamimi, Iyad, “Sadrists: Sentan of the position of Medhat al-Mahmoud to overcome the legal age,” Al-Mada, 9/17/13

Visser, Reidar, “The Political Dynamics behind the Downfall of Midhat al-Mahmoud, Iraq’s Supreme Court Chief,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 2/15/13

Wicken, Stephen and Sullivan, Marisa, “2013 Iraq Update #7: De-Baathification Body Ousts Iraq’s Chief Justice as Protests Continue,” Institute for the Study of War, 2/15/13

RADIO FREE IRAQ VIDEO: Photographic Exhibition In Iraq

Monday, September 23, 2013

Security Going From Bad To Worse In Iraq

 
The security situation in Iraq is already bad, but recent anecdotal stories could be pointing to things getting much worse. In Basra, there are reports of threats and killings of Sunnis in retaliation for attacks upon Shiites in the rest of the country. In Diyala and Dhi Qar there have been stories of families fleeing intimidation, while in Baghdad an angry mob burned a suspected suicide bomber and bodies have been found dumped and executed. These are all happening in the midst of the government’s latest security operation, which is proving as ineffective as the last one. These recent acts are directly related to the inability of the government to contain the insurgency. If these types of events become more common it could be a sign that society is breaking down once again, and armed groups are taking matters into their own hands.

In Basra, the police chief was fired recently after attacks and intimidation of Sunnis in the city. In early September, the Basra provincial council voted to dismiss the police chief General Faisal Abadi. The council had been complaining about the lack of security in the province since July, and finally took action for Abadi’s inability to solve the problem. Council members claimed that Sunnis were being targeted in Basra City. The Sunni Endowment for the governorate called for an investigation into assassinations of its members, and claimed that Sunni families were receiving death threats to leave. A lawmaker from Basra added that several Sunni imams and former politicians had recently been killed as well. The head of the Endowment Abdul Karim Khazraji eventually closed down its mosques in the city for safety, while a Basra police officer confirmed to the Associated Press that at least 17 Sunnis had been murdered in the city over the course of the last several weeks. On September 17, a small group of people came out to protest in the center of the city against the violence, calling for cross sectarian unity, and an end to the threats and intimidation. Every couple months Al Qaeda has been able to set off a bomb in Basra City, but otherwise it has been saved from the wave of explosions and shootings occurring in the central and northern regions of the country. These stories of threatening messages and assassinations are therefore a troubling sign that the mood in the south may be changing. As security deteriorates in the rest of the country, people in Basra are taking out their frustrations in the worse possible way, on their fellow Basrans. The solidarity shown by other citizens of the city is a good sign, but they are unlikely to sway the militants who have been committing these crimes.
Police standing guard outside of a Sunni mosque in Basra (AP)
Anti-sectarian violence rally in Basra Sep. 2013
Basra is not the only southern province that has seen trouble recently Dhi Qar has as well. There the Al Sadoun tribe has been targeted. The Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations in Iraq Gyorgy Posten issued a statement on September 19 saying that he was worried about sectarian displacement in the province. This came after stories of up to a 150 families from the tribe had been forced from their homes and moved to Salahaddin. A local official said that only seven families had left, claiming that the press was exaggerating things. He told Radio Free Iraq that there were two shootings that increased tensions, and led people to blame the Sadoun tribe. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with a delegation from the tribe, promising to resolve the situation. Like in Basra, dozens of people came out in Nasiriyah against the attacks upon the Sadoun, calling for solidarity and coexistence in the governorate. The situation in Dhi Qar is much like that in Basra. Both have only seen occasional terrorist bombings, so this incident of forcing out tribal families, no matter how many it might have been, is a large escalation. Tensions have risen throughout much of the country as insurgents have increased their operations over the last several months. The government seems incapable of stopping them, so now citizens are beginning to take matters into their own hands, a troubling trend if it continues.
Demonstrators in Nasiriyah who came out against attacks upon the Sadoun tribe
In Diyala, insurgents have been able to create more divisions. In July, a teenage boy blew himself up in a funeral tent. Al Qaeda in Iraq was blamed, but when it turned out the bomber was from a local tribe, it caused a dispute with other sheikhs who wanted revenge. Afterward, Shiites went after Sunnis in Muqtadiya, killing some and telling others to leave. The New York Times quoted a government official who stated that 365 families had fled the city as a result. Diyala has been a hotbed of militants for years, and was once the scene of bloody sectarian fighting during the civil war. Now it appears that those splits have re-emerged. There have been dozens of attacks in the governorate, but this was the first time that it was reported that average people retaliated after an attack. Again, the violence is leading to a breakdown of law and order.
A Sunni family displaced from Muqtadiya after receiving threats (NY Times)
Baghdad has been the scene of the most intense violence since it is the largest city in Iraq and the seat of government, but things are getting uglier there as well. In late August, a crowd attacked a man that was an alleged bomber, setting him on fire as police stood around and did nothing. The Interior Ministry said that two car bombs had gone off in the area previously, so people were angry before they found the man. Then on September 19, Radio Free Europe had a story about ten young men who were found handcuffed, blindfolded, and shot in the head near Sadr City in eastern Baghdad. That was followed by Al Rafidayn announcing five men found shot in the head in Sadr City, Ghazaliya, and Arab Jabour areas of the city. This was the first time in years that people had been discovered executed in that manner. These are more troubling incidents. If there are more they could be the first signs that Iraq is descending again into sectarian war. The government should be the one that protects, investigates, and punishes perpetrators of crimes and attacks. Here, the security forces did nothing as a man was burned. The executions are even more worrying, because those were the exact same tactics used by militias in the past. Each time examples like these appear it is more evidence that the public has lost confidence in the government to protect them.

That’s because Baghdad has constantly announced one security offensive after another in recent months, but with little to no effect. Currently the Revenge of the Martyrs is taking place in central and northern Iraq. Parliament’s security committee is questioning the competence of the army and police after hearing multiple complaints from people about mass arrests during this on-going operation. A Sadrist member of the committee for example, said that the government depends upon the support of the people, but that it was losing it due to mass detentions. One reason for the end of the civil war was that the Americans changed their tactics from punitive and reactionary to pro-active and community based. The Iraqi forces were intimately involved in these tactics, but since the U.S. military withdrawal, they have reverted right back to what the U.S. and Saddam Hussein used to do, which is to arrest all military aged males during raids, which only makes people angry. It has also had no affect upon security, as the number of deaths is now the highest they’ve been since 2008. That’s a major reason why these incidents of vigilante justice are increasing. The insurgency is witnessing a re-birth, and the government appears helpless to stop them. That’s leading to people retaliating against groups they feel are responsible for violence on their own.

If more and more Iraqis take the law into their hands that could lead to a new civil war. The insurgency has always tried to restart the sectarian fighting as a way to bring down the government. For the last several years however, people have let the security forces deal with bombings and hunting down militants. Now it appears that militias and vigilantes are going after people in retaliation after attacks. What’s more troubling is that these incidents are occurring in southern Iraq, which is relatively peaceful compared to the rest of the country where violence is far more common. If they spread that could be the breakdown of society, and the beginning of a far larger conflict than what is already taking place in the country. At the same time, the fact that people came out into the streets to express solidarity with their fellow Iraqis after attacks shows that the country may not be at the brink just yet.

SOURCES

Dar Addustour, “Defense Resets 44 associate decision-Maliki,” 8/19/13

Alsumaria, “Dozens of people from Dhi Qar organize a protest in solidarity with the families of al-Sadoun,” 9/20/13

Arango, Tim, “Sectarian Violence Reignites in an Iraqi Town,” New York Times, 9/18/13

Associated Press, “Iraqi Sunnis say sect targeted in southern city,” 9/17/13

Al-Mada, “Basra Council sack police chief and Maliki’s coalition is likely to dissolve the,” 9/12/13
- “Basra doubtful leaflets warning “enacted” and see the conflict conveyed a message promising to sabotage its economy,” 9/15/13
- “Commission on Security and Defense intends to visit LATFIYA: signed between the hammer and the anvil base raids,” 9/10/13
- “Defense restores 107 former army officers. .And al-Qaeda attacks on Monday,” 7/31/13
- “Dozens protest at night in Basra to protest the “targeting of the Year” and calling for al-Maliki to stop the bleeding,” 9/17/13

Mandee, Samira Ali, “Emergence of New Militias Threaten the Future of Iraq,” Radio Free Iraq, 9/19/13

National Iraqi News Agency, “Ahrar bloc with pre-emptive security operations, but without arbitrary arrests,” 9/7/13
- “UN envoy expresses its grave concern forthe sectarian displacement in Iraq,” 9/19/13

Peter, Tom, “Billions of dollars later, Iraqi security forces fall short,” Christian Science Monitor, 9/10/13

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Handcuffed, Blindfolded Corpses Found IN Baghdad,” 9/19/13

Al Rafidayn, “5 bodies found unknown,” 9/22/13
- “Defense calls for “fugitive military” to return to their units .. Maliki ordering “reception,”” 9/4/13

Sabah, Mohammad, “Security parliamentary: our troops are over 10% .. And an army of 1,000 soldiers absent,” Al-Mada, 8/6/13

Al-Salhy, Suadad, and Westall, Sylvia, “Insight: Iraqis hesitate on the edge of chaos,” Reuters, 9/19/13

Schreck, Adam, “Street killings underscore Iraq’s rising unrest,” Associated Press, 8/30/13

Shafaq News, “Basra demands to dismiss its police managers after Sunnis being targeted,” 9/11/13

VIDEO: Dragging And Burning Of A Terrorist Who Tried To Blow Himself Up In Baghdad


PRESS TV VIDEO: Iraq's Kurdistan Region Votes In Parliamentary Polls

JEWISH NEWS 1 VIDEO: Kurdistan Electorate Goes To The Polls In Parliamentary Elections

RADIO FREE IRAQ VIDEO: Bombings In Kirkuk, Iraq

PRESS TV VIDEO: Scores Killed In Multiple Attacks Across Iraq

Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Baghdad Administration Finds Millions Stolen In Corrupt Construction Deals

 
In 2013, most of Iraq’s provinces received new governments following elections. One of the first things many of the new administrations did was announce that the previous governorate councils walked away with millions of dollars in corrupt development deals. Over 200 of such cases were just discovered in Baghdad. The new governor blamed the theft for the lack of services in the province. The problem is the new officials are likely to be just as crooked as the old ones as stealing government funds is considered a privilege of holding office in Iraq.

In September, new Baghdad Governor Ali al-Tamimi announced that tens of millions of dollars had been stolen by the previous provincial government. The governor held a press conference saying major politicians and businessmen from the previous administration were involved. He said one project had $68 million taken, while another had $18 million missing, and included such notable landmarks as the Baghdad Airport. In total, the new provincial council turned over 211 cases to the anti-corruption Integrity Commission to investigate. He added that none of the projects surpassed a 5% completion rate, and was the reason why the capital lacked essential services. Baghdad is not the only new local government that has charged the old one with stealing tons of money. Governor Tamimi also has a vested interest in condemning the former council. Tamimi is from the Sadr Trend, while his predecessor was from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law. One of the themes that the Sadrists have been pushing in recent years is that they are against corruption. Moqtada al-Sadr has also become increasingly critical of the premier in anticipation of the 2014 national vote. The governor therefore is killing two birds with one stone by bringing up these cases. He can try to win over the public with his claim of clean government, while taking on Maliki at the same time. The real question is if anything substantive will come of it. Iraq is rated one of the most corrupt countries in the world. That’s because graft has become institutionalized as a means of ruling the country. Taking money is considered part of the compensation for taking a public job, and accepting bribes is how things get done. Therefore there is no push to follow through on any major corruption case. Since these ones allegedly involve powerful people nothing will come of them, and Governor Tamimi is just looking to score political points by making them public.

Baghdad’s news that millions were absconded with by the previous provincial government should come as no surprise. The administration before that probably stole as much as it could, the last one did the same, and the new one will too. This is the sad story of Iraq today. Since the country earns such huge sums of money from oil revenues officials believe they can take what they want. The result is dozens and dozens of projects that were either just started or only in the planning stages are now sitting dormant across Baghdad. This needs to be considered every time politicians announce some new project in any part of the country. There’s a good chance that they will result in nothing, because they are simply a scheme to steal money. Iraq has huge needs in terms of infrastructure and services after years of sanctions and war. Many of those will never be met because of the chronic corruption, which is more widespread today than it ever has been.

SOURCES

Dananer, “Baghdad: assignments of 2011 projects to the Integrity Commission,” 9/14/13
- “Governor of Baghdad reveals corruption in the work of the previous administration at 80 billion dinars,” 9/11/13

Radio Nawa, “Governor of Baghdad reveals theft of tons of billions in construction projects,” 9/10/13

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Iraq Signs Consulting Contract With BP For Kirkuk Oil Field

 
In September 2013 Iraq’s Oil Ministry and British Petroleum (BP) signed a contract for the Kirkuk oil field in northern Iraq. This appeared to be controversial at first, because the field is in the disputed territories, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has demanded that all deals for the field have to have its approval. BP is only doing technical work however. It is interested in developing Kirkuk as well, but the arguments between the central and regional governments will likely prevent that from happening any time soon.
The Kirkuk field stretches from the disputed territories into the Kurdistan region

BP will be evaluating the Kirkuk field for the Oil Ministry to see how to renovate it. The contract might be worth up to $100 million. The Kirkuk field is divided into three domes. BP will only be working on the two under Baghdad’s control, which are the Baba and Avana Domes. The corporation signed a preliminary deal for Kirkuk back in January after more than a year of talks. The Oil Ministry is interested in this work, because Kirkuk is the oldest field in the country having been discovered in 1927, and production has seen a steady decline. In the early 2000s it was pumping around 900,000 barrels a day. Today it is only producing approximately 260,000 barrels. It is therefore in desperate need of repair and restoration. BP is hoping to do this work, but so is Russia’s Lukoil. A production contract for Kirkuk has been held up due to Baghdad’s dispute with Kurdistan over who has control over oil policy. The KRG claims that any development deal signed with the Oil Ministry for Kirkuk would be illegal and unconstitutional, claiming that it must be involved. Kurdish officials have told BP that they can study the field, but not do any drilling or production work. The KRG occupies the northern dome, but its long-term ambition is to annex the entire area for its vast oil reserves. That’s why it has objected to any Oil Ministry production contract. That hasn’t stopped Baghdad from hearing offers, and it is obviously hoping to revive the field due to its declining output. The differences within the country over hydrocarbons have prevented that from happening so far, and will probably continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
The Kirkuk field is divided into 3 domes with the KRG controlling the northern Khurmala Dome and Baghdad running the other two (GEO ExPro)

The argument between Baghdad and the KRG over petroleum has been deadlocked for years now with no end in sight. Each claims that it has the sole authority to sign contracts and manage natural resources. Kirkuk is one centerpiece of this dispute, because it is coveted by Kurdistan. That’s why the BP signing made such headlines when it was announced. It was only for studying the field however, which the Kurds have agreed to. Until the larger issues over oil are resolved there’s little hope that either the central or regional governments will be able to move ahead with their plans for Kirkuk.

SOURCES

Ajrash, Kadhim and Al-Ansary, Khalid, “Iraq Seeks to Boost Crude Exports to China as Oil Output Rises,” Bloomberg, 4/3/13

Al-Ansary, Khalid & Razzouk, Nayla, “Iraq Plan to Let BP Develop Oil in Kirkuk Is Illegal, Kurds Say,” Bloomberg, 1/17/13

Aswat al-Iraq, “Russian Lukoil desires to work in Kirkuk oilfields,” 8/4/13

Chazan, Guy, “BP warned off oilfield plans in northern Iraq,” Financial Times, 1/29/13

Ebel, Robert, “Geopolitics and Energy in Iraq,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 2010

Hafidh, Hassan, “Kurdistan: Iraq Must Seek Approval For Kirkuk Oil Field Upgrade,” Dow Jones, 3/26/12

International Crisis Group, “Iraq And The Kurds: The High-Stakes Hydrocarbons Gambit,” 4/19/12

LeVine, Steve, “BP and ExxonMobil take up opposite sides of the front lines in Iraq,” Qartz, 1/28/13

Ma, Wayen, Hafidh, Hassan and Williams, Selina, “BP to Help revive Iraq’s Kirkuk Oil Field,” Wall Street Journal, 9/11/13

Mackey, Peg, “Iraq wants BP to revive northern Kirkuk oilfield,” Reuters, 4/17/12

Al-Najar, Kamaran, Lando, Ben, and Staff, “BP signs Kirkuk deal for consulting, not drilling,” Iraq Oil Report, 9/13/13

Neuhof, Florian and Yee, April, “Kurdistan looks to awaken giant,” The National, 9/20/12

Reuters, “BP set to sign key Iraq oilfield deal,” 8/31/13
- “UPDATE 2-Baghdad seeks to involve BP at Kirkuk oilfield,” 2/24/12

Rudaw, “Redevelopment of Kirkuk Oilfield by IOCs is Unlikely,” 4/1/12

Tanner, James, “After the War Iraq Is Fast Rebuilding Its Ravaged Oil Trade Into a World Leader,” Wall Street Journal, 1/8/90

Al-Wannan, Jaafar, “Iraq and BP seal agreement to increase production of Kirkuk oil field,” AK News, 3/24/12

Yackley, Ayla Jean, “UPDATE 2-Kurds say Iraqi oilfield auction is being rushed,” Reuters, 12/10/09

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Understanding Anbar Before And After The Awakening Part IV, Sheikh Wissam Abdul Ibrahim Hardan


Sheikh Abdul Abu Risha and Sheikh Wissam Abdul Ibrahim Hardan were the brains behind the Anbar Awakening. The two met in 2006, and decided to organize the major tribes in the province against the insurgents. The problem was that many of the sheikhs were reluctant at first to join in Abu Risha and Hardan’s scheme. The Awakening also had to convince the Americans of their sincerity, and deal with the Iraqi Islamic Party that controlled Anbar. Once they overcame these difficulties, and were successful in expelling the militants however, the Awakening began breaking up. Those divisions are still apparent today as Hardan has now become an ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and opposes his former Anbar brethren. The Awakening experience for Hardan then was a disappointment. He became a hero for fighting militants, but then failed to gain the local and national power that he hoped for.

Sheikh Hardan had his own views on opposing the insurgency before the Awakening was formed. He felt that the militants were using indiscriminate violence. They killed former military officers and sheikhs in Anbar, along with pushing out many of the province’s Shiite residents. Many of these people became refugees in neighboring countries or within Iraq itself. Sheikh Hardan finally had enough, and in 2005 gathered around 500 ex-soldiers to fight the insurgents. He went to then Defense Minister Sadoun Dulaimi who was a relative of his to ask permission for his fighters to carry weapons, but he was turned down. That put an end to Hardan’s initiative for the time being, because without government support his men could be arrested and killed by the security forces. Hardan’s main motivation was his belief that the insurgents had gone too far in Anbar. His first attempt at challenging them failed, but he did not give up.

In 2006, Hardan was stirred into action again, this time by Sheikh Abdul Abu Risha. The two were connected by marriage, as Hardan’s wife was Abu Risha’s cousin. Abu Risha contacted Hardan to meet with him about an idea to get the sheikhs in Anbar organized against the militants. Hardan was reluctant at first, but they eventually got together and came up with a plan. The first step was that they needed to convince the tribes that the time had come to confront the insurgents. The second was that they had to get popular support. Hardan then went about contacting the clerics in the province such as Abdul Malik al-Saadi and Ahmed al-Kubaysi. Hardan eventually got a fatwa condoning attacks upon the militants. This was the first move towards forming the Awakening. Many American accounts of Anbar stress the tribes, but fail to mention the role of the religious establishment in transforming the province. Abu Risha and Hardan knew their importance, and that was why they went to them first. Their personal relationship was also important, because Abu Risha was a young sheikh from a minor tribe. He came up with the idea of a new tribal revolt, but lacked the standing to convince others of his idea. That was why he reached out to Hardan who was far more prominent to talk to the sheikhs. He became the elder statesman of the Awakening.

Next on the agenda was a trip to Amman, Jordan to convince the sheikhs who had fled the fighting in Anbar to come back and join the revolt. Sheikh Hardan was again at the forefront contacting tribes and their leaders trying to get them to commit 50 fighters each. Many did not want to work with Abu Risha, because he had contacts with the Americans, and was therefore considered a collaborator with the occupation. Others accused Hardan and Abu Risha of not being real sheikhs, and attempting to usurp their power over their tribes. Hardan used the murder of Sheikh Khalid Araq Ataymi from the Albu Aetha tribe by Al Qaeda in Iraq as a rallying point, saying that the other tribes needed to avenge his death. Ataymi was thinking of his own uprising at the time, and was killed as a result. Finally a meeting was set in September 2006, which led to the formation of the Anbar Salvation Council. 41 sheikhs were chosen to be on the council with Abu Risha named governor of Anbar since the group claimed the real one was illegitimate, Hardan was made his deputy, and Sheikh Hamid Farhan al-Hayes was made head of the group. Hardan’s standing in Anbar and the continued violence of the insurgents helped turn opinion in Abu Risha’s favor, and led to the creation of the Awakening. Hardan also claimed that he was given a speech by the Americans to deliver to the sheikhs. If true, that might have convinced some to join as well, because that meant they would get the military support of the U.S.

After several tribes rose up in Anbar, Hardan and Abu Risha tried to acquire government approval for their actions. Hardan contacted his friend Parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi from the Ummah Party to get him to be a middleman with Baghdad. Eventually an appointment was made with Prime Minister Maliki, which went very badly. The premier did not want to give the tribes any aid, they in turn threatened him, and it seemed like nothing was achieved. Two days later, National Security Adviser Mowfaq Rubaie announced that the government was backing the Awakening. Hardan gave no explanation for this turn around. One of the goals of the Awakening from the beginning was to gain official recognition, something Hardan had tried and failed at in 2005. The group always wanted to be accepted by the authorities so that they could openly operate, and more importantly it wanted to put their men into the local police and army units, so that they could eventually take over Anbar. By controlling the security forces they would have a monopoly on the use of force a traditional way to power in Iraq. Maliki was weary of them at first, since they were Sunnis, and many had contacts with the insurgency, but they were eventually accepted as an indigenous Iraqi movement. That would later cause divisions in Anbar, as Abu Risha and Hardan were accused of being puppets of Baghdad. Those internal disputes would be the downfall of the Awakening.

Getting the support of the Americans and the Anbar provincial government proved much more difficult and divisive for the Awakening. Abu Risha was always in contact with Americans forces to inform them of his operations so that his units would not be attacked. They went back and forth, but eventually threw their lot in with the tribes. The governor of Anbar at that time was Mamoun Sami Rasheed from the Iraqi Islamic Party. He did not approve of the Awakening seeing it as a threat to his power. Hardan also warned Abu Risha about getting involved with politicians, believing that they could easily manipulate the sheikh. The Americans set up a meeting in Fallujah between Governor Rasheed, Abu Risha, General Richard Zilmer the Marine commander in the province, and a delegation from the U.S. Embassy. After a large argument between Abu Risha and Governor Rasheed, General Zilmer suggested a compromise between the two, which eventually allowed five members of the Awakening to join the provincial council. This deal caused a split between Hardan and Abu Risha and his brother Ahmed Abu Risha. Hardan accused Ahmed Abu Risha of being close to the Islamic Party, and selling out the tribes. Hardan claimed that this divide within the movement increased in the following months, and led to it being infiltrated, and Abdul Abu Risha’s eventual assassination in September 2007. The Americans did finally come around and support the Awakening after a rough start. The outreach to the Islamic Party proved much more difficult, and was perhaps the undoing of the organization. Ahmed Abu Risha continued to make deals with the Islamic Party such as before the 2009 provincial elections. This was condemned by other members of the Awakening such as Sheikh Hamid al-Hayes. It also led to the official break-up of the group as Abu Risha, Hayes, and two other prominent members Ali al-Sulaiman and Amer al-Sulaiman all ran separately in the vote. Abu Risha’s party ended up winning the most seats on the Anbar council in 2009, but at a price, the end of the Awakening. Today, the major sheikhs in the movement have all reverted to their own individual agendas. Abu Risha continues his ties with the Islamic Party, and is a major leader in the Anbar protest movement, while Hardan is now allied with Sheikh Hayes and Prime Minister Maliki in opposition. Once the unity of the sheikhs was lost, so were their hopes for greater power within the country. The break-up of the Awakening allowed the Islamic Party, Baghdad, and others to cut deals and play divide and conquer in Anbar. It is these continued splits within the province that help explain why Speaker Osama Nujafi’s Mutahidun, which was backed by Abu Risha and the protesters only won eight out of 30 seats in the 2013 provincial elections. There are simply far too many leaders in Anbar to win a decisive political victory there. From the start, Abdul Abu Risha and Hardan wanted national status. It seemed like they were going to achieve that when both Baghdad and the Americans supported the Awakening, they were able to place their men within the Anbar security forces, and gain seats on the Anbar council. That success however, led to jealousy and bitterness between the sheikhs, which still exist and divides the province.

Sheikh Hardan’s story highlights the rise and fall of the Anbar Awakening. He and Sheikh Abu Risha were the founders of the Awakening, and had a grand vision of turning their tribal revolt in Anbar into a national movement that would lead to influence in Baghdad. Their early success turned to disappointment when they got involved in politics. Hardan warned about cutting deals with the Iraqi Islamic Party, and that led to divisions within the movement, and its eventual break-up. Today there are several different Awakening groups in Anbar all competing with each other. Hardan leads one, and has aligned with Premier Maliki against Abu Risha and the protests. These internal rivalries have weakened the sheikhs, pitted them against each other, and opened the door to outside influence. That explains why the Awakening did not go from a local success story to a national power in Iraq.

SOURCES

Ali, Ahmed, “The Struggle of the Iraqi Security Forces: 2013 Iraq Update #33,” Institute for the Study of War, 8/21/13

Dagher, Sam, “Tribal Rivalries Persist as Iraqis Seek Local Posts,” New York Times, 1/20/09

Habib, Musafa, “govt neglect of anti-al-qaeda movement to blame for iraq’s deadly summer?” Niqash, 8/22/13

Jaffe, Greg, “How Courting Sheikhs Slowed Violence in Iraq,” Wall Street Journal, 8/8/07

Kazimi, Nibras, “An Initial Look at the Registrants for Provincial Election,” Talisman Gate, 6/12/08

Long, Austin, “The Anbar Awakening,” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, 4/1/08

Al-Mada, “Iraq Awakening: Insurgents began infiltrating the residential cities in Anbar to the impunity of the security forces,” 7/8/13

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

National Iraqi News Agency, “BREAKING NEWS Tens break away from Sahwa, joint protestors in Anbar,” 5/28/13

Shadid, Anthony, “Iraq Election Highlights Ascendancy of Tribes,” Washington Post, 1/25/09

Synovitz, Ron, “Sunni Rivalries Threaten Iraq’s Local Elections,” Radio Free Iraq, 4/7/13

Monday, September 16, 2013

Exploring The Structural Problems With Iraq’s Economy, Interview With Lehigh University Prof. Frank Gunter


Iraq’s economy is based upon a contradiction. It has huge natural wealth with its petroleum reserves that are being developed, and provides most of the country’s revenues. At the same time that industry hardly provides any jobs. That is a classic dilemma posed by the oil curse. To help explain this issue and others that affect the country is Lehigh Professor of Economics Frank Gunter. Previously Prof. Gunter was the lead economist to the U.S. military in Iraq from 2005-2006 and 2008-2009. And he is the author of The Political Economy of Iraq: Restoring Balance in a Post-Conflict Society (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013).

1. Iraq is a classic example of the oil curse. Can you briefly explain what that theory is and how it applies to Iraq?

The oil or natural resource curse – also known as the paradox of plenty – concerns developing countries whose economies are dominated by the production and export of a single natural resource. Such countries tend to have worse economic and political outcomes then countries with more diversified economies. Iraq is seriously vulnerable to the oil curse. Not only is it the most oil-dependent country among the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, Iraq is the most natural resource dependent country in the world. Oil production and exports account for roughly two-thirds of the country’s GDP and provide almost 95% of government revenues.

One aspect of the oil curse is the Dutch disease where a large value of exports leads to an appreciation of a country’s currency. In Iraq, the dinar has appreciated about 20% since December 2005, which reduced the competitiveness of the country’s non-oil exports and contributed to a flooding of the Iraqi economy with cheap imports. 

Also, the large and growing revenues from oil exports have not only allowed the Iraqi government to increase the number and compensation of government workers but also oil wealth has fundamentally changed the relationship between the government and the people. Concentration of economic power tends to lead to concentration of political power. If the party that controls the government also controls the economy then those in power begin to believe that choosing the national leadership is too important to entrust to the voters.

There is also an important psychological effect. In most long-lived democracies, the major source of government revenue is tax receipts. People in such countries feel that they are “buying” government services and if the government fails to provide, at reasonable cost, the services demanded by the taxpayer-citizens then they will attempt to “fire” the government through the ballot box. But in Iraq, the government doesn’t need to tax citizens. Cynically, the primary role of Iraqi citizens is to receive - and be grateful for – whatever level of service that the government decides is appropriate. In this sense, Iraqi citizens are not independent entities that support the government. Rather they are symbolically, and often in reality, clients of a “beneficent” government. As Samuel P. Huntington stated in 1991: “’No taxation without representation’ was a political demand; ‘no representation without taxation’ is a political reality.”

Iraq might best be described as having partially evolved from Saddam-era central planning to state-guided capitalism in which government tries to guide the market by supporting particular industries that it expects to become ‘winners’ or that are important sources of employment.  But, if oil continues to dominate the economy, there is a real danger that Iraq’s state-guided capitalism is only a way station to becoming an oligarchic capitalistic state - like most of the other countries in the Arab Middle East - in which the bulk of the power and wealth is held by a small group of individuals and families. Despite wealth from natural resources, such oligarchic capitalistic states tend to have great income inequality, sluggish growth, large informal or underground sectors, and massive corruption.

2. You’ve argued that failure to develop the economy away from the oil industry is a national security issue for Baghdad. What kinds of risks are involved if Iraq doesn’t break away from its oil dependency?

In the absence of economic diversification, there are both short-term and long-term threats to political stability. Due to the dominance of oil revenues in the national budget, government capital expenditures are on a roller coaster of world oil prices. When oil prices are high as in 2008 and 2011-2013 then the government can expand the number of civil service jobs, increase wages and pensions, increase spending on the social safety net and essential services, as well as accelerate infrastructure investment. However, during years of lower oil export revenues such as 2009-2010 then the government responds by slashing capital expenditures in order to preserve funds for current expenditures such as the government’s wage bill.

Since public investment accounts for over 90% of total fixed capital formation when the government cuts such investment in response to lower oil prices, the effect is serious. Most infrastructure and other investment in roads, electricity, schools, clinics, water supply, etc. slows or grinds to a stop. Partially completed multi-year building projects are abandoned for months or years until investment spending is restored in a future budget. When projects are restarted, it is often discovered that previous work must be redone due to looting, vandalism, environmental damage, or plan revisions. This waste and delay tend to have the most serious impact on private sector firms and workers resulting in increased unemployment. As discussed below in response to another question, this rise in unemployment threatens political stability.

3. Baghdad says that it is committed to diversifying the economy and promoting the private sector. The country consistently ranks as one of the worst business environments in the world however. What kind of regulatory barriers do entrepreneurs face, and how might that be solved?

MENA countries are not known for their friendliness towards private businesses, Iraq is one of the worst in the region. It ranks 176th in the world with respect to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business survey. It is particularly difficult in Iraq to legally start a business, get credit, or engage in international trade. And in one category, closing a business, Iraq ranks dead last. Considering the competition from sub Saharan Africa, this is quite a dismal achievement.

Ever since the first port-Saddam National Development Strategy of 2005, the importance of diversifying the economy has been recognized. Unfortunately, while the economic necessity of diversification is strong, the political will to make the difficult decisions is weak. It is important to recognize that the regulatory hostility towards the private business sector in Iraq is not an unloved artifact of the Saddam era but rather is carefully maintained by the leadership of the bureaucracy. The great regulatory complexity and expense provides strong incentives for businessmen to offer bribes to helpful government officials. Also, harsh regulation of private businesses reduces competition for the state owned enterprises. These state owned enterprises tend to be high cost/low quality producers.

What can be done? Iraqi government efforts to rewrite its own commercial code will probably take more than a decade and will provide multiple opportunities for officials to extract bribes in return for inserting clauses favorable to one group or another. The World Bank and other international organizations can provide a “model” commercial code that Iraq could adopt. However, there is Iraqi concern that to adopt a “western” code would be inconsistent with the business strictures of Islam. Probably the most practical option would be for Iraq to adopt with minor modifications, the commercial code of another Islamic state such as the UAE.

4. If Iraq were ever able to build up a vibrant private sector how would that contribute to stability in the country?

In the long-term, Iraq must deal with a severe demographic challenge. Unlike Iran, its neighbor to the east, which is experiencing a demographic collapse; Iraq still is a young country with a high fertility rate. As a result, even after adjusting for the low labor force participation rate of women in Iraq, the number of new job seekers is expected to grow by at least 250,000 this year and even more in the future. And this is in a country where the combined unemployment and underemployment rate among the young is already an estimated 80%! The experience of other low-income countries is clear: a rising number of permanently unemployed young men is politically destabilizing.

Therefore, Iraq must create enough jobs to not only absorb this annual increase but also shrink the pool of current unemployed and underemployed. It is unlikely that increased public sector employment will be sufficient. Public sector entities are already severely overmanned. In addition, in the absence of a sharply higher oil export earnings, the public sector will be hard pressed to achieve its current infrastructure investment goals much less substantially increase government employment. 

In developing countries, most jobs are created by new small private businesses engaged in services and light manufacturing. Of the three institutional requirements for such job creation – favorable regulatory environment, available small business finance, and widespread literacy – Iraq only has the third. In addition to regulatory hostility, the banking system is moribund while microfinance still reaches relatively few Iraqi businesses.

5. You’ve argued that the new Iraq has led to “entrepreneurial corruption.” Can you explain what that means?

If corruption is the abuse of public power for private gain then, under Saddam, corruption in Iraq was controlled from the top in a classic case of “state capture”. It was expected that Saddam, his family, or his supporters would financially benefit from every public and private economic activity. As a result, corruption under Saddam differs in at least two ways from that in post-Saddam Iraq. First, Saddam’s family and his immediate ring of supporters captured a large proportion of the total gains from corrupt activities.  While lower levels of government were corrupt, they captured a smaller proportion since Saddam and his immediate supporters were careful to ensure that lower levels of the bureaucracy didn’t divert flows of corrupt money from reaching the top. Second, under Saddam corruption was more “honest” – honest in the ironic sense of the old Chicago joke about an “honest judge” who, when he accepts a bribe, actually performs the service that he was bribed to perform! 

In post-Saddam Iraq, gains from corruption are more widely distributed. While the top levels of the Iraqi government tend to be very corrupt, they seem to be less able or willing to constrain corruption at lower levels of government. Post-Saddam corruption is more widespread and competitive - more “entrepreneurial”. Government officials at all levels are creatively engaged in sometimes cooperative, sometimes competitive efforts to extract maximum rents from not only private persons but also from other branches of the country’s bureaucracy. As a result of this entrepreneurial corruption, bribe takers tend to be less “honest”; corrupt members of the bureaucracy are often unable to actually provide the services for which they accepted bribes.

It is likely that, although Saddam and his supporters were able to steal a larger proportion of the nation’s income; current entrepreneurial corruption imposes a more serious burden on the Iraqi people because of the increased uncertainty resulting from entrepreneurial corruption.

6. Another side effect of the bureaucracy and corruption is the growing and vibrant underground economy. What is that sector like?

Private businesses in Iraq must choose between seeking to become a legal enterprise, which due to regulatory hostility is a difficult and expensive process, or operating in the underground economy with all of the associated inefficiencies. One characteristic common to both options is the necessity of paying bribes to a long line of corrupt officials. One survey of corruption in Iraq showed that one-fifth of private businesses reported paying 40% or more of their firm’s total revenues in bribes. 

Excluding agriculture, an estimated 6% of the labor force is employed by private legal enterprises while 20% is employed in the underground economy. Firms in the underground economy tend to be small-scale, engaged in services or light manufacturing. In many cases, underground entities are engaged in illegal activities such as selling black market fuel or smuggling across Iraq’s long open borders. However, other underground firms are engaged in other wise legal activities that are concealed to avoid the choice of meeting arduous regulations or paying bribes to inspectors to ignore violations. As expected, workers in the underground economy lack legal protections and there are stories of workers being denied pay or even physically abused. Generally firms in Iraq’s underground economy are very inefficient. This inefficiency arises not only from the usually small-scale production but also from the necessity of operating in such a way so as to avoid coming to the attention of rapacious officials.

7. Iraq’s economy also suffers from political interference. How have politicians attempted to manipulate and control the economy for their own gain?

Most politicians in Iraq – like everywhere else – seek to do the right thing for their country as long as it doesn’t injure their own self-interest. Just because a person has been elected or appointed to a responsible government position, doesn’t make him or her more virtuous. And like in other countries, politicians in Iraq manipulate the economy to achieve a better life for themselves in at least two ways.

First, as discussed above, politicians engage in corrupt activities and some have succeeded in stealing vast amounts for themselves and their families through such illegal activities.

Second, politicians can personally benefit through activities that, although they are not illegal, have an adverse effect on Iraqi economic development. A major source of status and political influence for politicians in Iraq is their control of large numbers of government jobs. It is irrelevant that a ministry in incredibly ineffective or that a state owned enterprise is a low quality/high cost producer of a good or service; what is important for the status of a high level government official is the number of jobs that they control. As a result, the ministries and state owned enterprises tend to be seriously overmanned. As one example, the Iraqi publicly owned railroad industry has over 10,000 employees running a system that in other countries would require one-fourth to one-tenth as many. And that is true with other state owned enterprises, these workers can not be fired for failure to perform their assigned tasks to expected standards or even have their pay docked for failure to show up for work.

Proponents of excessive ministerial and state owned enterprise employment argue that it reduces political instability by providing jobs for unskilled young men. However, expanded government employment in Iraq may actually be destabilizing. It is not uncommon for a state owned enterprise or ministry to be “captured” by a religious sect, party, sect or tribe as a means of providing funding for the organization as well as jobs for its members. Thus government employment can be destabilizing by supporting - with government funds - members of political parties or other groups that may be in opposition to the rule of law.

8. Iraq has huge needs in terms of its infrastructure and services, and that is drawing in increasing amounts of foreign investment. Do you think that those foreign companies can help diversify the economy and help the private sector grow?

To date, almost all of the foreign direct investment (FDI) flowing into Iraq has been associated either with one of the ministries or one of the almost 200 state owned enterprises. In other words, very little of this investment is purely private. Association with a government agency has both advantages and disadvantages. A government partner can help cut through bureaucratic red tape especially with respect to bringing capital equipment and key personnel into Iraq. In addition, having a government partner can reduce the demands for bribes.

However, the government partner probably expects to benefit from the relationship with the foreign investor in ways that may not be clearly delineated in a partnership agreement. Several examples might illustrate this expectation. One European corporate investor agreed not to fire any workers in a severely overmanned Iraqi factory. Apparently, the foreign firm thought that it could gradually reduce the workforce through attrition until it reached efficient levels. However, the Iraqi government partner not only demanded that a new worker should be hired to replace each one who departs but also that the government agency alone should select the new workers. As discussed above, this demand reflected what the government agency saw as political reality that the agency’s influence in Baghdad was a function, in part, of the number of jobs that it provided for Iraqis. Another example involved a foreign hotel management company that was informed rather late in contract negotiations that the rooms on one floor of the hotel would be reserved for the sole use of the Iraqi government partner without payment although it was expected that the foreign management company would be responsible for maintaining these rooms.

As long as most foreign investment continues to take the form of partnerships with public entities, it will have little effect on the degree of economic diversity in the Iraq economy.   

9. What direction do you see Iraq moving in the future? Will its private sector eventually start to grow or will it remain oil dependent with a large state-sector or something in between?

Over the next decade, Iraq’s future will be determined to a great extent by the degree to which the civil war in Syria on Iraq’s western border and the dispute over nuclear sanctions between Iraq’s eastern neighbor, Iran, and the west affect Iraq. So far these two disputes have had an adverse impact on Iraq’s political stability as well as greatly complicated economic policymaking but – surprisingly – these ongoing conflicts seem to have a favorable effect on Iraq’s real economy. However, the price of oil will remain the dominant determinant of economic development and political stability in Iraq for the next decade.

In 2012, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated three price scenarios for 2025: a high scenario where the world price of oil is $180 per barrel (pb), a reference scenario of $120 pb, and a low scenario of $50 pb. 

The impact on Iraq of $180 pb in 2025 will probably be mixed. If Iraq is able to raise its exports to 10.0 mbpd then Iraq’s export earnings would reach $657 billion (in 2010 dollars) compared to $50 billion in 2010! With an expected 2025 population of 47 million, average per-capita income would reach about $16,000 (in 2010 dollars) – seven times greater than in 2010. This is about the same level of per capita income as Saudi Arabia had in 2010. With this massive increase in oil export earnings, everything would be possible: increased government employment and higher wages for government workers, sharp rises in investment, generous provision of free essential services, agricultural restoration, accelerated construction of homes, factories, and government offices. New soccer stadiums would appear in every town. The al Rahman Mosque in Baghdad would finally be completed. However, there would also be negative effects. There would be an explosion in corruption. Efforts to diversify the Iraqi economy away from its dependency on oil would probably grind to a stop. And, as discussed above, without diversification, Iraqi nascent democracy would be threatened.

At the other extreme, how likely is $50 pb oil? Increased petroleum and natural gas production from Iraq, the USA, and other countries; reduced energy demand from Brazil, Russia, India, and China; further improvements in energy conservation; and peaceful resolutions of the conflicts in Syria and Iran resulting in a reduction in oil risk premium could lead to a return of $50 pb oil. After all, adjusting for inflation, average oil prices were below this level for almost two decades from 1986 through 2005. The adverse impact on Iraq’s political stability of an extended period of $50 pb oil would be severe. The Iraqi government must earn at least $55 pb (in 2010 dollars) in order to pay its salary, pension, food assistance, and security commitments. There would be no funds available for infrastructure investment or expanded spending on internal or external security. If world oil prices fall below this level for a year or two then the government of Iraq would be able to pay for its basic expenditures by exhausting its Development Fund for Iraq reserves, about $18 billion at the end of 2012; by persuading the Central Bank to substantially revise its international reserves policy to make some of its $70 billion available for fiscal purposes and by taking advantage of the country’s limited access to world capital markets.

However, if there are more than two years of low oil prices then not only will there be rising levels of unemployment and underemployment but also the government will be forced to cut salaries and pensions. If Iraq’s past is any guide to its future, cuts in wages and pensions will cause the bureaucracy to turn against the government – undermining its policies, participating in street protests, and possibly engaging in violent action. Losing the support of government workers and pensioners will increase the likelihood of a return of an authoritarian government – another Saddam or Saddam-lite. 

To insure against this outcome, Iraq must defuse the resource curse by restoring balance – diversifying – its economy. Achieving such economic diversification will not only require difficult economic choices but also entail serious political risks. More than in any period since 1958, the future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqis. Over the next decade, Iraq will make - or fail to make - critical irrevocable decisions. Rich countries with long histories of stable government can afford to make stupid decisions. Iraq cannot.

SOURCES

Flintoff, Corey, “Iraq’s Shaky Economy Poses Threat To Future,” National Public Radio, 12/9/09

Gunter, Frank, The Political Economy of Iraq: Restoring Balance in a Post-Conflict Society. Northampton, Massachusetts: Edward Elgar Publishing. 2013.
-“Corruption In Iraq: Poor Data, Questionable Policies,” EEA Meetings, 3/7-9/08
- “Economic Development During Conflict: The Petraeus-Crocker Congressional Testimonies,” Strategic Insights, December 2007
- “Entrepreneurship, Corruption, And Economic Development In Post-conflict/Post-disaster States,” 5/13/11
- “Liberate Iraq’s Economy,” New York Times, 11/16/09

McArdle, Megan, “When Freedom Is Bad for Business,” Atlantic, March 2011

O’Brien, Andrew, “Professor Gunter previews upcoming book about Iraq economy,” Leigh Valley Live, 11/29/12

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