Saturday, January 31, 2009

Iraq’s Provincial Elections And Abuses

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

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

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

Provincial Elections Facts And Figures

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

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

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

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

Number of Seats Per Province And Seats Set Aside For Women

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 30, 2009

Information On Iraq’s Voting System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aswat al-Iraq, “Presidential Board approves Art. 50 of elections law,” 11/8/08
Carpenter, J. Scott and Knights, Michael, “Provincial Elections Kick Off Iraq’s Year of Choices,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1/26/09
Gamel, Kim and Yacoub, Sameer, “Iraqi voting rules raise concern about challenges,” Associated Press, 1/14/09
Hanna, Michael Wahid, “Through the cracks,” The National, 12/19/08
Kaplow, Larry, “How to Vote in Iraq’s Elections,” Checkpoint Baghdad Blog, Newsweek, 1/29/09 Niqash, “state of law coalition,” 1/28/09
Parker, Sam, “not so open,” Abu Muqawama Blog, 9/25/08
Visser, Reidar, “Iraqi Minorities Get Special Representation in the Provincial Elections Law,”, 11/3/08
Williams, Timothy, “The Ballot: Inside Iraq’s Voting Booth,” Baghdad Bureau Blog, New York Times, 1/13/09

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Iraq Revises Down Budget Once Again

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

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

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

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

Abbas, Mohammed and Ibrahim, Waleed, “Iraq fears budget crisis, urges oil export boost,” Reuters, 12/3/08
Aswat al-Iraq, “Austerity could save 20 trillion dinars for 2009 budget – expert,” 12/9/08
- “KRG cuts ministries’ operational costs by 20%,” 1/1/09
- “No decrease in salaries because of oil prices – planning minister” 12/19/08
Chon, Gina, “As Crude Falls, Iraqi Leaders Scramble to Plan Budget,” Wall Street Journal, 10/22/08
IRIN, “IRAQ: Budget cuts threaten IDP housing projects,” 1/6/09
- “IRAQ: Iraqis want free food programme to continue, finds survey,” 1/4/09
Karouny, Mariam, “Iraq reviews 2009 budget due to falling oil price,” Reuters, 10/23/08
Mawloodi, Aiyob, “Iraqi government sharply cuts its expenditures,” Kurdish Globe, 1/22/09
Reid, Robert, “AP: Iraq forced to cut spending as oil price falls,” Associated Press, 1/22/09
Reuters, “Basra Oil Exports Nearly Double to 1.03m Bpd After Earlier Drop,” 12/30/08
- “Iraq earns $60 billion from 2008 crude exports,” 1/5/09
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/08

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Year of the Ballot Box Begins

This Saturday, provincial council elections will be held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. Early balloting has already taken place for Iraqi prisoners, hospital patients, and nearly 600,000 members of Iraq's security forces.

Voting in the three provinces comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government -- Irbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah -- will take place later this year. Voting in the disputed province of Tamim (Kirkuk) is postponed indefinitely.

Throughout the rest of the country, some 14,400 candidates representing over 400 political entities are contesting 440 provincial council seats. Each provincial council will comprise 25 seats plus one additional seat per 200,000 people in the province.

The largest province by population, Baghdad, will have 57 council members. The other 13 participating provinces will have an average number of 30 council members. Unlike Iraq’s previous provincial elections in January 2005, the candidates are no longer faceless. They are reaching out to the grassroots, holding rallies and candidate forums, and responding to constituent demands for jobs and the provision of essential services. Public anger over perceived corruption and mismanagement by Baghdad’s ruling parties is expected to drive high voter turnout to the polls. Yet despite such public perceptions and desire for new leadership, the ruling parties are expected to perform well.


Voter registration reached 4.6 million before the Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (IHEC) decided to allow anyone over the age of 18 to vote. Thus as many as 17.2 million eligible voters could potentially turn out to the polls (although actual turnout will likely be closer to 10 million).

The IHEC is working to ensure voting rights for an estimated 2.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), establishing special polling stations throughout the country. Even in Iraqi Kurdistan where provincial elections are not scheduled to take place until later this year, 41 special polling stations have been set up for IDPs.

The IHEC has opened a total of 42,000 polling stations -- approximately one polling station for every 400 eligible voters -- in almost 7,000 locations. To reduce the incidence of fraud, each voter will be assigned to only one polling station. The IHEC has launched a voter education campaign, set up a toll-free information hotline, and posted a "poll station locater" on their website to help voters find their designated polling station.

Saturday will be the most observed elections to ever take place in Iraq. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) have trained 20,000 election observers (twice as many as with previous elections), and the IHEC website reports that it expects to accredit more than 100,000 independent and cross-party observers.

Will the year of the ballot lead to a year of change in Iraq? Indeed, most Iraqis are dissatisfied with Iraq’s ruling parties. Common complaints include sectarian bias, corruption, and underperformance. According to a January 2009 nationwide poll of Iraqis conducted by NDI, only 34% of respondents expressed positive feelings toward the Council of Representatives. Another measure of public support for change: more than 75% of the 14,000-plus candidates and 400-plus political parties registered by the IHEC are new.


Each provincial council will comprise 25 seats plus one additional seat per 200,000 people in the province. The largest province by population, Baghdad, will have 57 council members. The other 13 participating provinces will have an average number of 30 council members.

In January 2005, a closed-list system was used in the provincial elections. That meant that voters cast ballots for party lists, not candidates. The parties then decided which of their own candidates would fill the seats they had won. In the midst of growing violence, many Iraqis voted for the list that represented their ethnic or religious identity, contributing to an institutionalization of sectarian divisions. This time both party lists and individual candidates are listed, and issue politics are ascendant over sectarianism. Moreover, thanks to improving security in some areas of Iraq, candidates are less afraid of being publicly visible. Their faces can be seen on campaign posters covering blast walls and buildings, and they are reaching out directly to would-be constituents (see “This Time, Iraqis Hear and See Candidates” by Timothy Williams and Suadad al-Salhy, New York Times, 1/6/09).

Responding to a public backlash against the sectarianism that nearly tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007, most political parties and candidates are not defining themselves in sectarian terms. Aamer Madhani of USA Today reports: “The election campaign that is coming to a close in Iraq might be most notable for the relative absence of two words: 'Shiite' and 'Sunni.'” Instead, candidates are focusing on constituent demands for jobs, improved public services, and solutions to other issues. Kim Gamel and Hamza Hendawi of the Scotsman report: “Candidates in this month's Iraqi provincial elections are answering questions from voters and debating issues ranging from housing shortages to the need for foreign investment. This style of campaigning is new to Iraq, where candidates for the first time feel safe enough to canvass for votes and focus on grass-roots issues.”


During the year of the ballot box, addressing the following concerns will help further a consolidation of Iraq’s democracy rather than it’s unraveling.

First, although less of a factor than in previous elections, political violence remains a wild card. Since late December, five candidates and one campaign manager have been assassinated. In late December, Mowaffaq al-Hamdani, a candidate with the Sunni Arab "Iraq for Us" party list, was shot dead in a cafĂ© in the northern city of Mosul. On January 16th, Haitham al-Husseini, a leading candidate of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party, was killed by armed gunmen in Babil province. On January 18th in Qayara south of Mosul, a suicide bomber killed Sheikh Hassan Zaidan al-Luhaibi, the campaign manager of Saleh al-Mutlaq’s National Dialogue Front in the northern provinces of Nineveh and Salahuddin. Rival political parties are suspected in all three of these attacks, yet no one has been charged with a crime.

[Updated on 1/30/09] On Thursday, three candidates running for provincial council seats were assassinated (see "Three Sunni Candidates Slain Days Before Elections" by Zaid Sabah and Qais Mizher, Washington Post, 1/30/09). In Mosul (Ninewa), gunmen killed Hazim Salim al-Zaidi, a former Iraqi army officer who was running on the "National Unity List" of independent Sunni candidates in Mosul, near his home. In the town of Mandali in Diyala province, Abbas Farhan, a candidate with the secular “National Movement of Reform and Development” party, was seized by armed assailants along with his brother and a cousin. Their bodies were later found nearby riddled with bullets. In Baghdad's Amiriyah neighborhood, Omar Farouq al-Ani, a candidate with the Iraqi Islamic Party led by Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, was killed in a drive-by shooting as he stepped from his home.

Second, there are no provisions for Iraqi refugees who remain outside Iraq to vote. Beth Ferris of Brookings writes: “This means that close to 10% of Iraq’s population will be disenfranchised.”

Third, without strong independent oversight, we could see a recurrence of voter intimidation and voting irregularities in some areas, especially in the Ninevah Plain region of Ninewa province (to the north and west of the city Mosul). The Ninevah Plain is home to large communities of Assyrian, Yezidi, Shabak, and Turkoman minorities. The U.S. Department of State's 2005 Human Rights Country Report for Iraq states: In the January (2005) elections, many of the mostly non-Muslim residents on the Nineveh Plain were unable to vote. Some polling places did not open, ballot boxes were not delivered, and incidents of voter fraud and intimidation occurred. These problems resulted from administrative breakdowns on voting day and the refusal of Kurdish security forces to allow ballot boxes to pass to predominantly Christian villages.

Fourth, without a political party law, there are no restrictions on foreign funding. In fact, candidates and parties are not even required to divulge their funding sources. Given Iraq’s geography and what’s a stake -- both economically and geo-politically -- money is pouring in from Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and other foreign governments. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) led by Sayyed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was founded in Tehran in 1982 (under a different name) and continues to receive considerable funding from Iran. The Iraqi National Accord of Ayad Allawi has received support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, as well as covert assistance from Western intelligence agencies. The Iraqi Islamic Party of Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi reportedly receives funding from Turkey, suggested by al-Hashimi’s regular trips to Istanbul. The U.S. military has funded tribal leaders who are running for office (see "Iraq Election Highlights Ascendancy of Tribes" by Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, 1/25/09).

Ideally, elections ought to be determined by “one person, one vote” and the candidate’s ability to mobilize volunteers and generate financial contributions from the electorate. In turn, that can strengthen the ties that bind elected officials to their constituents, enhancing the legitimacy and accountability of the government. Foreign funding can distort election outcomes to reflect the will of foreign capitols rather than the will of the people, and make elected officials answerable to foreign interests rather than their own constituents. As noted by Musings On Iraq, it can also create an unfair playing field for aspiring leaders: “While it’s often been repeated that over 14,000 candidates are running in the upcoming election, few of these newcomers can compete with the [Islamic] Supreme Council’s two satellite TV channels, dozens of local channels and newspapers, five women’s organization, three student groups, and over 1,000 offices in the south.”

Fifth, there have been scattered reports of vote-buying and other campaign violations. Common allegations and reported incidences include: promising land and jobs in exchange for votes; using gifts (phone cards being a popular choice) and cash payments to buy votes; arresting and intimidating opponents; posting campaign posters on government buildings; using religious figures to promote a candidate or party; and the use of Iraqi government money by Iraqi officials to campaign.

Finally and perhaps most significant, the current one-time provincial elections law favors Baghdad-backed big parties over newer, smaller ones. This might discourage voter turnout among Iraqis who are afraid their votes won't count.

Under a unique 'open-list proportional representation' system to be used for the first time in Iraq, a voter can choose to cast their ballot for either an individual candidate or a party list. However, if a voter chooses to cast a ballot for an individual candidate, they must correctly mark the candidate’s corresponding party “list” affiliation or the ballot is considered invalid.

The formula for awarding seats also favors large, established parties over smaller newcomers. According to a Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder, here's how it works:
Under Iraq's revised open-list structure, votes will be tallied and awarded according to the percentage of the votes a candidate receives. "If there are forty seats at stake, you have to get one-fortieth of the votes" in a given province to win one seat, Sam Parker [an Iraq analyst with the United States Institute of Peace] explains. This threshold of votes is known as the "electoral divider" in the provincial elections law. The rub, Parker says, is that if a candidate does not reach the electoral divider threshold, "you don't get a seat, period." And because of the disorganized and fractious nature of the emerging political landscape in Iraq, Parker says there are likely to be "a whole lot of wasted votes, people [in small or unknown parties] who don't reach the threshold and don't get seats."

After the initial votes are tallied, some seats could be unfilled because larger parties might not tally 100 percent of the vote and smaller parties might not win enough votes to push them over the election threshold. These unfilled seats will be doled out on a proportional basis to the parties that won seats during the initial allocation. If, for instance, Prime Minister Maliki's Dawa Party wins 40 percent of the seats in the initial round of vote counting in Basra, Dawa will then be awarded 40 percent of the empty seats. While legal, Parker says the result "is going to look unfair" to smaller parties that might claim they didn't have enough time, or resources, to properly campaign for votes [READ MORE].
Aamer Madhani of USA Today reports: “Bahaa al-Araji, a Shiite legislator who is overseeing two lists, estimates that 1 million Iraqis will not see any of the candidates they vote for get a legislative seat. That could result in some unrest, al-Araji said. "After the election, it could be a very dark time in Iraq."”


The outcome of this week’s provincial elections will favor large, well-established parties over smaller newcomers, while helping to boost representation of Sunni Arabs who had largely boycotted Iraq's previous provincial elections in 2005.

Later this year, Iraq’s citizens will have additional opportunities to decide their future and promote new leaders from the local to national level. Within six months of voting for provincial councils, Iraqis will return to the ballot box to vote for municipal and district councils. A national referendum on the security agreement with the United States is scheduled for July. The three provinces comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government -- Irbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah -- will hold provincial elections later this year. And finally, national parliamentary elections are scheduled for December.

While ballots are chosen over bullets and politics shift from sectarian divisions to real issues like jobs and the provision of essential services, the U.S. and international community should not take these developments for granted. Improvements in security remain fragile and reversible. Beyond elections, enormous challenges remain from resolving conflict in Kirkuk to increasing Iraqi government capacity for meetings the needs of the population. But with appropriate support -- especially through the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and other civilian agencies -- the Obama administration has an opportunity to help consolidate Iraq’s democracy and long-term stability.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on reconstruction and development see:

Maysan Province Remains Underdeveloped

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s Quarterly October Report

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

Iraq Outspends U.S. on Reconstruction


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

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

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

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

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sadrists Announce Parties They Support For Provincial Elections

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Iraqi Opinion Poll On Preferences And Federalism Before Provincial Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Media Center January 2009 Poll

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

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

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

Iraq Center for Research & Strategic Studies October 2008 Poll

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Basra Federal Region Plan Fails

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 23, 2009

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

Other Minorities

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

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

Internally Displaced

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

Political Pressure

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Thursday, January 22, 2009

International Organization for Migration’s Report On Displaced In Kurdistan

The situation of the displaced in the three provinces of Kurdistan, Dohuk, Irbil and Sulaymaniya, are different from the rest of the country. The stability of Kurdistan has been a draw for displaced from across the country. Professionals and manual labors alike have found jobs there. A large number of Iraqi minorities fled there. Most of the displaced in the three provinces also left their homes before the February 2006 Samarra bombing that set off the sectarian war. At the same time Kurdistan has strict restrictions on the entry of non-Kurds, and there are fears amongst officials that these refugees will upset the demographics of the region. In December 2008, the International Organization for Migration released its latest report on the displaced in Kurdistan.

The relative security of Kurdistan has led many displaced Iraqis to try to move there, but at the same time it is the hardest part of the country to gain entry into. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is worried about Arab insurgents entering, as well as non-Kurds disrupting the Kurdish majority. The KRG also doesn’t want to take care of so many displaced families. As a result, Kurdish security forces tightly control the border. People that don’t originally come form Kurdistan must have sponsors to enter. The Kurds are especially suspicious of Arabs, but requirements are looser for minorities who are seen as victims of terrorism. Once a family has entered Kurdistan they have to go through a complicated series of offices and requirements to stay. Every three months they have to renew their residency permit. For individuals, they have to renew it every month. If they don’t they are considered illegal residents. These tight restrictions have led many displaced to hide their movements outside the region, for example to collect their food rations from their home province, out of fear that they will be caught by the authorities and expelled.

Most of Iraq’s minorities live in the north. As reported before, they have been singled out for attack since the U.S. invasion. Many have fled to Kurdistan as a result because of its safety and proximity. 22.8% of the displaced in the region are Christians for example, compared to 5% in the rest of the country.

Kurdistan also has the largest amount of pre-2006 displaced. Most of these are Kurds, Turkomen, and Christians forced out by Saddam Hussein’s Arabization policy and Anfal campaign. Over 600,000 people came to Dohuk, Irbil and Sulaymaniya before 2006 as a result.

The displaced have caused both problems, and been welcomed in the region. The refugees can strain a community by increasing demand for services, and competing for jobs. In Khabat in the Irbil district there are more than 2,000 displaced families causing problems with the health facilities and schools. There are also reports of women turning to prostitution for money, and child labor. In Dohuk there are stories of women being raped to keep their jobs. Another problem is that the displaced have to know Kurdish to get jobs. Those that have stayed longer, usually have developed some language skills, and are thus better suited to find work. At the same time, because of the better security situation there are more jobs in Kurdistan than the rest of the country. The displaced have added both skilled and unskilled labor to the regional economy. This is seen in the fact that 56.6% of the displaced surveyed had at least one family member working compared to 34.8% in the rest of the country.

The ability to receive services and assistance by the displaced has been mixed. There is little coordination between the KRG and the Ministry of Trade that runs the food rations system. In a survey 74.6% of the displaced said they don’t get any food rations at all. Less then 3% said they received food aid, compared to the 43% national average. In Irbil no displaced received any food assistance. Only 23% said they received any aid period, compared to 63% in the rest of the country. Dohuk was the exception with 57% saying they had gotten some form of aid. 66% of the displaced said they also had no access to fuel, higher than the 33% average in the rest of Iraq. People in Kurdistan also pay higher prices for fuel, which adds more strain to the displaced that often have financial difficulties. Schools are a special problem for the displaced because classes are conducted in Kurdish. Some displaced Kurds are not use to the written form of the language either. Even so, there is a very high percentage of the displaced attending schools. 62.3% of families said all their girls were going, and 73.9% said their boys were as well. Water supply and access to health care however, are better than the rest of the country for internal refugees.


Dohuk has the least amount of pre-2006 displaced, and the most post-2006 refugees of the three Kurdish provinces. The majority came from Baghdad 52% and Ninewa 47%. The largest amount of people came during the summer of 2006, and has since declined. There are concerns that because of economic hardships some families are turning to crime to support themselves. Services and aid are mixed there. Electricity is available for an average of six hours per day, leaving many to turn to private generators or buying power from private businesses to make up the difference. 99.1% say they have no access to fuel, higher than the 65.9% average for the region and 32.7% rate for the country. Dohuk also has the least amount of displaced people working. Only 33.5% said they had at least one family member working compared to 56.6% in Kurdistan. Refugee families do have the best access to humanitarian aid out of the region.

Statistics On The Displaced In Dohuk

Population: 954,087
Total pre-Feb 06 displaced: 22,474 families, approx. 138,844 people
Total post-Feb 06 displaced: 17,390 families, approx 104,824 people


Religion & ethnicity of displaced:

Sunni Kurd 39.7%
Chaldean Christian 29.0%
Assyrian Christian 19.8%
Armenian Christian 3.4%
Sunni Arab 2.1%
Shiite Arab 2.0%
Turkomen Shiite 0.7%
Shiite Kurd 0.3%
Christian Kurd 0.2%
Other 0.1%

Place of origin:
Baghdad 51.79%
Ninewa 46.65%
Tamim 0.58%
Basra 0.48%
Anbar 0.32%
Muthanna 0.05%
Salahaddin 0.05%
Babil 0.03%
Diyala 0.03%
Irbil 0.03%

Reasons For Displacement:
Fear 92.8%
Violence 88.1%
Direct Threat 71.2%
Armed Conflict 33.7%
Forced From Home 7.3%
Other 0.4%

Reason For Being Targeted:

Sect 68.20%
Ethnicity 22.84%
Political opinion 18.29%
Social group 14.57%
Don’t think targeted 7.42%

Intentions of Displaced:

Integrate locally 60.2%
Return to place of origin 22.0%

Services And Employment:

Access to food rations:
Yes 2.7%
Sometimes 4.3%
Never 92.9%

Water source:
Municipal water 89.8%
Water tanks/trucks 31.9%
Others 4.7%
Wells 6.8%
Rivers, streaks, lakes 5.1%
Broken pipes 0.2%

Electricity access:
Four or more hours per day 86.4%
1-3 hours per day 8.9%
No electricity 4.7%

Fuel access:
No access 99.1%
Propane 0.6%
Benzene 0.0%
Kerosene 0.5%
Diesel 0.1%
Other 0.0%

Have been visited by health worker in last 30 days?
No 31.1%
Yes 68.5%

At least one family member working 33.5%
No one working 66.5%


Sources of aid:
No aid 42.7%
Iraqi Red Crescent 23.6%
Religious group 21.0%
Relatives 19.7%
Humanitarian group 6.3%
Other government agency 14.6%
Host community 4.1%
Other 3.0%

Food aid source:
No aid 98.6%
Federal government 0.0%
Humanitarian group 0.0%
Regional government 0.0%
Religious group 0.9%
Others 0.3%

Jobs 95%
Housing 60%
Food 50%
Other 50%
Health 20%
School 10%
Water 5%
Sanitation 1%
Legal aid 1%
Hygiene 0%


Most of the displaced in Irbil come from Baghdad 47% and Ninewa 45%. The largest amount of people came in the beginning of 2007. Around 150 Christian families have recently fled to the Ainkawa district after they were attacked in Mosul at the end of 2008. Electricity has improved over the last six months. Families average four hours a day with three extra hours every other day. Displaced in Irbil have the worst access to humanitarian aid in the region with 92.4% saying they received no assistance compared to 76.5% in Kurdistan and 36.7% in Iraq.

Statistics On The Displaced In Dohuk

Overall: Population: 1,392,093
Total pre-Feb 06 displaced: 32,813 families, approx 196,878 people
Total post-Feb 06 displaced: 6,599 families, approx 52,007 people


Religion & ethnicity of displaced:

Sunni Kurd 39.9%
Sunni Arab 29.4%
Chaldean Christian 19.3%
Assyrian Christian 4.9%
Shiite Arab 1.4%
Armenian Christian 0.9%
Other 0.4%
Christian Kurd 0.2%
Sabean Mandean 0.1%
Christian Arab 0.1%

Place of origin:

Baghdad 47.11%
Ninewa 45.12%
Tamim 2.4%
Diyala 2.08%
Anbar 0.93%
Salahaddin 0.63%
Basra 0.26%
Babil 0.15%
Muthanna 0.07%
Qadisiyah 0.07%
Karbala 0.06%
Najaf 0.04%
Maysan 0.04%

Reasons for displacement:
Fear 97.6%
Violence 53.4%
Direct Threat 9.9%
Armed Conflict 0.3%
Other 0.1%

Reason for being targeted:

Sect 59.98%
Don’t think targeted 22.84%
Ethnicity 17.27%
Social group 3.98%
Political opinion 0.13%

Intentions of displaced:

Integrate locally 18.3%
Return to place of origin 62.5%

Services And Employment:

Access to food rations:
Yes 14.5%
Sometimes 27.2%
Never 57.6%

Water source:
Municipal water 97.7%
Water tanks/trucks 1.3%
Others 0.2%
Wells 6.80.2%

Electricity access:
Four or more hours per day 98.8%
1-3 hours per day 0.0%
No electricity 0.1%

Fuel Access:
No access 68.1%
Propane 29.4%
Benzene 23.2%
Kerosene 4.5%
Diesel 0.2%
Other 0.0%

Have been visited by health worker in last 30 days?
No 73.1%
Yes 25.3%


Sources of aid:
No aid 92.4%
Iraqi Red Crescent 0.1%
Religious group 4.00%
Relatives 0.1%
Humanitarian group 2.2%
Other government agency 0.0%
Host community 0.0%
Other 0.0%

Food aid source:
No aid 98.9%
Federal government 0.0%
Humanitarian group 0.0%
Regional government 0.0%
Religious group 0.0%
Others 0.0%

Jobs 90.9%
Housing 97.9%
Food 2.8%
Other 0.7%
Health 0.1%
School 28.2%
Water 0.0%
Sanitation 0.0%
Legal aid 25%
Hygiene 0%


Most displaced in Sulaymaniya come from Baghdad 46% and Diyala 45%. The biggest surge in families to the province came during the summer of 2007. Of the three Kurdish provinces, Sulaymaniya averages the most electricity at 9 to 10 hours per day. That’s expected to go up to twelve hours when a new power station opens. It also has the best access to fuel in the region with 60% of the displaced saying they could obtain one form or another, but it is still below the national average.

Statistics For the Displaced In Sulaymaniya

Population: 1,715,585
Total pre-Feb 06 displaced: 50,465 families, approx. 302,790 people
Total post-Feb 06 displaced: 14,585 families, approx. 80,935 people


Religion & ethnicity of displaced:

Sunni Arab 62.7%
Sunni Kurd 22.4%
Shiite Arab 10.5%
Shiite Kurd 2.7%
Sabean Mandean 0.3%
Chaldean Christian 0.2%
Assyrian Christian 0.1%
Other 0.1%
Christian Arab 0.1%

Origin of origin:

Baghdad 46.12%
Diyala 45.92%
Anbar 2.88%
Ninewa 1.88%
Salahaddin 0.95%
Tamim 0.67%
Basra 0.51%
Babil 0.40%
Wasit 0.24%
Dhi Qar 0.11%
Sulaymaniyah 0.11%
Karbala 0.07%
Muthanna 0.04%

Reasons for displacement:

Fear 90.0%
Violence 88.0%
Armed Conflict 52.7%
Direct Threat 46.2%
Other 6.3%
Forced From Home 3.8%

Reason for being targeted:

Sect 78.53%
Don’t think targeted 18.85%
Ethnicity 10.46%
Political opinion 6.28%
Social group 3.96%

Intentions of displaced:

Integrate locally 25.9%
Return to place of origin 65.7%

Services And Employment:

Access to food rations:
Yes 11.8%
Sometimes 9.7%
Never 78.5%

Water source:
Municipal water 77.0%
Water tanks/trucks 5.1%
Others 19.3%
Wells 3.2%
Rivers, streaks, lakes 0.2%

Electricity access:
Four or more hours per day 60.4%
1-3 hours per day 35.2%
No electricity 4.4%

Fuel access:
No access 41.3%
Propane 58.6%
Benzene 1.0%
Kerosene 15.6%
Diesel 0.7%
Other 0.2%

Have been visited by health worker in last 30 days?
No 79.8%
Yes 19.8%


Sources of aid:
No aid 84.0%
Iraqi Red Crescent 7.5%
Religious group 1.1%
Relatives 0.1%
Humanitarian group 5.5%
Other government agency 1.7%
Host community 4.3%
Other 0.4%

Food aid source:
No aid 94.7%
Federal government 2.8%
Humanitarian group 1.5%
Regional government 1.1%
Religious group 0.5%
Others 0.9%

Jobs 44%
Housing 16.7%
Food 85.8%
Other 81.2%
Health 1.3%
School 32.3%
Water 0.7%
Sanitation 1.0%
Legal aid 2.2%
Hygiene 0.5%


International Organization for Migration, “Dahuk, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah, Governorate Profiles Post-February 2006 IDP Needs Assessments,” December 2008
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