Thursday, May 28, 2009
It seems that parliament was completely unaware of the rules governing the budget when it was passed or were misinformed about them. There were several reports that lawmakers expected the budget deficit to be covered by the country’s reserves. It was only after that it was passed that the Finance Minister let them know that they could not use this money. The legislature either never talked to the Ministry or the Central Bank when it was debating the budget or were misled. In the end, parliament ended up passing a budget, almost half of which it can’t pay for. To make matters worse, it will go further in debt, borrowing money from the IMF to cover the difference, despite the fact that it has a massive reserve. Hopefully that can be used to pay the loan back, otherwise the situation will get worse in the next fiscal year unless petroleum prices skyrocket up again.
For more on Iraq's budget see:
Falling Oil Revenues, and Uneven Production
Baghdad Failing To Invest In Its Future
Presidential Council Vetoes 2009 Budget
Ups and Downs Of Iraq's Oil Industry And Its Implications For The Budget
Iraq's Budget Stalled
How Are The Current Provincial Councils Doing?
Iraq Revises Budget Once Again
Iraq Cuts Budget
Are Budget Cuts Ahead For Iraq?
Iraq's New Budget Woes
Iraq Cuts Its 2009 Budget, But Still Can't Spend It
NY Times Finds Iraq Spends Even Less Of Its Budget
GAO August 2008 Report On Iraq's Budget And Spending
Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraq passes sharply reduced budget for 2009,” Associated Press, 3/5/09
Agence France Presse, “Iraq presidency approves slashed budget,” 4/3/09
Aswat al-Iraq, “MP expects 50% deficit in 2009 budget,” 4/27/09
Azzaman, “Iraq’s hard cash reserves estimated at more than $70 billion, minister says,” 3/18/09
Cockburn, Patrick, “Collapse in Iraqi oil price shatters hope of recovery,” Independent, 3/20/09
Cordesman, Anthony, “The Changing Situation in Iraq: A Progress Report,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 4/4/09
Hafidh, Hassan, “UPDATE: Iraq April Oil Exports 1.82M B/d, Up 0.33% On Month,” Dow Jones, 5/3/09
Al-Hashemi, Mostafa, “Iraq not to tap hard cash reserves despite fall in oil prices,” Azzaman, 4/27/09
Iraq Directory, “Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) declined government’s request to borrow from Reserved funds,” 5/5/09
Levinson, Charles, “Toll Rises as Iraq Slows Surge,” Wall Street Journal, 5/9/09
Sly, Liz, “Economic downturn finally hits Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 5/11/09
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Biddle begins his paper by warning that the advances made in Iraq are fragile. This is something that the U.S. military command in the country has repeatedly said. Biddle believes that Iraq is in the beginning of a negotiated settlement to a civil war. In the 23 cases of similar conflicts that Biddle studied from 1940 to 1992, 10 failed within five years of a cease-fire. That is one reason why Biddle calls for caution. The added difficulty in Iraq is that the peace deals made there were all haphazard. Biddle counts over 200 separate negotiations that involved the U.S. and insurgents, tribes, and militias. In none of them was the Iraqi government involved. Now the country is dealing with the aftermath as most sides still distrust each other, and are trying to feel their way forward. This is by nature an unstable situation, made the more so by the bitterness left over by the sectarian war that raged from 2006-2007. Biddle believes that one little flare up could have unintended consequences and renew the fighting. Fortunately, conditions still favor cease-fires in Iraq.
The first situation that threatens this new status quo is the possible emergence of a strong man. That comes in the form of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He has been amassing power in his office, and over the central government and security forces. He has also been taking on his opponents. One are the largely Sunni Sons of Iraq (SOI) units put together by the U.S. that are at the heart of many of the cease-fires in the country. Because each neighborhood has its own SOI leader Maliki has been able to pick off selected ones individually. By starting off with the ones that actually had bad backgrounds or committed crimes he has been able to avoid criticism from the United States. That was the case with the beginning of the government’s latest crackdown that began in March 2009 with the arrest of Adel Mashadani, the head of the SOI in the Fadhil area of Baghdad. U.S. forces backed up the Iraqis in the raid and ensuing firefight. The Americans later said that the arrest was legitimate, and repeated the Iraqi charges against him. The U.S. has said little about the subsequent arrests. Biddle is unsure whether Maliki really wants to be an autocrat or whether he is simply an opportunist trying to grab power when a situation presents itself. The problem Biddle sees is that the Prime Minister may overstep himself and lead to renewed fighting. Then again, with the multitude of unorganized Sunni units, Maliki may be able to manage the situation while eliminating the SOI piece by piece.
The most dangerous threat to long-term stability in Iraq is the Kurdish-Arab divide. In disputed areas like Kirkuk there is oil, a history of abuse under the former regime, competing claims for property rights, and a complete unwillingness to budge on any issue. Mosul is a similar situation. This conflict has allowed Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups to find sanctuary in the north, while they have largely been forced out of the rest of the country by portraying themselves as the protectors of the Arabs against the Kurds. As reported several times before, Prime Minister Maliki is involved in this dispute as well, trying to align himself with the Sunni Arabs of the north to pressure the Kurds.
Another issue that might lead to renewed conflict in Iraq is a possible spillover from an Israeli attack on Iran. If Israel were to bomb Tehran’s nuclear facilities, that could lead to Shiite militia attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq since the Americans will be blamed for Israel’s actions. This seems the most unlikely of Biddle’s scenarios.
Fourth, a precipitous U.S. withdrawal might undermine all of the advances made in Iraq. Biddle believes that in many civil wars foreign peacekeepers are crucial to maintaining cease-fires. Many U.S. forces are no longer directly involved in combat operations and are now acting just like peacekeepers trying to mediate conflicts, help with reconstruction, providing basic services, etc. Biddle argues that if the U.S. were to leave too soon before real stability is achieved, the new status quo might deteriorate. That could bring in Iraq’s neighbors and bring down the entire region. A problem with this is that Iraq has already gone through a sectarian civil war where foreign countries were supporting different sides, and the conflict did not spread outside of Iraq.
Biddle concludes by calling for a longer stay for U.S. forces in Iraq. Looking at the American experience in Bosnia and Kosovo, he says that 50,000-70,000 American troops should remain in Iraq past the 2011 deadline set by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). He even suggests that the U.S. might renegotiate the deal to allow for this. In the meantime he says that the U.S. should use all of its remaining influence to moderate the actions of Prime Minister Maliki. The U.S. still has sway with financial institutions, international organizations, and offers military assistance to the Iraqis. The problem is U.S. sway in Iraq is diminishing as the Obama administration is committed to withdrawal and Maliki is feeling more independent by the day.
Stephen Biddle has often made this argument. He and many other analysts from American think tanks are worried about what will happen after the U.S. leaves, so therefore they err on the side of caution. This is a view shared by the American commander in Iraq General Ray Odierno and General David Petraeus, the head of the Central Command that has responsibility for the Middle East as well. They originally argued for a 23-month timeline for pulling out U.S. troops. Not being discussed publicly now, but Biddle and his compatriots may get their way. The Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadis Jasim said in 2008 that his forces will not be fully independent and capable of defending Iraq’s borders until 2020. The country is still in the process of buying heavy military equipment. The Air Force for example has no jet fighters, the army no artillery. In April 2009, the head of the Iraqi Air Force said they want to buy 96 F-16 fighters from the U.S. Baghdad has no money for such purchases right now however because of its budget problems. That could push back the 2020 date even further. Since either side can amend the SOFA, it’s very likely that Baghdad will ask a sizeable contingent of Americans to stay in the country past December 2011 until it’s ready to protect its own territory from both internal and external threats. The problem with Biddle’s paper is that there is no telling whether a longer stay will have any affect upon Iraq’s internal politics. Can Maliki be moderated? Can the Arab-Kurdish dispute be resolved? The U.S. hasn’t stopped Maliki’s crackdown on the SOI, and is deferring to the United Nations to resolve disputed territories in the north, and this is with over 100,000 troops in the country. Biddle and others may be misled into thinking that the U.S. has more influence within Iraq that it actually does.
For other reports by Iraq experts see:
Norwegian Institute's Policy Paper On The Way Forward In Iraq
Kenneth Pollack: Too Soon To Wave Victory Flag
Reidar Visser On Obama's Options In Iraq
Withdrawal Instead of Patience As Center of U.S. Strategy In Iraq
Iraq Needs Real Governance Center for Strategic and International Studies Report Says
Cordesman Interview: U.S. Needs To Stay For The Long Haul In Iraq
Council on Foreign Relations-Brookings' Experts Call for Patience In Iraq
Anthony Cordesman, CSIS Report on Iraqi Forces
Council on Foreign Relations and Brookings Institution Experts Voice Their Opinions After Recent Trip To Iraq
Is Iraq Going To End Up Like Eastern Europe?
Alsumaria, “Iraq to purchase F-16 fighters this year,” 4/1/09
Biddle, Stephen, “Reversal in Iraq,” Center for Preventative Action Council on Foreign Relations, May 2009
C-Span Video, “Stephen Biddle, Military Consultant To Gen. David Petraeus,” 9/10/07
Carter, Chelsea, “Falling oil prices stymie Iraq’s security spending,” Associated Press, 3/1/09
Gray, Andrew, "U.S. commanders favor slower Iraq pullout," Reuters, 2/7/09
Londono, Ernesto, “Plunging Oil Prices Force Iraq to Cut Security Jobs,” Washington Post, 5/18/09
Missing Links Blog, “Iraqi forces to be ready by the year 2020, according to plan,” 8/11/08
Nordland, Rod, “Rebellious Sunni Council Disarmed After Clashes, Officials in Baghdad Say,” New York Times, 3/31/09
Reid, Robert, “ANALYSIS: Weekend uprising shows Iraqi tensions,” Associated Press, 3/31/09
Rubin, Alissa and Nordland, Rod, “Troops Arrest an Awakening Council Leader in Iraq, Setting Off Fighting,” New York Times, 3/29/09
Operation Promise of Good II was begun on May 1, involving 21,000 police as well as elements of the 5th Iraqi Army Division, and two other brigades. The original Promise of Good was announced in June 2008, and eventually included 2 Army divisions, and 15,000-20,000 police. Both times Baghdad said it was going after insurgents, but the offensives quickly turned into political crackdowns on the Sunni parties and SOI of Diyala. In 2008 the security forces had a 5,000-name want list that mostly consisted of SOI members. By the end of August five SOI leaders and hundreds of fighters were arrested, and more had fled. The SOI went to the U.S. for help, but received little assistance. The political nature of the operation was emphasized when three SOI were arrested the day before the deadline to register for the January 2009 provincial elections. They were released the next day, but their detention made them ineligible to run as candidates. The security forces also arrested members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the leaders of the Accordance Front, who were allied with the SOI. In August 2008 Maliki ordered a raid on the provincial council offices to detain the Diyala security chief and Iraqi Islamic Party member Hussein al-Zubaydi because of his conflict with the Maliki appointed provincial police chief. That constituted the stick of Maliki’s strategy for Diyala. By January 2009 when the government took control of the SOI, Baghdad promised them jobs as a carrot.
Despite Maliki’s effort to break the power of the Sunnis in Diyala, after the provincial elections, the Accordance Front came out on top, and was able to form a coalition with their parliamentary allies the Kurdish Alliance and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council’s Diyala Coalition to gain the governorship. This did not go over well with Maliki as his State of Law followers protested, and threatened to go to court over the results.
It seems now that Maliki’s strategy failed to win him election victory he is going back to the stick to deal with Diyala’s Sunnis. The Prime Minister was unable to break the ties between the SOI and the Accordance Front, which led to their winning in the voting. The IAF was then able to outmaneuver the State of Law, and form a ruling coalition to take over the Diyala council. Maliki has therefore turned to arresting the Accordance Front leader, and going back to rounding up SOI members. If Operation Promise Of Good II is like the last one, there will be no mass arrests. Rather warrants will be issued and selected leaders and some rank and file will be rounded up to force the majority to either give into Maliki’s will or flee and quit, thus relieving the government from having to pay them and finding them permanent employment later on.
For more on the situation in Diyala see:
Local Criticism of New Security Operation In Diyala
Old And New Alliances Argue Over Control of Diyala Provincial Council
New And Old Provincial Councils In Diyala Embroiled In Controversy
The Islamic Party's Victory In Diyala
Here Comes The Carrot For Diyala's Sons Of Iraq
Abdullah, Muhammed, “sectarian polarization in diyala,” Niqash, 4/20/09
Ashton, Adam, “Iraqi government to take control of Sunni militia in Diyala,” McClatchy Newspapers, 12/27/08
Aswat al-Iraq, “4 blocs to contest the results of Diala council votes,” 4/12/09
- “Bashaer al-Kheir II will not eliminate gunmen – official,” 5/6/09
- “Dialans have zero trust in Iraqi security forces – MP,” 5/4/09
- “IAF head’s detention is meant for political liquidation – IIP,” 5/19/09
- “Thousands of protesters call to dissolve IHEC-Diala,” 3/1/09
- “Thousands stage demonstrations in Diala,” 4/8/09
Goetze, Katharina and Salman, Daud and Naji, Zaineb, “Could Awakening Fighters Rejoin Insurgency?” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/31/08
Parker, Ned, “Iraq’s Sunnis turn toward the ballot,” Los Angeles Times, 1/31/09
Russo, Claire, “Diyala’s Provincial Election: Maliki & The IIP,” Institute for the Study of War, 1/30/09
Santora, Marc, “Iraq Arrests 2 Sunni Leaders, Raising Fears of Violence,” New York Times, 5/19/09
Monday, May 25, 2009
In early May the Iraqi central government seemingly authorized the KRG to export oil. This would begin on June 1 and come from the Tawke and Taq Taq fields. Those are the only two currently producing in Kurdistan, and are being developed by the Norwegian DNO and the Swiss-Canadian and Turkish joint venture Addax Petroleum-Genel Enerji. At first, the Oil Ministry denied the story, but later confirmed it. The Tawke field will be able to connect to the Kirkuk-Turkey pipeline, while Taq Taq would truck its oil to that line until an extension was built. In total, both were expected to add 70,000 barrels a day immediately. The KRG claims that they have the potential of 250,000 barrels down the road. All of the profits from these fields would be deposited in the Development Fund for Iraq, which is controlled by Baghdad. This comes just at a time when Iraq’s revenues have plummeted, and it is expecting a budget deficit that could grow to $25 billion unless it boosts oil production.
There’s one major hitch however. The Oil Ministry has said that the Kurds can export their oil, but that it will not pay the companies. That means the Kurdish government will have to. The KRG has signed production sharing agreements with the oil businesses, which generally pay between 18-20% of production. The Kurds receive all of their money from the central government, and have no independent means of garnering revenue, so they will be hard pressed to compensate DNO, Addax and Genel Enerji. The KRG is acting like this is a done deal, but those three oil companies issued a press release saying that they are not moving forward until the finances are straightened out.
Something very similar occurred in November 2008. Then the Oil Minister was trying to work out a deal over those same Taq Taq and Tawke fields to export. The negotiations began in June 2008, and seemed to be on the verge of coming to fruition that winter when things fell apart. Baghdad demanded that the Kurds void all their oil contracts that they signed after they passed their own oil law in August 2007, while the KRG wanted a share of the profits. The negotiations collapsed in December as a result.
In the on-going dispute between Baghdad and the KRG, it appears that the Kurds have been outplayed for the time being. The central government would love to add Kurdish oil production to their coffers, especially if they don’t have to pay anything. However this may be a short lived victory as the Oil Ministry is under intense pressure to either boost production immediately or give up its authority over petroleum because of the dire financial situation of the government. At a May oil and gas summit in Houston, Texas for example, oil executives, analysts, advisers, and the former Oil Minister all said that international companies would not invest in Iraq until a national oil law was passed, and the government offers better terms on its contracts. Iraq’s Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani was also given a petition signed by 140 members of Iraq’s parliament collected by the Oil and Gas Committee calling for him to appear and answer questions on why his policies have failed. Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi of the Supreme Council also publicly criticized Minister Shahristani for failing to increase output this month. Oil analysts also believe that while the Kurds might be frustrated in their effort to expand their oil industry in the short term, it is adding even more pressure on the central government to allow them to export. In April 2009 Iraq exported 1.82 million barrels a day. The Oil Minister’s goal is 2 million barrels. The KRG’s claim that they can add 250,000 barrels a day would achieve that amount.
The Kurds hope of exporting oil seems closer now than ever before. As long as oil prices remain low, there will be intense pressure on Baghdad to boost production. The Oil Ministry has proven incapable of doing that. As reported before, oil output has gone up and down since the invasion, and has never achieved the benchmarks set by the government. All sides, the Kurds, parliament, international oil companies, etc, have criticized Oil Minister Shahristani. He has the backing of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki however. With a massive budget deficit expected, all of this is coming to a head. Of course, this being Iraq, it’s just as likely that the issue will be deadlocked for months and months as find a resolution.
For more on Iraq’s oil industry click on the “oil” label below.
Abbas, Mohammed, “Iraq Central Gov’t, Kurdistan Agree Oil Exports (UPDATE 2),” Reuters, 11/28/08
AFX News Limited, “Kurdish Authorities Stand by Foreign Oil Contracts,” 12/2/08
Ali, Mohanad, “Five committees set up to solve differences over oil with Kurds,” Azzaman, 11/30/08
Alsumaria, “Kurdistan leader upholds Iraq Constitution,” 3/13/09
Amara, Mostafa, “Kurds cannot collect oil royalties, says minister,” Azzaman, 12/22/08
Arabian Business, “Iraq in breakthrough to link Kurd oilfields to export,” 11/25/08
Bayoumy, Yara and Rasheed, Ahmed, “Iraq officials attack Oil Ministry, urge new policy,” Reuters, 5/16/09
Bergin, Tom, “UPDATE 1-Iraq Kurd leader eyes 1 mln bpd oil in 3 yrs,” Reuters, 3/12/09
Ciszuk, Samuel, “KRG-Baghdad still at odds over IOC pay,” Iraq Oil Report, 3/25/09
- “No clarity on Iraq-KRG oil export flap,” Iraq Oil Report, 5/13/09
- “Taq-Taq aim is 180K bpd despite no export rights,” Iraq Oil Report, 3/25/09
Hafidh, Hassan, “2nd UPDATE:Iraq Vice Pres: Not Doing Enough To Up Oil Output,” Zawya Dow Jones, 5/16/09
- “UPDATE: Iraq April Oil Exports 1.82M B/d, Up 0.33% On Month,” Dow Jones, 5/3/09
Hafidh, Hassan and Swartz, Spencer, “Iraq Ends Ban, Allows Kurds to Export Oil,” Wall Street Journal, 5/11/09
Hamad, Qassim Khidhir, “oil dispute threatens Iraqi economy,” Niqash, 4/16/09
Helman, Christopher and Bogan, Jesse, “The Failure Game Of Iraqi Oil,” Forbes, 5/13/09
Hilterman, Joost, “Kurdish crude bails out Baghdad,” The Argument Blog, Foreign Policy.com, 5/13/09
Ibrahim, Waleed, “UPDATE 4-Kurds say will launch oil exports, Iraq denies,” Reuters, 5/8/09
International Crisis Group, “Oil For Soil: Toward A Grand Bargain On Iraq And The Kurds,” 10/28/08
Lando, Ben, “Iraq oil showdown,” Iraq Oil Report, 5/14/09
Reuters, “Iraq earns $60 billion from 2008 crude exports,” 1/5/09
- “Iraq Kurds to start Tawke crude exports June 1,” 5/8/09
Salaheddin, Sinan, “Iraqi Kurds to Begin Solo Exports of Crude Oil,” Associated Press, 11/28/08
Shattab, Ali, “Kurds illegally sell oil produced in their region, minister says,” Azzaman, 1/3/09
Sly, Liz, “Economic downturn finally hits Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 5/11/09
UPI, “Baghdad, Erbil agree to some oil exports,” 11/24/08
- “Heritage confident of Iraqi exports,” 5/7/09
Zair, Kareem, “Iraqi Kurds say their region holds up to 45 billion barrels of oil,” Azzaman, 4/21/09
- “Kurds will not export oil unless they rescind deals with foreign firms, oil minister says,” Azzaman, 12/6/08
Sunday, May 24, 2009
On May 8, the newly appointed governor of Ninewa, Atheel al-Najafi, the leader of Al-Hadbaa, tried to attend a hot-air balloon festival in Bashiqa. A Kurdish peshmerga militia unit stopped him. The head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Mosul said that the peshmerga were only trying to prevent possible violence that might have occurred if the governor had showed up for the event. Bashiqa is a Kurdish town that does not recognize the authority of the new Al-Hadbaa government. As reported before, after the new provincial council was seated in late April 2009, three districts of Ninewa, Sinjar, Shirkhan, and Hatra, which have largely Kurdish and Yazidi populations, announced that they would refuse to cooperate with the provincial government.
In response, on May 12 over 1,000 tribesmen marched to the provincial government building in Mosul. There they demanded that the peshmerga leave the province. This was something the Al-Hadbaa List called for while it was running for office. Kurdish officials in Ninewa have said that their militias are going nowhere.
That was followed by a demonstration by Kurds in the Shirkhan district supporting the boycott of the new provincial council on May 17. After the Al-Hadbaa party took all the major seats on the new provincial council on April 12 the Ninewa Fraternal List walked out on the local government.
According to Iraq Slogger.com, Governor Najafi has become so frustrated at the situation that he has gone to Baghdad for help. There he has talked to members of the central government to try to get them to force the Kurdish-led Ninewa Fraternal List to stop their opposition to the Al-Hadbaa led Ninewa government.
The Al-Hadbaa List is a coalition of four different parties. Those are the Al-Hadbaa National United Assembly, the Patriotic and National Forces Assembly, the Iraq and Kurdsitani Party for Freedom and Equality, and Al-Wasat Iraqi Assembly. They ran on a platform of Iraqi unity, a call for the end of the U.S. occupation, women’s rights, better government, development, and a condemnation of Kurdish rule in Ninewa. Due to the 2005 Sunni boycott, the Kurds were able to take control of the provincial government then. The List is Arab led, but also includes Kurds. The new deputy head of the provincial council Dildar al-Zibari for example, is a Kurd.
The two major Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, head the Ninewa Fraternal List. It also includes the Islamic Union of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Communist Party, the Iraqi Communist Party, the Assyrian Party, and the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party. Their rule after the January 2005 provincial elections was not only known for creating fear amongst Arabs that the Kurds were attempting to annex northern sections of the province, but also for a lack of services and security. Next to Baghdad, Ninewa has been the most violent area of the country in the last couple years. The fighting has prevented government offices from delivering regular services there. For example, the province rates below the national average in education and electricity, and also has large swaths of poverty. It was these issues that led to the Fraternal List’s defeat in 2009.
The standoff between the two sides is likely to last for the foreseeable future. Neither side seems willing to budge. The Kurdish parties have de facto control of several disputed territories in northern Ninewa and will not give them up. This could lead to deadlock in the province, and undermine the ability of the new government to move ahead with its plans, as well as establish better security.
For more on the political situation in Ninewa see:
Ninewa Struggles Between Arabs and Kurds Continue
Arab-Kurdish Divide Over New Ninewa Provincial Council
Al-Hadbaa Party Leader's Vision For Ninewa
Abouzeid, Rania, “Arabs-Kurd Tensions Could Threaten Iraq’s Peace,” Time, 3/24/09
Aswat al-Iraq, “Al-Nejefi: negotiations with Ninewa Fraternal list postponed,” 4/28/09
- “Mosulians fear political tension effect on council’s performance,” 4/27/09
- “Ninewa chieftans protest Peshmerga, Asayesh presence,” 5/12/09
- “Shaykhan protest calls for boycotting Ninewa’s local govt.,” 5/17/09
Kamal, Adel, “kurdish boycott threatens ninawa stability,” Niqash, 4/27/09
Niqash, “the hadbaa national list,” 1/28/09
Robertson, Campbell, “Violence Rises in Iraq’s Tense North,” New York Times, 5/13/09
Robertson, Campbell and Farrell, Stephen, “Iraqi Sunnis Turn to Politics and renew Strength,” New York Times, 4/17/09
Friday, May 22, 2009
The process of returning began just after the invasion ended. In 2003 9,237 refugee families, or 55,429 people, came back to the country. In 2004 internally displaced families began returning, and twice as many refugees. From 2005 to the present however the number of refugees coming back has seen a sharp decline that is only just starting to come back up this year. Returning refugees went from 193,997 in 2004 to 56,155 in 2005 to 20,235 in 2006, a slight increase to 45,420 in 2007, and then down to 25,370 in 2008, and 8,790 through the first three months of 2009. The same pattern happened with the displaced going from 150,000 in 2006, down to 36,000 in 2007, and then back up to 195,890 in 2008. So far 22,940 have come back from January to March 2009 according to the U.N. The numbers show two divergent trends. For the displaced, returns went up from 2004 to 2006, but then took a dramatic drop in 2007 probably because of the sectarian war where thousands were losing their homes. In 2008 a record number came back as the security situation improved. In 2009 each month saw more displaced come back as well. Refugees however saw the largest number coming back in 2004 and then going down until 2007. Perhaps they were testing the waters after the Surge improved security, but then their numbers went back down in 2008. Like the displaced however, each month in 2009 has seen an increase in returns. A possible explanation is that living in another country gives them relative safety, which they are not willing to give up right now to return to a country that still sees violence. Another reason could be that most of the Iraqis living abroad are Sunnis, and don’t feel comfortable yet returning to a country that is run by Shiites and Kurds, and where their neighborhoods may have been taken over by another sect.
Estimated Returns of Displaced Iraqis
Jan. to March 2009 22,940
TOTAL: 600,830, 60% of all returns
Estimated Returns of Iraqi Refugees
Jan. to March 2009 8,790
TOTAL: 405,396, 40% of all returns
Jan. to March 2009 31,730
Total Returns From October 2008 to March 2009
Oct. 08 14,840
Nov. 08 11,260
Dec. 08 11,910
Jan. 09 4,600
Feb. 09 10,170
March 09 16,960
Total Returns of Refugees October 2008 to March 2009
Oct. 08 2,540
Nov. 08 3,640
Dec. 08 2,090
Jan. 09 1,010
Feb. 09 2,630
March 09 5,150
Total Returns of Displaced October 2008 to March 2009
Oct. 08 12,300
Nov. 08 7,620
Dec. 08 9,820
Jan. 09 3,590
Feb. 09 7,540
March 09 11,810
At the provincial level the U.N.’s figures show that Baghdad, Diyala and Ninewa have had the most returns, while Kurdistan and half of the south have had the least. Baghdad remains the center of violence in the country. For that reason it has seen both the most displaced and the greatest number of those coming back. In 2008 118,330 Iraqis went back to that province, 53% of the total. Next was Diyala with 67,150 returns, 30% of the total, and Ninewa with 15,960 coming back, or 7% of the total. That compared to Qadisiyah with 30 people, Muthann with 50, Dhi Qar with 100, and Sulaymaniya with 180. In 2009 70% of returns have gone to Baghdad, followed by Ninewa 8%, and Diyala 5%. For refugees, Tamim, Najaf and Baghdad were the three main destinations in 2008 in that ascending order. The next year that slightly changed to Babil, Najaf and Baghdad. For the first three months of this year, there have also been three provinces, Anbar, Ninewa, and Sulaymaniya that have seen absolutely no refugees coming back. Displaced returnees were concentrated in Ninewa, Diyala, and Baghdad, and similarly few went back to the south or far north.
Total Returns By Province 2008
Dhi Qar 100
Total Returns By Province 2009
Dhi Qar 230
Refugee Returns 2008 By Province
Dhi Qar 80
Refugee Returns 2009 By Province
Dhi Qar 220
Displaced Returns 2008 By Province
Dhi Qar 20
Displaced Returns 2009 By Province
Dhi Qar 10
Baghdad has been at the center of the fighting in Iraq since 2003, so it has seen the most displacement and returns. The numbers coming back have gone up and down like the rest of the country. From October 2008 to January 2009 the numbers followed a downward trend, but then hit a high in March. Around 50% of the returnees have gone back to the Western district of Karkh along the Tigris River. That use to be a largely mixed Sunni-Shiite area of the capital.
Total Returns To Baghdad October 2008 to March 2009
Oct. 08 6,940
Nov. 08 4,970
Dec. 08 3,830
Jan. 09 2,000
Feb. 09 7,550
March 09 12,670
2008 48% went to Karkh, 36% went to unknown, 8% went to Resafa
2009 57% went to Karkh, 14% went to Khadimiya, 9% went to unknown
The UNHCR is one of the most comprehensive reports on returns to Iraq. Other organizations such as the International Organization for Migration concentrate on the displaced since the U.S. invasion, and specifically those that left after the February 2006 Samarra bombing that set off the sectarian war. Other groups like Refugees International, in their latest papers have just written about those coming back in the last 1-2 years. The U.N. provides a much more comprehensive view of the situation, showing that not only have Iraqis been coming back since the U.S. invasion, but that there were displaced before and after the war. It’s often overlooked that Saddam created large displacements especially in the south amongst Shiites and in the north with Kurds. Many of those returned in the immediate months after the invasion. The sectarian war then set off another wave of mass evacuations that have created much of the current crisis. The UNHCR also shows that these returns have gone up and down, and that refugees and internally displaced have followed different patterns. While the process appears to be increasing in recent months, the government and international organizations still lack the resources and in Baghdad’s case, the will, do deal with them.
International Organization for Migration, “IOM Emergency Needs Assessments; Post February 2006 Displacement In Iraq, Monthly Report,” 4/1/09
Refugees International, “Iraq: Preventing the Point of No Return,” 4/9/09
United States Government Accountability Office, “Iraqi Refugee Assistance Improvements Needed in Measuring Progress, Assessing Needs, Tracking Funds, and Developing an International Strategic Plan,” April 2009
United Nations High Commission for Refugees, “UNHCR Iraq Operation Monthly Statistical Update on Return – March 2009,” UNHCR, March 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
The spate of bombings that hit Iraq in April 2009 had people worrying that the country might be falling back into chaos. A series of new reports however show that the number of overall attacks is still far below the levels seen in 2008, but casualties are climbing back up to what they were at the end of last year. Recently the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released its latest quarterly report, which included new statistics on attacks in Iraq from the U.S. military. Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies also released a report at the end of April on violence in Iraq. Finally, the news services and Iraqi ministries released their monthly totals for deaths in Iraq at the beginning of May. Together all of this information paints a picture of a nation that is much improved from the peak of the war, but still lacks stability and peace.
Throughout 2008 the number of overall attacks took a steady drop across all areas of the country, reaching a plateau in early 2009. A chart provided by the Defense Department on security incidents shows that from November 2007 to March 2008 there were around 550 incidents a week. The security crackdown on the Sadrists in Basra and then Sadr City led to a brief jump in attacks, only to see a steady decline from May to November when incidents went down to about 200-300 per week. From November to April 2009 Iraq saw a new low of approximately 150 incidents per week, the fewest since the U.S. invasion. Most of these attacks were concentrated in just six provinces, Anbar, Tamim, Diyala, Salahaddin, Ninewa and Baghdad.
In terms of raw numbers, attacks recorded by the U.S. military went from an average of 1,772.6 per month from April 1 to July 1, to 1,715.5 per month from July 1 to September 30, then down to 1,169.0 from October 1 to December 31, and then finally taking a huge drop to 323.0 from January 1 to March 20, 2009. The main cause for this decline was the January 2009 provincial elections. In 2005 the Sunnis largely boycotted, and were now eager to gain power. The provinces that had large Sunni populations saw some of the highest turnouts as a result. Since those were also the areas with the most violence, the insurgents seemed to have taken a hiatus to allow the locals to organize and vote, thus accounting for the sharp decline in security incidents.
Total Number of Attacks In Iraq From April 1, 2008-March 20, 2009 From U.S. Military From Least To Most Violent
Total Attacks 4/1/08-7/1/08
Total Attacks 7/1/08-
Total Attacks 1/1/09-
Kurdistan (Dohuk, Irbil, Sulaymaniya)
Avg. Per Month
The drop in attacks obviously had an impact on casualties. All the major sources of information on deaths in Iraq, Iraq Body Count.org, icasualties.org, the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index, Iraqi ministries, and the Associated Press, all saw a steady decline in deaths from the middle of 2008 to January 2009. ABC News also received statistics from an Iraqi official that Anthony Cordesman published, which showed the same trend. Iraq Body Count for example recorded an average of 538.1 deaths a month from July to December 2008. In January 2009 that dropped to 275. The Iraqi Defense, Interior and Health Ministries found an average of 353.2 deaths per month from September to December 2008, which then dropped to 191 in January. Since the beginning of January however, all the organizations and the Iraqi official found a steady increase in deaths. Icasualties.org and the Iraqi ministries reported that the number of deaths in April 2009 even eclipsed December 2008. Since the voting ended on January 31 and the provincial councils have now all been formed, casualties have gone back up as the insurgents have no reason to hold back anymore. The mass casualty bombings that hit Baghdad in April were a sign of their return.
Iraqi Official (Minus Kurdistan)
The Iraqi official mentioned in Cordesman's report also provided numbers on attacks and casualties in Baghdad, the most violent area in the nation. They showed that there were an average of 158.8 attacks per month in the capital from July to December 2008. For the first four months of 2009 that went down to 114.5. The official's statistics also covered wounded and deaths. Those revealed that there is not a direct correlation between the number of security incidents and casualties. For example, in November 2008 there were 159 attacks in Baghdad, one less than the previous month. However those resulted in 621 wounded and 208 deaths in November compared to 419 wounded and 183 fatalities in October. That goes to show that a few bombings can have a dramatic affect on people, while not changing the attack statistics.
Types Of Attacks By Month & Casualties In Baghdad July 08-April 09 (Iraqi Official)
Security forces wounded
Security forces killed
While violence may be down to record lows since the 2003 invasion, that does not mean that Iraq has escaped its troubles. Anthony Cordesman made an important point when he said that there were many Americans who took the drop in casualties in Iraq after the Surge as victory. What the change in strategy created was a new status quo, not an end to the conflict. There are still plenty of political divisions, millions of displaced and refugees, and casualties. The commanding U.S. General Ray Odierno recently said that Iraq could see violence for the next five to fifteen years. That's the long-range timeframe people need to think about, not the recent decline in deaths, or the recent series of bombings.
Agence France Presse, "Iraq Hails Lowest Monthly Death Toll in Three Years," 1/2/09
- "March violence claims 252 Iraqi lives," 4/1/09
Alsumaria, "Iraq death toll lowest since five years," 2/2/09
- "Iraq violence kills 320 people in October," 11/1/08
Associated Press, "April Ends As Deadly Month For U.S. Troops," 5/1/09
Bumiller, Elisabeth, "General Sees a Longer Stay in Iraq Cities for U.S. Troops," New York Times, 5/9/09
Cordesman, Anthony, "Iraq: USCENTCOM and Iraqi Government Estimates of the Trends in the Patterns in Violence and Casualties," Center for Strategic and International Studies, 5/1/09
Gamel, Kim, "Iraq forces gain more control, but lose more lives," Associated Press, 9/30/08
Iraq Body Count.org
Londono, Ernesto, "U.S. Says Iraq Is Withholding Key Detainee," Washington Post, 5/2/09
O'Hanlon, Michael Campbell, Jason, "Iraq Index," Brookings Institution, 4/30/09
Raghavan, Sudarsan, "Deaths of Iraqis in July Lower Than in May, June," Washington Post, 8/2/08
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, "Quarterly Report to the United States Congress," 10/30/08
- "Quarterly Report to the United States Congress," 4/30/09
- "Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress," 1/30/09
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "Humanitarian Update Iraq, March 2009" United Nations, 4/27/09