Monday, January 18, 2010

The Continuing Saga Of The Candidate Banning In Iraq

The story of the Iraqi Accountability and Justice and Election Commissions’ banning of 500 candidates from the March 2010 voting for alleged Baathist ties has taken a few new turns. First, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has finally come out in favor of the ban. He said that the decision of the Accountability and Justice Commission should be adhered to. He also commented that the process should not be politicized, which ignores the fact that the Commission members have used it as a partisan tool since its inception in 2003, and that its head, Ali al-Lami, is running as a candidate for the Iraqi National Alliance. Second, the Election Commission is debating whether just the 400 politicians are barred from participating in the balloting or all their parties as well. As Reidar Visser of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs points out, there is no legal basis in the constitution or election law that mentions blocking entire parties from running. Of course, the Accountability and Justice Commission’s members haven’t even been appointed by parliament, but everyone is going along with their decisions, so legality may not matter in this situation. Third, a document has emerged that allegedly shows that Saleh al-Mutlaq, the head of the Iraqi National Dialogue Front and the most prominent politician banned, had contact with Iraqi intelligence in 2002. This was supposedly used in the Accountability and Justice Commission’s ruling against him. There is no reporting on whether the document is real or not, and again, given the circumstances, may not matter. Fourth, Mutlaq and all those banned can appeal their cases to a 7-member board of judges that was just created a few days ago. There is a concern that they may not be able to go through all the cases before the March 2010 balloting however, which may exclude candidates even if they are ultimately found innocent. Finally, there is news that the Accountability and Justice Commission may not be finished and could demand that a total of 1,200 candidates be blocked from running.

It was hoped that the 2010 parliamentary vote would be a continuation of the 2009 provincial elections where nationalist parties did much better than ethnosectarian ones, and Sunnis came out in high numbers. This in turn, would usher in a new wave of politicians to replace a group of lawmakers that have achieved very little in their four years in office, and are very unpopular as a result. The decisions of the Accountability and Justice and Election Commissions however have not only marked a return to sectarian politics, but also threatened to undermine the legitimacy of the 2010 balloting, along with bringing into question the legality of the entire Iraqi political process. Unless some institution challenges the chicanery going on, this fiasco will only continue, and could get worse.


AK News, “Electoral commission discusses the issue of excluded entities and candidates,” 1/17/10

Roads To Iraq, “Three Sunni candidates for the presidency, Zebari to the Vice-President,” 1/17/10

Sly, Liz, “Iraqi prime minister backs ban on 500 election candidates,” Los Angeles, 1/17/10

Visser, Reidar, “The Bloc That Has No De-Baathification Worries,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 1/17/10
- “Constitutional Disintegration (Part III): The IHEC Is Making Up the Law,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 1/15/10

Monday, January 11, 2010

Iraq Could Become Game Changer In OPEC

In mid-December 2009 the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) held its annual meeting in Angola. Besides agreeing to keep oil prices at their current level of between $70-$80 a barrel, Iraq was the other hot topic of debate.

After Iraq completed its second bidding round on its oil fields earlier in the month, Iraq Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani has been claiming that Iraq could reach 12 million barrels a day in capacity. That would rival Saudi Arabia, which currently has the largest capacity and is the largest oil producer in the world. The Oil Minister came into the OPEC conference claiming that Iraq has been denied its fair share of oil output in the past because of wars and international sanctions. He warned that was about to end, and that OPEC should reconsider how it calculates its quotas by taking into account a country’s development needs. He said that he expected some changes by 2011.

If Iraq does reach its potential, it has the ability to drastically affect the petroleum organization. Iraq has been exempt from OPEC’s quotas since it invaded Kuwait in 1990. Now it wants to export as much as it can because it desperately needs the money to rebuild. That could flood the market and undermine OPEC’s control over prices. Given this, Iraq could force compromises on quotas, ignore them, or leave OPEC altogether. It could also challenge the group’s leader, Saudi Arabia, which has given Iraq the cold shoulder since the U.S. invasion because it fears Shiite rule and Iran’s influence.

This could be a huge step in Iraq returning to the international stage. Baghdad was once a leading capital in the Arab world, but after 2003, Iraq was so caught up in internal divisions and civil war that it lost its place. Not only that, but all of the regional players have become involved in Iraqi politics, mostly to the detriment of the country. Iraq’s new oil deals, if successful, could give the nation the leverage it needs to once again be a player in the Middle East, but that’s still a big if as its petroleum industry has some massive hurdles to overcome before it can produce as much as the Oil Minister wants it to. It is a change though to talk about Iraq influencing others rather than it being the other way around as has been the norm since the overthrow of Saddam.


Agence France Presse, “No More Gestures To Saudi Arabia – Iraqi PM Maliki,” 5/28/09

Amies, Nick, “Iraq oil auctions cause concerns over stability in Gulf hierarchy,” Deutsche Welle, 12/23/09

Blas, Javier, “Iraq to challenge Opec on ‘fair share’ of output,” Financial Times, 12/22/09

Friday, January 08, 2010

What Do The New Oil Deals Mean for The Kurds?

In mid-December 2009 the Iraqi Oil Ministry carried out its second round of bidding on oil fields by international companies. Winning offers were made on seven of the ten fields up for auction. Afterward Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani said Iraq could reach eleven million barrels a day in capacity in six years, which could make it one of the largest producers in the world. This may turn out to be a major setback for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and its own petroleum policy.

Since 2003 the KRG has been hoping that its oil reserves would give it greater autonomy, and perhaps eventually independence. They signed their first oil deal with a Turkish company in January 2003, and then finalized over twenty others in the following years. None of these went through the Oil Ministry. Most of these deals were for exploration, but with Iraq’s oil production at below pre-invasion levels, Kurdistan believed that Baghdad would eventually have to accept their oil policy and allow them to export. The KRG also attempted to foster closer ties with Turkey and Europe, offering to export oil directly to the former, and trying to get involved with the proposed Nabucco natural gas pipeline to the latter. If these deals succeeded than Kurdistan would be connected to the international energy trade, could put more pressure on Baghdad to accept its energy policy, and gain greater autonomy from the central government. Some believed that this would give the Kurds the self-sustainability and influence they would need to declare independence sometime in the future.

All of these goals are now in jeopardy because of the Oil Ministry’s second bidding round. With international companies finally agreeing to Baghdad’s terms, and Iraq’s hopes of becoming one of the largest oil exporters in the world, there is no reason for the central government to give into the Kurds’ demands. The Oil Ministry has always vigorously protested the Kurds’ actions, and blacklisted any petroleum corporations that do business with them, leaving only small businesses investing there. They and the KRG still hope that Baghdad will eventually allow them to export because no government will turn down money, but that’s becoming less and less likely now. In fact, the Kurds may be the biggest losers if Iraq’s oil potential is finally tapped.


AK News, “Iraq’s oil and gas assets are shared: Barzani,” 11/11/09

International Crisis Group, “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line,” 7/8/09
- “Oil For Soil: Toward A Grand Bargain On Iraq And The Kurds,” 10/28/08

Lando, Ben, “In the theater of oil, the politics of Iraq,” Iraq Oil Report, 12/17/09

Yackley, Ayla Jean, “Iraq’s new oil deals seen weakening Kurds’ hand,” Reuters, 12/17/09
- “UPDATE 2-Kurds say Iraqi oilfield auction is being rushed,” Reuters, 12/10/09

Monday, January 04, 2010

What’s In The Future For Iraq?

Iraq is entering its seventh year since the U.S. invasion. Many things have changed in that time period, from the chaos that followed the collapse of the state after Saddam was overthrown, to the civil war that erupted, to the Surge. At the end of 2009 three Iraq analysts, Sam Parker of the United States Institute for Peace, Michael Hanna of the Century Foundation, and Reidar Visser of the Norwegian Institute of International Relations, wrote pieces speculating on what lay ahead for Iraq. All three agree that politics is the main forum for disputes within Iraq now, but don’t see much hope for the country’s elites to overcome their differences any time soon.

Sam Parker in his article “Is Iraq Back?” for Current History, and Michael Hanna in “Transitional state” in the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National start off by talking about Iraq’s current political situation. Both believe that politics has replaced violence as the main way groups in the country now resolve their problems. This started in early 2005 when some militants first began turning on Al Qaeda in Iraq, which would eventually snowball into most of the insurgency switching sides and giving up the fight to join the Anbar Awakening and the Sons of Iraq. Sunnis also greatly regretted boycotting the 2005 elections, which isolated them from local and national governments. In the 2009 provincial elections, Sunni turnout was very high as a result, and deaths have taken a sharp drop since then as a result. This process will continue in the 2010 vote, and has led Iraq from being a failed state to a fragile one.

What the central government now faces are three large and daunting problems, the first of which is sectarianism. Parker believes that this is now more about identity than religious differences, as Iraqis tend to vote for candidates of their own community. That means any future government will have to continue to include representatives of each of the major groups, the Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis. These large groups however, are breaking up into smaller factions. The Shiites for example, ran on one large list in 2005, the United Iraqi Alliance, but in 2010 will be competing in two lists, the State of Law led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the National Alliance made up of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and the Sadrists. Reidar Visser of the Norwegian Institute of International Relations in “COIN to Nowhere? Lesson from Iraq, Questions for Afghanistan” adds that he believes that these sectarian divisions have solidified rather than weakened. For example, while Maliki’s State of Law tried to create new cross-sectarian alliances after the 2009 elections and attempted to reach out to Sunnis and former Baathists, he was later stopped by criticisms by the other Shiite parties, pressure from Iran, and the Obama administration, which continues to stress a grand bargain between the three major groups. He then agrees with Parker and Hanna that any new Iraqi government will look and operate very much like the old one as a result.

The ethnosectarian groups also have long-standing differences over things like federalism versus centralism, oil policy, and the Arab-Kurd dispute. Hanna writes that there have been no serious efforts to deal with any of these issues, and that any new government is likely to be just as divided as the current one. Many of these problems have their origins in the 2005 constitution, which was drafted while the Iraqi state was weak and the sectarian war was just about to take off. The Arab-Kurd divide prevents any major changes to the document, leading to more deadlock. Hanna doesn’t believe that these divisions will lead the country back to civil war, and oddly adds that not dealing with them right now may be the best thing for Iraq right at the moment. He’s afraid that any move towards majority rule, and away from consensus could do more harm than good because the country’s weak institutions may not be able to deal with winners and losers. Visser has written extensively arguing the opposite, that the Iraqi system of consensus and quotas within the government should be ended because it only maintains the sectarian divisions.

The paralysis in Baghdad means that more mundane issues like basic governance, services, the displaced and refugees, corruption, jobs, poverty, etc. can’t be addressed. Technical issues like boosting oil production, and election laws for example get endlessly delayed because of the larger disputes between the ethnosectarian groups. The lack of development and the Arab-Kurd divide also allows militants to continue their attacks in Iraq.

All three analysts bring up important issues for Iraq’s future. Iraq is no longer a failed state as it once was. It is gaining back both its sovereignty and domestic standing. Violence is also down to its lowest level since the 2003 invasion, and the struggle for political power through peaceful means is now paramount. The inability of Baghdad to deliver on many basic needs however, its corruption, and sectarianism continue to eat away at its standing with the public. The continued factionalization of Iraq’s three major groups also means that it will be harder rather than easier to put together a new government and get things done. Parker and Hanna point out that this makes Iraq not much different from many other Third World countries who not only struggle with development, but also power sharing and ethnic differences. The problem is that public dissatisfaction with a government that seems dysfunctional can undermine a nascent democracy, and lead to a return to autocracy or worse, and that may be Iraq’s largest dilemma in the long-term.


Hanna, Michael, “Transitional state,” The National, 11/26/09

Parker, Sam, “Is Iraq Back?” Current History, December 2009

Visser, Reidar, “COIN to Nowhere? Lessons from Iraq, Questions for Afghanistan,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 12/1/09

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Iranians Planned Kidnapping And Held British Captives Taken In Iraq

On December 30, 2009 British computer technician Peter Moore was released from captivity by the Iranian backed League of the Righteous in return for the freeing of their leader, Qais Khazali. Moore and four British bodyguards, Alan McMenemy, Alec MacLachlan, Jason Swindlehurst, and Jason Creswell, were originally kidnapped from the Iraqi Finance Ministry building in downtown Baghdad on May 29, 2007. The Guardian claims that not only was this an Iranian organized operation led by their Revolutionary Guards Qods Force, but that the British hostages were held in Iran for most of their two and a half year captivity.

The events surrounding the kidnapping are a complicated one beginning with a series of American raids against Iranian operatives working within Iraq. In 2006, President George Bush okayed the killing and capturing of Iranians in Iraq who were supplying weapons and training to Shiite militias. In December 2006 that led to the arrest of General Mohsen Chirazi, the number 3 man in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force, which is in charge of Tehran’s Iraq policy. That was followed by a speech by President Bush in January 2007 where he said that the U.S. would stop Iran’s interference in Iraqi affairs. Later, on January 11, five Iranians were arrested in Irbil, Kurdistan. The Americans actually missed their targets, Mohammed Jafari, the deputy of Iran’s National Security Council, and General Minojahar Frouzanda, the intelligence chief of the Revolutionary Guards, when Kurdish peshmerga stopped U.S. forces at the Irbil airport. Tehran retaliated by leading a raid on the Karbala Provincial Joint Coordination Center in conjunction with the League of the Righteous that led to the deaths of five U.S. soldiers in January. In March 2007, U.S. and U.K. forces detained the League’s leaders Qais and Latih Khazali in Basra in March 2007.

Qais Khazali was one of the leading figures in the Sadr movement when Moqtada’s father, Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, created it in the 1990s. Qais helped keep the movement alive underground after Saddam killed the elder Sadr. When Moqtada emerged as one of Iraq’s new leaders after the 2003 invasion, Qais was one of his top lieutenants. He would split and then rejoin Moqtada several times before creating his own group, the League of the Righteous in 2006. That year he was also selected to lead the Special Groups that Iran was creating to gain more direct control of Shiite gunmen in Iraq.

Iran planned the May 2007 raid on the Finance Ministry as part of the tit for tat exchange with the United Sates, while the League of the Righteous wanted hostages to gain the release of the Khazali brothers. 80-100 members of the League drove up to the Ministry’s buildings in SUVs in Baghdad, and kidnapped the five Britons in just about 15 minutes. Iraqi intelligence officers from the Defense Ministry who happened to be in the Ministry at the time told the Guardian that they followed the kidnappers to Sadr City where the captives were kept for one day before being transferred to Iran. They passed this information to the Defense Ministry who did nothing. In Iran, the Britons were moved around to several locations. General David Petraeus confirmed this in a recent interview with the BBC where he said he was 90% sure that Tehran held the captives for a time. All negotiations for the release of the hostages occurred in Qom, Iran, but the British Foreign Office refused to directly talk with them, which greatly complicated things.

Almost two years later, Iraq, England, the U.S., Iran, and the League worked out a release plan with Lebanon’s Hezbollah acting as a middleman. In March 2009 a deal was cut whereby the Americans would release all of the League of the Righteous members they held including Laith and Qais Khazali in return for the British captives. In that month a video was released of Moore, followed by the freeing of Laith Khazali. After that U.S. prisons were emptied of some 300 League followers they held under the guise of an Iraqi reconciliation program, along with some of the top Qods Force members that were arrested in 2006-2007, in return for the bodies of Jason Creswell, Jason Swindlehurst, and Alec MacLachlan. Alan McMenemy has yet to be released, but it’s believed that he is dead as well. Sources told the Guardian that the Iranians killed all four bodyguards because for one, they were not considered important since they were only security men, and two to show that they were serious to the British government. The process finally ended with the release of Peter Moore and Qais Khazali. Some American military officers were against this deal, but the Status of Forces Agreement signed between Washington and Baghdad at the very end of the Bush administration in December 2008 requires the U.S. to release all the detainees they hold unless they have broken Iraqi law.

The kidnapping and release of Moore, MacLachlan, Swindlehurst, Creswell, and McMenemy mark the end of one period of post-Saddam Iraq. Washington and Tehran were involved in a covert war for influence within Iraq after the 2003 invasion. The U.S. focused upon Iran’s Qods Force and their support for Special Groups like the League of the Righteous. The U.S. tried to kill or capture as many militiamen and Qods Force operatives as they could, but interference by Iraqi officials meant that this effort could only go so far. The smashing of Shiite militias by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s offensives in 2008, along with Iran’s greater interest in political influence through support of Shiite parties in the 2009 and coming 2010 elections, means that their military policy has been put on the back burner. The League even renounced violence in 2009, and briefly flirted with running in the upcoming vote, before withdrawing in early December. What that means for the League is unknown. Qais Khazali is said to still have sway with many Sadrists, which has made Moqtada very worried about his leadership, but its too late for them to run as a party in 2010, which would greatly limit their influence if they wished to join Iraqi politics. There’s a good chance that the League will fade from the scene just as the military confrontation between Iran and the U.S. in Iraq has.


Chulov, Martin, “Shia cleric’s release by US forces provided key to Peter Moore’s freedom,” Guardian, 12/30/09

CNN, “U.S. raid on Iranian consulate angers Kurds,” 1/11/07

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

Cockburn, Patrick, “The botched US raid that led to the hostage crisis,” The Independent, 4/3/07

Fordham, Alice, “Hostage Peter Moore’s fate tied to that of Laith and Qais al-Khazali,” Times of London, 12/31/09
- “Peter Moore freed after US hands over Iraqi insurgent,” Times of London, 12/31/09

Hines, Nico, “Peter Moore: 31 months of Iraqi captivity,” Times of London, 12/30/09

Lake, Eli, “GIs Raid Iranian Building in Irbil,” New York Sun, 1/12/07

Linzer, Dafna, “Troops Authorized to Kill Iranian Operatives in Iraq,” Washington Post, 1/26/07

Mahmood, Mona, O’Kane, Maggie, Grandjean, Guy, “Bush threats and an $18bn secret: why Iran’s kidnap squad struck,” Guardian, 12/31/09

Roggio, Bill, “US releases ‘dangerous’ Iranian proxy behind the murder of US troops,” Long War Journal, 12/31/09

Woodcock, Andrew and Johnson, Wesley, “Petraeus ‘90% certain’ that UK hostage was in Iran,” Independent, 12/31/09

Wright, Robin and Trejos, Nancy, “U.S. Troops Raid 2 Iranian Targets in Iraq, Detain 5 People,” Washington Post, 1/12/07
Clicky Web Analytics