Iraq and Gulf Analysis

An Iraq Blog by a Victim of the Human Rights Crimes of the Norwegian Government

Archive for August, 2010

Innocuous Border Violations: Ali al-Adib Introduces a New Concept in International Law

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 28 August 2010 17:37

In a remarkable interview with the Sumaria television station, Ali al-Adib of the Daawa party has described recent cases of Iranian trespassing on the Iraqi borders as “trifling”:

إيران تعمل على أن تكون الحكومة المقبلة غير عدوانية ولا تحب الحرب واستخدام منطق القوة لحسم بعض التحركات البسيطة مثل تلك التي تجري على الحدود العراقية”، في إشارة منه إلى القصف الإيراني لمناطق شمال العراق والتوغلات في الأراضي العراقية الجبلية

Over and above that, Adib goes on to accuse unnamed parties for exploiting these “innocuous” incidents for propaganda purposes and demagoguery.

Given the current heated atmosphere of Iraqi politics, some commenters are already rushing to interpret these statements as an indication of the pro-Iranian stance of  the State of Law alliance (SLA) as a whole, and as decisive proof of Iranian support for Nuri al-Maliki’s candidature for the premiership. That is too simplistic. In fact, there seems to be intense rivalry going on inside State of Law for the time being, with some reports saying Tareq Najm, the director of Maliki’s office, has been sacked while others say he is on sick leave. Significantly, since the summer of 2009 Adib himself has been a moving spirit in bringing SLA closer to the “other” Shiite alliance, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), and he recently refused to rule out himself as a possible compromise premier candidate for such a pan-Shiite constellation, indicating in fact a record of considerable friction between him and Maliki.

Although there is a certain parallel in the lack of reactions to the Fakka incident in December 2009, perhaps the most shocking aspect of this latest comment is the level of audacity. Back in 2006, Adib reportedly dropped out of the Shiite premier contest because he was seen as having too many family connections to Iran. Today he apparently does not see any problems in playing down what others will see as unacceptable violations of Iraqi sovereignty by Iran. It really is a far cry from the kind of “reduced Iranian influence in Iraq” scenario that the Obama administration has propagated over the past weeks during the run-up to the anticipated Iraq speech by the US president on 31 August.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, UIA dynamics | 40 Comments »

Armistice and Governance in the Iraqi Government-Formation Process: The US Position

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 26 August 2010 14:28

As the end of the US combat mission in Iraq is drawing to a close (31 August), there are two basic approaches to the ongoing, stalemated process of government formation in Iraq.The first approach assumes that Iraq’s citizens are more interested in issues like security, health and services than in sectarian bickering and that it is possible to form a government based on common views on basic political issues instead of taking into consideration calculations relate to ethno-sectarian identities… Full story here.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues, Sectarian master narrative, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 50 Comments »

Now That Was Sectarian, Mr. Maliki

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 18 August 2010 12:41

Now that the full Al-Hurra interview with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been aired, a more complete picture of his thinking in terms of coalition-making has emerged. Unfortunately, it is not good news.

It is strange that the reactions so far have focused so much on Maliki’s description of the Iraqiyya party as “representing the Sunnis” since this clearly was an attempt by Maliki at justifying the inclusion of Iraqiyya in government and as such not an attempt at sectarian discrimination. However, in the full interview, there were other remarks by Maliki that amount to the most primitive form of sectarianism that exists: His assertion that “The prime minister post should definitely go to the Shiite component”:

“إن الخارطة الجدية لتشكيل الحكومة هي إن رئاسة الوزراء ستكون حتما للمكون الشيعي ورئاسة الجمهورية للكرد ورئاسة البرلمان والمجلس الوطني للسياسات الاستتراتيجية للعرب السنة المتمثلة بائتلاف العراقية وتحديدا لزعيم الائتلاف اياد علاوي الذي قد لايقبل بهذا المنصب”.

That is sectarian, no matter how much you try to twist it. Nowhere in the Iraqi constitution is there a demand that the PM post should go to any particular sect; even the higher ranks of the Shiite clergy have reportedly suggested that the job could go to a Christian or a Yazidi as long as it is a competent person. This does not bode well for any kind of ideology-based rapprochement between Iraqiyya and Maliki’s State of Law, since the very aim of that scheme – admittedly supported only by a few brave politicians inside each of the blocs – would be to transcend the whole notion of sectarian quotas.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Sectarian master narrative | 66 Comments »

What Maliki Said

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 16 August 2010 21:41

Today’s news that the secular Iraqiyya list is breaking off dialogue with the Shiite Islamist-leaning State of Law headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is bad news. Unfortunately, it is also another indication that Iraqiyya is more focused on establishing pretexts for keeping a distance to Maliki as a person instead of moving seriously towards rapprochement on the many political issues where the two entities are in agreement with each other and much closer than the rest of Iraq’s political parties.

Ostensibly, Iraqiyya is cutting off relations because it is offended that Maliki called them a “Sunni party”. That description would of course be incorrect; whilst Iraqiyya has solid support in Sunni-majority areas, it is the only list to garner substantial support across Iraq from Basra to Mosul. However, the criticism of Maliki by Iraqiyya, too, is unfair. The transcript from the Maliki interview on Al-Hurra Television to which Iraqiyya took exception makes it perfectly clear that Maliki was seeking arguments for including Iraqiyya in the next government. So, he simply made the point that Iraqiyya has become the main representative of the Sunnis in Iraq:

قال نوري المالكي لقناة الحرة اليوم الاثنين

مسالة الاتفاق بيننا وبين القائمة العراقية ليست مجرد رغبة امريكية او رغبة طرف عراقي سواء دولة القانون او الائتلاف الوطني، انما القائمة العراقية، ولنتحدث بصراحة،  اصبحت تجمع يمثل المكون السني واي دولة (حكومة) تتشكل مالم يكون هذا التجمع وهذه القائمة التي تمثل هذا المكون موجودة ووجودها له شراكة حقيقية فلا يمكن ان تستقر الدولة. ..

هذا هو المنطلق الذي يجعلنا نركز على ضرورة مشاركة القائمة العراقية في الحكومة

That is not to say that Maliki denied Iraqiyya has important non-Sunni members or voters. In fact, members of Iraqiyya themselves have been making exactly the same point before. For example, in early June, Hani Ashur told Al-Hayat that a meeting of Iraqiyya, INA and the Kurds represented the “three components” of the Iraqi people. Of course that means Ashur, too, in some ways was thinking of his own party as a “Sunni-backed” one, since there is no way he could have meant that the Kurdistan Alliance or the Iraqi National Alliance represented the Sunnis:

وقال القيادي في «العراقية» هاني عاشور ان «بين الكتل الثلاثة تشترك في اجتماعها على الإسراع بتشكيل الحكومة، وايمانها بالحوار، وتمثيل هذه الكتل الثلاث لمكونات الشعب العراقي بأطيافه وقومياته وشرائحه الاجتماعية وقدرتها على تحقيق الأصوات المطلوبة في مجلس النواب لاعلان الحكومة وحتى ترشيح رئيس الجمهورية ورئيس المجلس»

It is depressing that Iraqiyya finds it useful to jump at statements like this one by Maliki, which in fact was meant as an invitation. (Also indicative of the temperature in Baghad is probably the suggestion by Iraqiyya that the accountability and justice board deal with Maliki under article 7 of the constitution: The whole critique of the de-Baathification of Mutlak and Ani was based on the (correct) assumption that the AJ board has no jurisdiction when it comes to article 7!) At the same time they continue “dialogue” with INA (which is still showing no signs of accepting Ayad Allawi as premier and probably never will) as well as the Kurdistan Alliance, pretending not to see that this conversation is in fact deadlocked. The full list of the 19 Kurdish demands has now been made public, and it includes the following nuggets:

15- التمثيل الكردستاني في الوزارات السيادية ومجلس الوزراء والهيئات المستقلة وكافة مؤسسات الدولة بصورة عادلة ووفق الاستحقاق القومي.

16- ان يكون للجانب الكردستاني حق البت في مرشحي الوزارات السيادية والوزارات الاخرى ذات الصلة باقليم كردستان.

18- تعد الحكومة الائتلافية مستقيلة حال انسحاب الطرف الكردستاني بسبب خرق دستوري واضح او عدم تنفيذ البرامج المتفق عليها.

19- تلتزم كتلة رئيس الوزراء في البرلمان وفي مجلس الوزراء بمساندة المشاريع الانفة الذكر.

Kurdish representation in all areas of the government on the basis of “ethnic entitlements”; a Kurdish veto on candidates for all leading ministers and those “connected” with Kurdistan (presumably oil, water etc.); a diktat that the party of the prime minister in parliament must embrace all these points; and not least, the automatic resignation of the government in case the Kurds detect a grave violation of the constitution! Do not these items provide a far better rationale for Iraqiyya for freezing their relations and finding more realistic partners?

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Sectarian master narrative | 17 Comments »

The Kurds Propose to Change the Constitution

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 14 August 2010 17:12

It had been expected that the Kurdish demands for supporting a new government would be on the unrealistic side, but what has emerged in press reports over the past days suggests a list of desiderata – reportedly 19 points -  that is completely over the top.

Included are of course predictable items like implementation of article 140 of the constitution (disputed territories and Kirkuk), regional rights to sign oil deals with foreign companies and financing of the Kurdish peshmerga militias by Baghdad without integrating them fully in the Iraqi army as ordinary units. But the latest proposals contain far more. In fact, they amount to a complete revision of the Iraqi constitution, and in particular the removal of any possibilities for the re-emergence of a strong Baghdad. Back in 2006 and 2007, the Kurds played a key role in diffusing power through the invention of committees to be controlled by politicians: The council for national security in 2006 (it is not even in the constitution!); the oil and gas committee in the 2007 draft oil law (why cannot Iraq have a normal oil ministry like any other oil-producing state?) The most important new innovation is the attack on the powers of the prime minister: This is to be checked by making the head of the national security council into commander in chief of the armed forces and by giving some powers to – of course – the president (to be held by a Kurd according to the Kurdish demands). Not least, the ethno-sectarian, tripartite presidency council that was in force with strong veto powers as a transitional mechanism between 2005 and 2010 will be resuscitated, thereby incorporating a key feature of the failed constitutional-revision project from the previous parliamentary cycle.

In other words, the Kurds are seeking to complete the parody-like transformation of Iraq to a loose banana confederation that was attempted back in 2005 when the constitution was drafted, but which failed to go all the way. It is of course not a big surprise that the Kurds are pushing in this direction. The great irony of the proposal, which is supposed to appeal to the Shiite-led Iraqi National Alliance (INA) and the secular Iraqiyya, is that both these parties hope to ultimately achieve the very premiership that the Kurds are seeking to strangle by the proposal. For this reason, the latest  Kurdish document will not solve anything in terms of government formation; since the Kurds do not any longer have veto power (i.e. through the erstwhile two-thirds supermajority requirement for appointing the presidency council) it is the triangular relationship between Iraqiyya, State of Law (SLA) and INA that will ultimately dictate the basics of government formation. If Kurdish demands are seen as extravagant, any combination of those three along with support from smaller blocs is sufficient to reach the magic mark of 163 deputies.

As expected, at least Maliki’s SLA has had the guts to indicate scepticism to the proposals. The shocking development is that Iraqiyya has reportedly said they agree with them in principle! If true that would mean a complete abdication of Iraqiyya’s pretensions as a nationalist party, transforming it instead to a collaborator with the forces of division and the kings of ethno-sectarian quotas. In a way, if the Kurds have it their way, it does not really matter who the next prime minister is, because Iraq, as a centralised state, would be gone anyway. But at the same time, there are no signs that INA is prepared to give up the premiership to Iraqiyya or vice-versa, meaning any rapprochement between the Kurds, Iraqiyya and INA on the basis of these most recent Kurdish demands will be of limited value in terms of progress towards a new government anyway.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Iraqi nationalism, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories, Oil in Iraq | 51 Comments »

Ramadan Notice

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 10 August 2010 16:31

Ramadan will begin later this week and business – including politics – is expected to proceed at a slower pace in Iraq until mid-September. This is not to say that things necessarily will come to a complete standstill: In September 2008, for example, progress on the provincial elections law was made towards the end of the holiday period. Nonetheless, things are expected to slow down; so, too, will this blog pending any significant political developments.

As the holy month begins, the political situation appears fairly much the same as it has been ever since the 7 March elections, with all key players continuing to explore blind alleys that are unlikely to lead anywhere. Iraqiyya is still dreaming that INA will agree to the idea of a premiership by Ayad Allawi. INA, for its part, is saying very publicly that it ignores these overtures for all practical purposes and remains focused on seeking a compromise premier candidate for the would-be alliance of themselves and State of Law (SLA) headed by Nuri al-Maliki (they just want to get rid of Maliki himself). Maliki, meanwhile, has resumed his dialogue with the Kurds again, even though that in itself will take him nowhere since SLA and the Kurds alone are nowhere near a majority. Accordingly, the Kurds – who for a while seemed to be leaning in the direction of a “compromise” candidate from the putative Shiite alliance – have recently once more refused to rule out Maliki. At any rate, Kurdish support in itself cannot decide anything as long as the three big blocs remain in a stalemate situation.

In the midst of all of this, deciphering US policy in Iraq is becoming more and more of a challenge. It used to be quite simple: Earlier, Joe Biden repeatedly stated his preference for a grand coalition of Iraqiyya, SLA, INA and the Kurds. More recently, though, there have been repeated indications that Washington is finally showing some interest in the idea of Maliki and Allawi joining in an alliance. At first, alleged  American support for this kind of solution was described as a “plot” by the Shiite parties that are closest to Iran. Recently, however – especially after the last visit by high-ranking members of the US administration to Baghdad – sources within Iraqiyya and SLA seem to confirm the same tendency. Still, though, it seems there is a good deal of resistance within Iraqiyya, and also that some of the time  is wasted by exploring Byzantine arrangements involving non-constitutional institutions and positions  (including the national security council and multiple deputy premiers) instead of focusing on straightforward and existing ministries and positions. Ironically, too, much of the opposition to a pragmatic alliance with Maliki seems to come from Iraqiyya figures who hardly received any personal votes in the 7 March election!

Additionally, the possible new twist in US policy is not one hundred percent unequivocal. There is also the alleged letter from President Obama to the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani asking for some kind of unspecified intervention in the government-formation process. This would be more or less the antithesis to everything an Iraqiyya-SLA alliance connotes, since it would effectively mean a cave-in to religious Shiite forces, a soft variant of the Iranian governing system known as wilayat al-faqih, and the likely preservation of the pro-Iranian Shiite alliance that is challenged by the prospect of Allawi and Maliki going it alone.

Surrealistically, in the midst of it all, delivery of new Abrams tanks for the Iraqi army appears to be the only thing that is proceeding according to schedule.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 27 Comments »

The UN Security Council, UNAMI and the Yazidi Paradigm in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 4 August 2010 17:15

Over the past week, the Iraqi press has accorded a hilarious amount of attention to today’s meeting in the UN Security Council devoted to Iraq. The basic purpose of the meeting is to renew the mandate for the UN assistance mission to Iraq, UNAMI, which expires in a few days; this limited objective notwithstanding Iraqi journalists and politicians have conjured up a lively scenario of some kind of concerted international action to install a whole new government for Iraq to end the current deadlock. Beyond their regrettable effect of giving Iraqi politicians an excuse for further postponing government-formation, maybe until after Ramadan in mid-September, there seems to be little substance to these reports apart for their obvious entertainment value – how about a scenario in which Russia and China slug it out over whether Maliki or Allawi should have the PM position; Brazil intervenes to suggest Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum as a compromise candidate!

Far more serious matter can be found in the small print of the report of the UNAMI special representative of the secretary-general in Iraq. The main part of the report is unremarkable: In predictable fashion it glosses over several of the shortcomings of the 7 March elections and ends up recommending an “inclusive and broadly participatory” government-formation process. But the section on “human rights” has flagged some interesting items that should serve as an indication to the Iraqis about what sort of assistance they can really hope to get from the international community. This part of the report contains several striking items, among them a congratulation to the Kurdish regional authorities for establishing an “independent board of human rights” coupled with a failure to elaborate on why the local elections in that region that were supposed to take place in 2009 have just been postponed until 2011. But by far the most remarkable entry is the following one: “In a further positive development, on 14 June the Iraqi Federal Court passed a ruling increasing the number of seats in the Council of Representatives for the Yezidi minority group in proportion to their population in accordance with the figures from the last national census”.

Many Iraqis will fail to see the positive aspect of this much-overlooked ruling by the federal supreme council. For one thing, it is the latest in a string of partially contradictive rulings by the court on the use of minority quotas in the Iraqi political system. First, in a ruling on 20 July 2009 the court (wisely) struck down a proposal to subdivide the electoral constituency of Kirkuk in ethnic districts (Arab, Turkmen, Kurds) on the grounds that it would constitute racism and that the constitutional requirement of 1 parliamentary representative for 100,000 Iraqis was geographically based and had nothing to do with ethno-sectarian subdivisions:

المادة (49/أولا): من دستور جمهورية العراق ولدى دراسة مضامين هذه المادة وجد أنها حددت عدد أعضاء مجلس النواب بنسبة مقعد واحد لكل مائة ألف نسمة من نفوس العراق. وبينت أن هؤلاء الأعضاء يمثلون الشعب العراقي بأكمله ولا يقتصر تمثيلهم على مكون واحد.

But the latest rulings made on 14 June include firstly a radical interpretation of the principle of proportional representation that threatens a return to the hated single-constituency arrangements of January 2005, and secondly – the “milestone” flagged by UNAMI – instructions to the Iraqi parliament to adjust upwards the number of seats for the Yazidis ahead of the 2014 elections with a reference to population data that show some 200,000 Yazidis already back at the time of the previous census (1997).

This will play well in the international community, where typically the situation of minorities attracts headlines far more easily than less dramatic bread and butter issues. But what are the consequences for Iraq? As is well known, the demarcation of ethno-sectarian groups in northern Iraq is a messy business, with the groups themselves often disagreeing on the criteria for self-definition. For example, some Christians believe they are a religious minority whereas other think they are “ethnic Assyrians”; similarly the Kurds try to convince Yazidis and Shabak that they are Kurds whereas many members of these groups virulently oppose Kurdish overlordship, partly on the basis of religious tenets (the Yazidis have their own religion and the Shabak are Shiites) and partially with reference to language. Ironically, because of the Kurdish attempts to dominate these groups indirectly by installing pro-Kurdish leaders among them, it is the Kurds and their clients that have spearheaded the quest for more “minority seats” in order to populate them with pro-Kurdish placemen – the very demand to which the federal supreme court has now yielded, and which UNAMI applauds before the Security Council. (It deserves mention that UNAMI and the Kurds and ISCI tried the same trick during the revision of the election law in 2008 but were trumped by what was then known as the 22 July group of Iraqi nationalist parties.) So the question is what will follow next. By linking the criteria of numerical representation (1 to 100,000) to the level of minority groups for the first time (previously minority representation had a less mathematical, negotiated basis), the federal court, with the support of UNAMI, could be opening a can of worms where a far greater number of Iraqis may feel tempted to be defined according to ethno-religious criteria. If the Yazidis can, why not the Turkmens or the Kurds?

This, in other words, is what the UN Security Council has in store for the Iraqis: More Paul Bremer logics, where the Iraqi population is carefully calculated according to ethno-sectarian criteria and then given their proper share. It is the perfect way of legitimising and perpetuating a neo-imperial approach: The Iraqis are seen as a primitive people forever locked in ancient communitarian hatreds above which they can rise only with the benevolent assistance of Western diplomats. It is a kind of epistemology that went out of fashion in academia somewhere in the early twentieth century, but in the UN Security Council it is apparently still taken seriously. Tomorrow, after the ongoing consultations, UNAMI is likely to have its mandate renewed for another year. That will probably not include installing a “salvation government”, as some Iraqi newspapers had speculated, but the Yazidi paradigm will remain, almost unnoticed.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Sectarian master narrative | 27 Comments »

A Question for ISCI/Badr: Why Should the Next Iraqi Premier Be “Regionally Acceptable”?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 3 August 2010 17:35

A new member of parliament and a high-ranking member of the Badr corps in Wasit, Qasim al-Aaraji, made some interesting comments in an interview with the Aswat al-Iraq news agency today. Rejecting Maliki’s accession to a second term, he stressed how the next prime minister would have to be “nationally and regionally acceptable”:

“نحن نعتقد ان المالكي هو الذي يتحمل تأخر تشكيل الحكومة منذ أربعة أشهر”، مشيرا الى ان “المالكي سد الطريق أمام أعضاء دولة القانون للترشيح الى رئاسة الوزراء، ونحن على استعداد لقبول أي مرشح من القانون بديل عن المالكي، إذا كان مقبولا وطنيا وإقليميا”.

“Regionally”, Mr. Aaraji? That is a remarkable statement for someone who spent many years in Iran,  whose regime also created the Badr brigades to which Aaraji belongs. But surely, the only possible meaning of the statement is in fact “acceptable to Iran”, since Aaraji most probably is not trying to defend Saudi interests all of a sudden (it is probably also a better reflection of Iran’s true feelings about Maliki than stories that have been circulating recently in the Saudi-sponsored “pan-Arab” press where there are plenty of somewhat rabid Maliki haters). It should also serve as a reminder to Iraqiyya, which still seems to be conducting some kind of dialogue with the Shiite coalition that Aaraji is a part of – the Iraqi National Alliance, or INA – that this coalition was in fact created by Iran last May with the aim of creating a sectarian Shiite front in the 2010 parliamentary elections, except that Maliki refused to join them. Lest there be any confusion: Aaraji in another recent interview made it clear that the negotiations between INA and Iraqiyya were going nowhere because Iraqiyya was insisting on having the prime ministerial position and that it be given to their candidate, Ayad Allawi:

ذكر عضو الائتلاف الوطني قاسم الأعرجي ان العقبة الرئيسية في الحوارات بين ائتلافه والقائمة العراقية التي حالت دون التوصل الى نتيجة، هي مطالبة العراقية بالاعتراف بحقها الدستوري في تشكيل الحكومة ونيل رئاسة الوزراء.

So both Allawi and Maliki are “regionally unacceptable” according to Iran and Aaraji; the better solution, in the words of Aaraji, is a “compromise candidate” from the would-be Shiite alliance (in a recent interview the Syrian foreign minister, too, made it clear that the whole idea of black-listing individual premier candidates and attempting to exercise a “regional” veto power comes primarily from Iran). That is a pretty upbeat negotiating position for INA, which came third in the elections, with no individual candidates capable of matching the 1 million personal votes that Maliki and Allawi share between them. Should really Badr/ISCI, with less than 20 seats in parliament, be able to use the argument of “regional acceptability” generally and Tehran’s interests especially to override the wishes of so many Iraqi voters? Is it not abundantly clear that the strongest proponents of the oversized “government of national unity” with a weak prime minister intend to use this device to subvert the will of the Iraqi electorate and instead serve their own party interests and those of their regional patrons?

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, UIA dynamics | 31 Comments »

 
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