Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for August, 2008

The Arrest of Ali Faysal al-Lami

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 29 August 2008 0:00

There are problems concerning the portrayal in some media sources of Ali al-Lami – the de-Baathification director captured recently by US forces on suspicion of pro-Iranian activities – as a straightforward “Sadrist”. Lami, whose name suggests a link with the Bani Lam tribe of Maysan in the far south, has a long history of association with Ahmad Chalabi and Abd al-Karim al-Muhammadawi who back in 2005 participated in a party called the “Shiite council” – one of the first Iraqi parties to use Shiite sectarian identity in such an explicit way in its name. Jawad al-Bulani, the current ministry of interior, at one point also belonged to this circle.

There are many other individuals in the United Iraqi Alliance who since 2005 have floated between several camps – they include figures like Sami al-Askari and Jabir Habib Jabir. It seems inconceivable that Lami should have been able to hold on to his current position for so long time unless the Maliki regime saw certain advantages in having him there.

Posted in UIA dynamics | Comments Off on The Arrest of Ali Faysal al-Lami

In Denver, No “Plan for Iraq” Yet

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 28 August 2008 0:00

In a positive development, Senator Joe Biden yesterday refrained from any mention of his previous “plans for Iraq” which include a soft partition scheme and a more recent (and more general) plan for “active federalization”. Instead he referred more generally to Barack Obama’s position on the war in Iraq.

What remains for the Democratic Party is to define an exit strategy that does not convert the Iraq situation into a net gain for Iran. As long as the final phase of the US occupation of Iraq involves consolidation of the Maliki regime and the basic system of government adopted in 2005 (rather than a weakening of these two factors) such gains for Iran will be the inevitable outcome. What is missing in Democratic discussion of exit strategies is the realisation that US policies in Iraq from 2003 to 2008 (and specifically Washington’s particular choice of partners among the Shiites) have unintentionally strengthened Iran’s position in Iraq quite considerably, so that leaving Iraq tomorrow would not in any sense mean a return to the status quo ante of 10 April 2003. This point may perhaps seem a little long-winded for an election campaign where there will be a preference for black and white caricatures, but for those who truly care about the political stability of the Gulf region in the long term it should be seen as the fundamental issue.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, Iraq and soft partition, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | Comments Off on In Denver, No “Plan for Iraq” Yet

Change the Iraqis Can Believe In? Why Obama–Biden Could Mean More of the Same (Or Maybe Something Worse)

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 23 August 2008 15:02

In many ways, Barack Obama’s approach to Iraq is strikingly similar to that of the Bush administration and John McCain. In theory, the addition of Joe Biden to Obama’s ticket could change this, but over the last weeks and months there have been interesting moves by Biden to remove most traces of his “Iraq plans” from the public domain… Full story here.

Posted in Iraq and soft partition, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | Comments Off on Change the Iraqis Can Believe In? Why Obama–Biden Could Mean More of the Same (Or Maybe Something Worse)

The USG Formally Embraces the Minority View in the Kirkuk Question

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 21 August 2008 0:00

Yesterday, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker explicitly extended his support to a UN proposal of delaying the provincial council vote in Kirkuk apparently without making any substantial changes to the province’s current political line-up, while allowing the vote to go ahead in the rest of Iraq’s governorates. It is noteworthy that this is the model that was earlier rejected by a majority of Iraqi parliamentarians (who favoured a new power-sharing arrangement in Kirkuk in the interim), and was not brought to a vote despite attempts by the government to push it through in early August after the presidential council had vetoed the decision of the Iraqi parliament to create a power-sharing regime in Kirkuk.

The upside of the UN approach to Kirkuk is that it is part of a grand strategy of diluting territorial issues in northern Iraq by tackling them piecemeal, starting with the easiest ones. This is a good approach because there are certain “disputed” areas that are not really disputed and which many Iraqis, regardless of ethnic origin, would be quite happy to assign to the Kurdish federal region. This approach would also contain the application of the concept of “disputed territories” to the north – an important factor with regard to political stability given that ISCI in particular has shown a proclivity for thinking in similar terms in the south, for example in possible border adjustments between Karbala and Anbar. Theoretically this could form the basis for a grand compromise on territorial changes in the north that could bring closure to the Iraqi federalism debate and a renewed focus on development issues more broadly.

What is less clear is why this process should require a perpetuation of the status quo in the provincial government of Kirkuk. If instead steps towards a modicum of power sharing were implemented, there are greater chances that any grand “final status” deal would enjoy credibility in the eyes of the majority of Iraqis. The proposal of the majority of the Iraqi parliament needs not be the perfect approach, but there is a clearly expressed desire not to carry on with existing arrangements, which are seen as strongly supportive of the Kurdish position. This stance represents a challenge to the forces that see the 2005 constitution and the political set-up it created as a viable way forward, and for the USG to persevere in ignoring the majority of the Iraqi parliament on this issue seems like an almost self-destructive strategy. If anything, the forces that find it difficult to consider Kirkuk as anything other than “Iraqi” – and which therefore are reluctant to acquiesce in what is seen as undemocratic special arrangements for the area – are probably even stronger outside parliament than inside it.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Iraqi nationalism, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | Comments Off on The USG Formally Embraces the Minority View in the Kirkuk Question

More on Diyala

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 20 August 2008 0:00

Today there is an attempt by Iraqi authorities to gloss over the Diyala episode by blaming it on technical misunderstandings between various arms of the Iraqi security apparatus: the local police versus a special force from Baghdad. This cannot disguise the fact that a week ago, and reportedly by consensus, the provincial council which includes 20 members from the Shiite Islamist camp (many of them ISCI*) voted to oust the police chief, Ghanim al-Qurayshi, whom Baghdad had earlier appointed probably with the support of Nuri al-Maliki and Jawad al-Bulani. Demonstrations against the dismissal, allegedly to a large degree made up of members of the police loyal to Qurayshi, had met with the disapproval of the governor who has ties to ISCI. There clearly is some kind of intra-Shiite dimension to this affair, but it remains unclear whether it is a case of a local branch of ISCI cooperating with non-Shiites in a bid to oust an outsider appointed by Maliki, or another example of tension between ISCI and forces more loyal to Maliki.

* The list of coalitions from the Iraqi electoral commission dated 20 December 2004 provides the following overview of the constituent elements of the two formal political alliances in Diyala: List 302, the Kurdish-Turkmen-Arab Alliance, made up of PUK and KDP (the two biggest Kurdish parties), and list 339, the Alliance of the Islamic and Nationalist Forces in Diyala, consisting of three elements: Daawa, SCIRI and Badr. In the January 2005 elections, list 302 won 7 seats, list 339 won 20 seats, and list 351, the Sunni-dominated IIP, got 14 seats.

Posted in UIA dynamics | Comments Off on More on Diyala

The Powers That Are Divided among Themselves

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 19 August 2008 0:00

Recent events in Diyala provide yet another indication that all is not well inside Iraq’s ruling establishment, especially with regard to its dominant component of Shiite Islamists. Presumably with the support of premier Nuri al-Maliki, Iraqi government forces yesterday raided the premises of Diyala governor Raad Rashid al-Mulla Jawad (linked to ISCI in many reports). Earlier, on 12 August, the chief of police in Diyala was sacked by the provincial assembly, ostensibly because he had promoted “ex-Baathists” to high positions in the local police force. The interior ministry was reportedly unhappy with the action taken by the provincial assembly.

On the surface, Diyala seems like a manifest example of the alliance between Kurds and ISCI that forms the increasingly feeble parliamentary backbone of Nuri al-Maliki’s government: these two forces dominate the local assembly and key positions in the local administration. However, these fiefs now appear to be coming under attack from forces loyal to Maliki himself. Before he was accused of promoting “Baathists” in Diyala, the sacked police commander, Ghanim al-Qurayshi, had reportedly been under consideration for transfer to Basra to assume even more important security tasks, suggesting that he has friends close to Maliki.

This is not the first time there has been friction inside the Shiite establishment. On 29 May, the provincial council in Dhi Qar rejected the interior ministry’s appointment of Sabah al-Fatlawi, against the votes of the Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq) branch. Earlier, in February, Daawa along with Fadila had sidelined the provincial security council where ISCI was strong, prompting protests from ISCI about the police forces “becoming politicised”. And all too often it is forgotten that the top Basra security officials that came under attack by ISCI and the Sayyid al-Shuhada movement shortly before the military operation in Basra in March were in fact Maliki appointees. In light of examples like these, it is extremely difficult to maintain the common notion that ISCI has perfect control of the Iraqi security forces in most part of the country, although in the case of Diyala it remains unclear whether this is the result of an internal split inside ISCI (national versus local leaderships) or tensions between ISCI and Daawa.

Meanwhile, the corporate media is already feverishly reporting the Diyala developments as a purely sectarian affair, conveniently ignoring the fact that the Sunni Islamist IIP holds only 14 seats out of 41 on the provincial council that voted to oust the Shiite police commander (and whose governor is also a prominent Shiite leader who used to be criticised for ties to Badr).

[Most of this note is also available in an Arabic translation provided by the Iraqi news agency Aswat al-Iraq.]

Posted in Sectarian master narrative, UIA dynamics | Comments Off on The Powers That Are Divided among Themselves

The Kirkuk Issue Exposes Weaknesses in Iraq’s Ruling Coalition

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 7 August 2008 16:05

Yesterday’s failure of the Iraqi parliament to pass the provincial elections law before the summer recess may well end up being blamed on Sadrists and other “recalcitrants” who refused to give up their principles and adopt a more “businesslike” attitude. Or, alternatively, as an AP headline puts it today, “Iraqi election bill falls to ethnic rivalry”. However, quite apart from issues related to Islamic radicalism or ethnic identities, first and foremost the parliamentary deliberations of the elections law exposed some of the fundamental weaknesses and contradictions of Pax Americana in Iraq… Full story here.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Iraqi nationalism, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories | Comments Off on The Kirkuk Issue Exposes Weaknesses in Iraq’s Ruling Coalition