Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Maliki’s Northern Headache, and How General Odierno Is Compounding It

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 9 September 2009 13:58

Whilst fellow Shiite Islamists are creating plenty of trouble for Iraq’s premier Nuri al-Maliki in Basra these days, the US military in Iraq is doing its part in the north of the country. It was only this week that Western media broke the silence about one of the key issues that have been simmering for some weeks in Iraq now: The proposed patrols whereby forces from the US military, the Iraqi central government, and the Kurdistan federal government would jointly deploy in what the Kurds refer to as “disputed territories” in northern Iraq.

Western commentary on the opposition to the scheme has focused on Hawija in Tamim, often described as a Baathist stronghold. But this portrayal of the resistance to Odierno’s scheme as retrograde mutterings from isolated pockets of Baathist loyalists is clearly inadequate. On 23 August, the Nineveh provincial council headed by the electorally successful Hadba front condemned the scheme. Members of the council have instead called for more central government troops, possibly strengthened by local recruits. On 1 September, Arab and Turkmen members of the local council in Kirkuk similarly rejected the Odierno plan, focusing on its contravention of the broad principles of the SOFA agreement as well as its implicit recognition of the Kurdish view of what constitutes disputed territories (to most non-Kurdish Iraqis, large swathes of the Tamim governorate are not “disputed lands” but rather Iraqi central government territory, period). Yet another Mosul politician with ties to wider Iraqi nationalist circles, Nur al-Din al-Hayali, has criticised the Odierno scheme as a prelude to a Bosnia-like, enclave-based, partition of northern Iraq.

What Maliki and the rest of the Iraqi government think about the proposed scheme is not yet clear. It does come at a time when Kurdish reactions to the recently-announced one-year postponement of the general census – a move presided over by Ali Baban, the Kurdish, ex-Tawafuq minister of planning from Mosul –  have been comparatively subdued, and one cannot help wondering whether some kind of bargain could be in the making. What is certain is that any approval of the Odierno scheme by Maliki is likely to cost the Iraqi premier dearly. For one thing, some of his centralist Shiite supporters (such as the editors of the hardline Al-Bayyina al-Jadida newspaper) have staked much of their Iraqi nationalist credentials on a rather rabid form of anti-Kurdish propaganda. Perhaps more significantly – in terms of the upcoming parliamentary elections especially – almost all the constituencies in northern Iraq that Maliki may want to target if he is to run separately from the new Shiite-dominated alliance, including the Hadba list in Mosul and the anti-Kurdish opposition in Kirkuk, are against the scheme.

Back in March this year, it seemed as if Maliki was sincere about reaching out to these forces, cooperating in several governorates north of Baghdad with groups like Hiwar and Iraqiyya (whose electorate is often Sunni, but whose ideology is Iraqi nationalist), but closing the door to Tawafuq and its key component, the Iraqi Islamic Party (these also appeal to many Sunnis, but often in an overtly sectarian way). That potential still remains: The recent sacking of the Tawafuq governor by the Iraqiyya-led governorate council in Salahaddin is a case in point, making the situation there more similar to Diyala where Maliki’s supporters are also allied on a nationalist basis in opposition to the ethno-sectarian alliance of Tawafuq and the Kurds (reportedly, this latter coalition also supports the Odierno proposal, the ony northern provincial council to do so). But if Maliki instead is once more navigating towards compromise with the two big Kurdish parties then in the end the next parliamentary elections may well turn out to be very similar to those held in 2005.

4 Responses to “Maliki’s Northern Headache, and How General Odierno Is Compounding It”

  1. Anon said

    Link to your sources and don’t use (steal or copy) other people’s “hard work” without asking their permission or at least linking back to them.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Most of the materials on this blog will not be hyperlinked or sourced for the simple reason that maintaining the site is not my fulltime job and it would take too much time and there would be no blog at all. The kind of sources that I’m using are referred to in footnotes in my academic work, i.e. in my books, journal articles, conference papers and research reports, some of which are available from

    In this case, the blog entry was based mostly on a compilation of easily available Iraqi press reports from newswire services like Aswat al-Iraq and al-Dar al-Iraqiyya, in addition to Iraqi daily newspapers (one of which is referred in the article). I can’t remember having seen any analytical piece on this particular issue, but if there is one (you seem to suggest that my piece is some kind of plagiarism and that the information was somehow “copied” or even “stolen” from somewhere) please add a link or provide some kind of reference in the comments field. I can guarantee that my article has not been “copied” or paraphrased from somewhere else but this is a very interesting subject indeed and the more information that is available on it, the better.

  3. Alexno said

    I agree with your enumeration of the factors, though not necessarily the conclusion. Your interest is the question of whether Maliki will agree to Odierno’s proposal of an Arab-Kurdish-US intervention force, placed on “disputed territories” to separate non-Kurdish from Kurdish forces, and you wonder whether agreement by Maliki would diminish his status as defender of Iraqi nationalism.

    Frankly, if it were not for the Baghdad bombings, and the consequent spat with Syria, there is no question but that Maliki would refuse Odierno’s plan. I’ve always thought that the Baghdad bombings were intended to divert Maliki from the Kurdish situation, and they seem, in the short term, to have succeeded.

    In the longer term, I doubt it, if Maliki has any sense. It depends on how disturbed Maliki’s Da’wa support was by the bombings, and how much he has to respond to his support base. If that is not a problem, he will certainly refuse Odierno.

    It has to be recalled that Odierno and the Kurds have a common interest. Odierno wants to keep the US military in action and relevant, in order to avoid US withdrawal – he has said it often enough; the Kurds want protection for their territory, and to gain permanently their so-far unrealised claims.

    Curiously enough, the intervention force is proposed by Odierno to be placed in “disputed territories”, that is, non-Kurdish territories that the Kurds want to claim; there’s no suggestion that it be placed within Kurdistan. Sounds like the Israeli separation wall, which is of course not placed on the border, and whose placement is intended to steal West Bank territory.

    The comparison is so close that I wonder whether there isn’t collusion between the US military, that is Odierno, and the Kurds. As you say in your article in the “Nation”, there’s a lot of pressure by the Kurds in Washington.

    The definition of interests in Iraq seems to me Odierno + the Kurds versus Maliki + the Sunnis (and Turkomans etc) while ISIC + Sadrists + other southern interests remain aside, but prefer Maliki’s nationalism.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Yeah, ISCI have handled the Baghdad bombings quite cleverly. In the past their media have often accused neighbouring Arab states for all sorts of mischief in Iraq but this time they step back and strike a statesmanlike tone. And thus Maliki is cornered. His accusations of Syria have offended many of the groups outside the Shiite Islamist camp that he managed to reach out to last January, while at the same time his attempts to appeal to the anti-Baathism of some of his Shiite core constituency backfires because for once they are deemed to go too far…

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