Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for October, 2009

A Closed Assembly Will Produce a Closed List

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 16 October 2009 0:03

[UPDATE 19 October 15:55 CET: It has just been announced that the Iraqi parliament has postponed voting on the elections law until Tuesday 20 October]

The Iraqi parliament has adjourned again for the weekend, ignoring the demand from the Iraqi elections commission for a legal framework for the next parliamentary elections by today’s deadline. That deadline in turn reflected the time needed to make practical preparations for elections to be held on 16 January 2010, the day singled out by the Iraqi federal supreme court as the last possible date for holding new elections within the constitutional framework. For now, there is talk about resuming the debate when parliament reconvenes on Sunday, with a possible vote on Monday.

What is going on here is political theatre of the most despicable kind. In reality, there is general agreement on the broad outline of an elections law with open lists, governorate-level constituencies and proportional representation, with only one real issue of disagreement – what to do with Kirkuk. Many parliamentarians want special arrangements for Kirkuk since it is the only Iraqi governorate where there are allegations of widespread manipulation of the demographic balance in the post-2003 period with the specific aim of changing the political status of the governorate; conversely the two biggest Kurdish parties (the alleged perpetrators of the manipulations) reject this. However, even in this thorny area, a window for compromise has materialised recently through the emergence of at least two constructive compromise solutions. One involves going back to the 2004 voting registers; another the appointment of a committee to scrutinise the existing lists of voters. Either solution would recognise Kirkuk as a special case, but, importantly, without embracing the previous maximalist demands of the opposing factions.

There is however another serious problem. Many of the biggest parties secretly want to keep a closed-list system instead of the new arrangements adopted in the latest provincial elections, so-called open lists. The difference between the two should be noted. It is not, as one of the biggest US newspapers recently suggested, that voters don’t know the names of the candidates on the closed list “for security reasons”! That is misleading:  Candidate names are known to voters under either system and voters can find the names not only of the candidate but also his or her father, grandfather and great-grandfather in publicly available registers. The closedness has to do with the ability of voters to rank the candidates. Under the closed list, this is decided by the parties whereas under the open list voters can promote favourites of their own, even if the party gave them a less prominent position far down on the list. The introduction of this system proved universally popular in the latest provincial elections and the new device was widely used by Iraqis (who promoted many local councillors from non-winning positions), quite regardless of the fact that the Iraqi electoral commission in practice undermined the system by not printing full candidate lists (voters instead had to use tables of correspondence on display in the polling stations). On the other hand, the established parties and politicians are worried about the new system – above all for fear of being deselected.

The only parties that publicly support the closed-list system are the two biggest Kurdish ones. Their formal justification for doing so is the idea that it enhances female representation, which in theory is at greater risk under an open-list system (parties include women on the list according to the quota criteria but voters tend to promote men).  In reality, however, this is mitigated by other quota mechanisms in the existing law at the macro level of seat distribution (apparently including a new element demanding a minimum of three persons on the list, thereby excluding male-only one-person entities); hence in practice the main impact of the closed list is to make it easier for political parties to override voter preferences by nominating loyal female representatives in the noble name of gender equality. In the past, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) also favoured this system, but they have been forced to change their position gradually after the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani began signalling his preference for the open list in July. Finally, the sometimes-heard argument that out-of-country voting requires closed lists and a single electoral constituency is also inaccurate; in fact voting abroad took place in December 2005 (when multiple, governorate-level constituencies were in force) and the problem was solved by pooling the exiled votes for the compensatory “national” seats that are not tied to any particular governorate.

As a result of this development, for the past couple of weeks Iraqi political parties have been trying to outbid each other in a deafening shouting match in support of the open list: Al-qaema al-maftoooohhhha!! It has turned into something of a popular demand with demonstrations across Iraq (the Iraqi Constitutional Party has been particularly prominent), and Sadrists have been spearheading demands for greater transparency with regard to how the parliament treats the issue, including a call from Maha al-Duri for a record of individual votes, protests about electronic voting and demands for a televised transmission of the decisive session to the Iraqi public. The theatrical aspect of this is of course that in reality there is no public opposition to open lists and hence no need for demonstrations. No non-Kurdish party can afford to vote against the open list, and they probably won’t do it either. In fact, even the Kurds have made it clear that although they opposite the open list, it is not a red line (meaning they will not use the presidency to shoot down an election law solely with reference to the list system). But despite this tacit consensus, Iraqi politicians keep pretending the open list is a real issue, turning into a quasi-debate and a pretext for procrastinations while no progress is being made on the only real issue of serious disagreement that exists – Kirkuk. Steadily, the 15 October deadline has gotten closer and closer but parliament has taken a studiously lackadaisical approach, in practice allowing the question of list structure to develop into a trap in which the progressive forces are wasting all their energy. Everyone knows that if no new legislation is passed, the old law from 2005 with the old system of closed lists will be used.

Additionally, there are a host of very minor technical issues that can be relied upon for creating hiccups in case there is no appetite for using a last-minute drama over Kirkuk to kill the new law. Predictably, of course, Iraqi parliamentarians have known about these for months but have consistently neglected them. The fact is that the legal committee of the parliament had readied a draft in July which then came back from the cabinet in September, with Kirkuk as the only major unresolved issue. Nevertheless, two days ago, the legal committee in parliament was flooded with suggestions for modifications of minor points of detail that can only serve as distractions in the final stages of the process. For example, it has been agreed to increase the number of seats from 275 to 310, but some now want to backtrack on that number citing lack of reliable statistics (the Iraqi constitution specifies a demographic ratio for the number of representatives and the increase supposedly reflects population growth). Related to this, the distribution between governorates may typically create minor spats – particularly controversial is the marked increase of Nineveh’s representation, a move perceived by the Kurdish parties as having an anti-Kurdish edge. There are also disagreements concerning the finer details of seat distribution within the general proportional representation (PR) framework, with some calling for formulas that would improve representation for parties that do well nationally but fail to win seats at the governorate level, and the Kurds and the Iraqi Communist Party still calling for a single electoral district for the entire country. (Interestingly, the “Change” list of the Kurds has adopted the majority view of the non-Kurdish parties on list type (open) and election district size (governorate-based), two key issues.) Finally some still want to bicker about candidate age (the draft reportedly has 30 years), and there is the issue of minority seats (currently given as five for the Christians, and one each for Sabaeans, Yazidis and Shabak) which at one point came close to torpedoing last year’s provincial elections law and could come up again.

On top of this, there are at least two parallel issues that continue to complicate the overall picture, if more marginally so. One is the demand for a political-party law, a pet project of the opposition that defines itself in nationalist terms and aimed at putting a focus on Islamist parties that allegedly receive their funding from Iran (presumably though there is also a good deal of financial support from Arab states that would be affected by this). Predictably, perhaps, no revised draft seems to be forthcoming from the government, and it is now probably unrealistic to hope for one to materialise in the near future. Nevertheless, some parliamentarians like to highlight this as a more fundamental issue and may be reluctant to engage in points of detail on the elections law itself as long as there is no progress on what is seen as an “overarching” issue of a  law for political parties. Similarly, the status of the Iraqi elections commission itself has come under increasing scrutiny. The committee chairman, Faraj al-Haydari, used to be a member of the KDP political leadership and has in the past been accused of pro-KDP bias; more recently however the attacks on the commission seem to have reflected disputes of intra-Shiite origin related to the new coalition-forming process, with the Hakim camp and Fadila apparently leading the attack against the commission and Maliki and some of the independent Shiite Islamists close to him defending it. Some may perhaps see this state of affairs as an opportunity for a more radical shakeup of the whole system in Iraq; they should however note that it would probably be unrealistic to hope for international support. UNAMI seems to be at pains to keep the current commission in office, going as far as to warn publicly earlier this week that a failure to do so would delay the elections – something which in turn would create major problems for the Obama administration.

What needs to be realised is that much of this, especially the questions that relate to the elections law itself, are really details in the bigger picture. The finer points of distribution mechanisms within an overall proportional representation framework are the stuff of many a political science career, and it is perfectly possible to debate these issues for years if desired. But one could also choose to focus on the fact that Iraq has already agreed on the largest remainders methods, compensations seats (as a principle at least) and no minimum thresholds for calculating seats, thereby creating an extremely permissive proportional system in comparative perspective, regardless of which particular counting procedures are agreed on. As for the nationalists who remain critical of the system of government defined in 2005, it may perhaps be time to try to take a very pragmatic approach, even if it is possible to identify numerous weaknesses related to a process that does not have legislation on party finances and whose elections commission is not seen to be entirely above party politics. On the other hand, though, the general political climate in Iraq is moving away from sectarianism in the Arab-dominated parts and away from two-party dominance in Kurdistan. That momentum in itself should suffice  to make more Iraqis abandon their lofty orthodoxies and instead engage in the political process (and the attendant possibilities for system reform). One could of course go on forever trying to create an ever more perfect atmosphere for the election, but at a certain point the act of having a poll in itself becomes valuable. (One caveat to this: some drafts of the electoral law have circulated without explicitly mentioning Iraqis abroad, only internally displaced. Even the elections law of 2005 provides for out-of-country voting and hopefully the reason for the omission is simply a matter of oversight in a chaotic draft in which several alternative PR counting mechanisms muddied the picture considerably.)

In other words, Iraqi politicians should get on with it. There is not a single remaining conflict in the elections law that is significant enough to justify a general non possumus attitude and the all too predictable shrugged shoulders and rolled eyes when the process at some point breaks down. It is after all possible to vote article by article before a consensus is reached on the whole package; this was achieved with the provincial powers law and the provincial elections law in 2008 and could be done again. There is of course the problem that according to the Kurdish Islamist politician Sami al-Atrushi, the Kurds will “reject” a vote on different alternatives for Kirkuk, presumably by storming out of the assembly as they have done on several previous occasions. However, there really is no reason why that threat should prevent a vote; after all the checks and balances in the current consociational incarnation of Iraq’s democracy are vested in the presidential veto and not in any demand for a pre-vote consensus in the assembly itself. If President Jalal Talabani really thinks it is worth derailing the elections in order to avoid a compromise on Kirkuk (which after all just involves an extra tier of scrutiny and vigilance in terms of elections monitoring), then by all means let him do so but let it be in full public and with the international community as a witness.

Earlier in the week, Hamid Majid Musa of the communist party exemplified the problem when he complained that his proposals to the legal committee to change the size of the electoral district were not taken seriously enough. He then went on to declare that the elections will not be held on time if parliamentary deliberations go on indefinitely! Precisely.  Why did Iraqi parliamentarians, after having just returned from a mostly unproductive Ramadan season, go on holiday again on 6 October, without reconvening again until 13 October? Why do the sessions of the parliament normally last for just a couple of hours around midday? Why is the assembly often half full, with some representatives away from the assembly for most of the time? Alas, absent some kind of miracle, the only remaining excitement related to the elections law now seems to be the guessing game of which particular issue  in the end will blow up “unexpectedly” to derail a deal and thereby force Iraq to use the old, closed-list system from 2005 – and which unfortunate individual will get the delicate task of calling it a day and making this fact known to the Iraqi public.

Among the least glorious accomplishments in the half-finished revision of the Iraqi constitution is the following little item:

Original text:

“The sessions of the parliament are public”.

Revised text:

“The sessions of the parliament are public, unless the parliament decides otherwise”.

Iraq is a democracy. Unless its leaders decide otherwise.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues, Iraqi nationalism, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories | 29 Comments »

Galbraith Confirms Oil Interests in Kurdistan

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 15 October 2009 9:18

Document from December 2006 listing Porcupine as a 5 per cent stakeholder in the Tawke oilfield

Document from December 2006 listing Porcupine as a 5 per cent "partner" in Tawke

In comments to the US newspaper The Boston Globe today, Peter Galbraith appears to admit his relationship to the Delaware-based Porcupine company as well as having “interests” in the Kurdish oil sector. At the same time, however, a statement from his Porcupine company fails to clarify the exact nature of his contractual relationship with DNO, the Norwegian oil firm involved in the affair, although for the first time the existence of some kind of economic relationship is publicly acknowledged.

That Galbraith did have an economic interest in the Kurdish region is now perfectly clear. Galbraith told the Boston Globe, “The business interest, including my investment into Kurdistan, was consistent with my political views. These were all things that I was promoting, and in fact, have brought considerable benefit to the people of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan oil industry, and also to shareholders”. Also for the first time, DNO comments publicly on its role in the Boston Globe story. The paper quotes Ben Willey, a company spokesman, who explained how “[DNO was] ‘introduced to the Kurdistan opportunity back in 2003 and 2004 by a third party’ he declined to name. He said the Kurdistan Regional Government gave that third party a 5 percent stake in the DNO deal in 2004, but that the contract was renegotiated last year and ‘somebody lost out’. Now, Willey said, that third party is asking for compensation from DNO.” Just to confuse matters somewhat, in the Norwegian press today, a press release from Porcupine has been reproduced, to the effect that Porcupine “confirms the existence of a contractual relationship to DNO” while at the same time saying the company “does not have and has not had any third party interests in DNO’s PSA in Iraqi Kurdistan”. However, Dagens Næringsliv today also reproduces a full document from 2006 explicitly showing Porcupine listed as a 5% partner in the Tawke oilfield project. The document relates to the approval of expenses for test drilling.

Predictably, perhaps, Galbraith’s comments are focused on clearing his name in an American context and from a legalistic point of view. According to the Boston Globe, “Galbraith said yesterday his role in the constitutional negotiations was unpaid and informal, and therefore he was under no obligation to disclose his business interests to the US or Iraqi governments. He also said confidentiality agreements prevented him from publicly disclosing details of the business. Galbraith said he did make a full disclosure to the UN before his recent job in Afghanistan.”

From the ethical and above all the Iraqi point of view, however, what must be more significant is the role of Galbraith in shaping the new political structure of Iraq in the years between 2003 and 2005, in particular with regard to the highly decentralised constitution. Today’s explicit admission by Galbraith that his American shareholders received economic “benefits” from his work to push the Iraqi constitution in a certain direction may perhaps not incriminate him before American courts, but it will certainly add to the growing confusion about where some of the more unusual aspects of Iraq’s highly decentralised post-2003 institutions of government really came from. It remains somewhat unclear whether it was Galbraith, the Yemeni businessman, or both who were originally given interests in the PSA by the KRG back in 2004 as a reward for having introduced the Norwegian company to the “Kurdistan opportunity” as Ben Willey called it, but the fact that the two are now involved in arbitration against DNO in London makes it perfectly clear that some kind of economic interest does exist, and that the stakes are high.

The full Boston Globe story is here.

Today’s story in Dagens Næringsliv is not yet available online.

Posted in Iraq and soft partition, Iraqi constitutional issues | 14 Comments »

More on the Galbraith Story: Translated Text of the DN Article about the Tawke Oilfield

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 12 October 2009 20:53

Photo of Peter Galbraith in Bergen from Dagens Næringsliv, 10 October 2009

Photo of Peter Galbraith in Bergen from Dagens Næringsliv, 10 October 2009

There have been quite a few requests for translations of the original Dagens Næringsliv (DN) article on Peter Galbraith, Porcupine and the Tawke oil field which was published in the hard-copy edition of Saturday’s newspaper. Below is a quick and approximate translation of the meatiest parts of the story. General background facts about Galbraith’s past career (including the ongoing quarrel concerning the Afghanistan election results) and about DNO’s activities in Kurdistan have been left out, as have a couple of quotations by yours truly that have already been paraphrased in English in the previous story on this subject at historiae.org.

One piece of additional background information may be of interest. The arbitration proceedings mentioned in the article refer to a claim by Porcupine (Galbraith’s company) and a Yemenite multimillionaire, both of whom were squeezed out when the PSA for the Tawke oilfield was converted to a new contract by the Kurdish authorities in early 2008. That was when Galbraith lost his stake in the oilfield and instead became party to an arbitration dispute with DNO. The new relationship is recounted in the annual report of DNO for 2008 as follows: “Following the review of DNO’s PSCs in Kurdistan in March 2008, DNO is involved in arbitration proceedings related to third party assignments. A formal award, if any, may only be completed in 1–2 years. However, DNO does not consider the claims to be justified and thereby not likely to become payable. No provision has thereby been made in the financial accounts for 2008.” In the second quarter report for 2009, there is a similar reference:  “Also as recorded in the 2008 Annual Report, the Company is involved in arbitration proceedings related to certain third party interests in Kurdistan. The third party interests were not approved by the authorities as part of the PSC review which was completed in March 2008. The first part of the arbitration has ruled that the third party interests had the right to seek compensation for damages from DNO Iraq AS. The arbitration proceedings are therefore continuing and a final award with respect to possible compensation for damages is expected in the second quarter of 2010.”

This makes it clear that the relationship between Galbraith and the Kurdish authorities probably had soured considerably by early 2008, since it seems it was the KRG and not DNO that decided to leave his company out of the revised contract. The fact that the legal dispute has been ongoing since 2008 should hopefully also serve to quash the conspiracy theory already seen in the US blogosphere to the effect that this whole affair is a concoction by Norway to support its UN diplomat Kai Eide in his ongoing spat with Galbraith over the Afghan elections! (That conflict only became publicly known last month.)

One final remark: The article sometimes refers to “licenses” and “ownership”. It may possibly be more precise to speak about a stake in the Tawke PSA from 2004 to 2008 as basis for Galbraith’s claim. Whereas the oil itself presumably remains in Iraqi ownership (even the legal framework in force at the time, the TAL, concedes that much), the stakeholder in this case probably owns a share (in this case 5 per cent) of the economic surplus after the deduction of operating costs.

Senior Diplomat Demands [NOK] 1,500,000,000

[Translated excerpts from the Norwegian version. Originally researched and written by Kristin Gyldenskog, Trond Sundnes and Harald Vanvik and published in Dagens Næringsliv, Oslo, 10 October 2009, pp. 6–8.]

In secret, senior diplomat Peter Galbraith has economic interests in a Kurdish oilfield. Galbraith, who was recently sacked by the UN in Afghanistan, through his Porcupine company demands more than NOK 1,500,000,000 [approximately USD 250,000,000] from DNO for losing his oil licenses in Iraq […]

“I cannot comment on this because I want to avoid legal complications”, Galbraith said. He ran away when DN journalists tried to get in touch with him in Bergen on Thursday […]

On 29 June 2004, DNO signed an exploration deal for a territory within the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. DNO was the first Western company to enter into an agreement with the Kurdish regional authorities. Whereas other international oil companies chose to liaise with the central government in Baghdad, DNO secured rights to the proceeds of 40 per cent of future oil discoveries in the Tawke field. DNO failed to reply to queries from DN yesterday. When the deal was signed, Kurdish authorities retained rights to a substantial part of the oilfield. However, five per cent went to Galbraith.

The day after DNO had signed the deal with the Kurds in 2004, Peter Galbraith founded the Porcupine company in Delaware. Delaware-based businesses are protected by a high level of confidentiality. DN has identified documents relating to the foundation of Porcupine signed by Peter W. Galbraith and dated 30 June 2004.  Porcupine is one of the parties involved in the lawsuit currently pending in London [relating to the marginalisation of the Porcupine company in 2008 by the Kurdish authorities as described in the introduction above]. DN is also in possession of documents from December 2006 showing that Galbraith’s company still held a five-percent ownership share at that point.

“This dog is very aggressive”, Galbraith said when DN journalists confronted him in Bergen early Thursday morning […] DN have made repeated attempts to obtain comments from Galbraith on his involvement in Porcupine. When he saw DN’s photographer and journalists he first ran away. Later he replied to a few questions after having been confronted with company documents showing he is the manager of Porcupine.  “It is well known that I have worked for companies that invest in Iraq. I have pledged to maintain confidentiality concerning these relationships and cannot provide any more information”, Galbraith told us.

“What did you do in Iraq between 2004 and 2006?”

“You should have read my book, The End of Iraq. Everything is explained there”, Galbraith said, walking briskly. When he noticed DN’s photographer he started to run.

Later in the day, Galbraith contacted us. “I don’t want to be difficult. But I was surprised that you brought a photographer along. Actually, I thought things worked out well; I needed some exercise anyway. I have been thinking about your questions. I should have been able to provide answers to you.”

Galbraith said he had advised the Kurds for many years, but never in a capacity as a formal adviser. “I have worked with companies investing in Iraq and of course the Kurdish authorities know about my relationships to my clients. That is all I want to say”, Galbraith commented.

“What is your relationship to Porcupine?”

“I am in a situation where my business undertakings are subject to confidentiality agreements. I tried to get in touch with my lawyers to find out what information I might be able to provide to you without breaching my pledges of confidentiality, but I couldn’t reach them”, Galbraith said […]

DN agreed with Galbraith to call him again later yesterday. However, when we did so, Galbraith said he did not want to make any further comment and hung up while we tried to ask him questions. “Go ahead and write whatever you want to write. This is your story. Good bye”, Galbraith said.

Posted in Iraq and soft partition, Iraqi constitutional issues | 12 Comments »

New DNO Revelations: While He Was Influencing the Shape of the Iraqi Constitution, Peter Galbraith Held Stakes in an Oilfield in Dahuk

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 10 October 2009 10:12

It is widely known that the former US diplomat Peter Galbraith has been one of the most prominent figures in shaping the state structure of Iraq in the period after 2003, especially with his vocal advocacy of various forms of partition solutions for Iraq’s political problems that are reflected in his books and numerous articles in the New York Review of Books, especially in the period from 2004 to 2008. Until now, however, it has generally been assumed that Galbraith’s fervent pro-partition propaganda was rooted in an ideological belief in national self-determination and a principled view of radical federalism as the best option for Iraq’s Kurds. Many have highlighted Galbraith’s experience as a former US diplomat (especially in the Balkans in the 1990s) as key elements of his academic and policy-making credentials.

Today, however, it has emerged that the realities were rather different… Full story here.

Posted in Iraq and soft partition, Iraqi constitutional issues | 27 Comments »

Hakim Still Dreaming about Regions

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 8 October 2009 13:34

He has lived in the country less than half of his life but the 37-year old Ammar al-Hakim, the new leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), continues to spend time contemplating radical changes to the state structure of Iraq. In a recent interview with Iraqi television, he made it clear that he still envisages the creation of multiple federal regions in Iraq south of Kurdistan.

In the period between 2005 and 2007 Hakim was perhaps the single most vocal spokesperson for the idea of a single, Shiite sectarian region to be established from south of Baghdad to the Gulf. While he no longer pushes that particular configuration of governorates to form a new region, the recent interview makes it clear once more that he has no qualms about future changes to Iraq’s administrative map: One governorate, three governorates or nine governorates in a single federal region, that is for the people to decide, says Hakim. Iraq may perhaps be the cradle of civilisation with a millennia-long tradition of centralised government but to Hakim this historical legacy simply seems irrelevant.

While legalists will point out that Hakim is finally moving closer to the 2005 constitution, a more meaningful interpretation of the significance of his statement emerges when it is contrasted with what other Iraqi politicians are saying these days. Just within the past weeks, representatives for the Daawa party (Abd al-Hadi al-Hassani), Iraqiyya (Maysun al-Damluji), Hiwar (Mustafa al-Hiti) and the Sadrists (Talib al-Kurayti) have all expressed scepticism to the creation of any new federal entities. Several have hinted that restrictions on federalism may be a subject for the upcoming constitutional review. In other words, when most Iraqi politicians finally seem to respond to recurrent popular demands for an end to federalisation and a greater focus on more pressing issues of security, health and the economy, Hakim makes a point of keeping such options open.

This in turn highlights potential contradictions inside the newly created Iraqi National Alliance, where Hakim is playing a key role. In a recent interview with the Christian Science Monitor that has been widely reproduced in the Iraqi press, another leading ISCI figure, Adil Abd al-Mahdi, weighed in on the issue of state structure. Although some of the translations of the interview have clearly been garbled in the Iraqi press, the one by the Furat television channel based on an ISCI press release is probably an authoritative account of what Abd al-Mahdi intended to say. Put briefly, in his view, the goal of the new coalition is to create a unified government without ideological contradictions: “It is impossible to have a centralist view within a government that believes in decentralisation”.

Seen in isolation, this is clarifying: The Iraqi National Alliance confirms its decentralisation ideology and emphasises its differences with others in the Maliki government, such as the premier himself, on the issue. Alas, the problem, of course, is the presence of certain arch-centralists – in particular the Sadrists – as a key element in the new Shiite-led alliance. Clearly, if Abd al-Mahdi were to follow through on his own logic, the obvious next steps would be as follows: Firstly, to cut all contact with the centralist Iraqiyya (with whom negotiations supposedly still go on). Secondly and, more importantly perhaps, to ditch the Sadrists, who also reject the creation of more federal entities.

But they are not going to do that, are they? After all, the Sadrist votes for the Iraqi National Alliance are badly needed. For his part, Ammar al-Hakim has already declared that he will not subject himself to the unpredictable whims of voters by running as a candidate. And whereas ISCI earned one third of its members of parliament in 2005 not on the basis of actual votes for candidates but in post-election distribution of so-called compensatory seats at the national level, the Sadrists are holding a kind of primaries these days, with a reported turnout of 16,000 in Dhi Qar. The Sadrists, in turn, are under instructions from Muqtada al-Sadr to select only non-clerical independents, making it even less likely that ISCI would benefit from the Sadrist vote under an open-list system.

This illustrates a more widespread dynamic related to the ongoing debate on the elections law. In public, all the parties except the two Kurdish ones agree that an open-list system should be used. ISCI supported closed lists in the past but has been pressured into accepting an open-list system after persons close to the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani increasingly have expressed a strong preference for this. (In fact, for this reason Sistani is almost portrayed as something of a nationalist hero on normally unsympathetic television stations like Sharqiyya these days, so don’t say Iraqi politics isn’t changing!) In theory, then, the only remaining problem with the elections law should be what to do with Kirkuk, and even here a compromise should be possible after a very helpful proposal two days ago by Hasan Turan, a Turkmen representative, to make provisions for a re-examination of the voter register for that province – an idea that received public support yesterday also from Usama al-Nujayfi, another powerful voice from the north.

However, it is reported that several parties are unsecure about their real standing among voters and secretly prefer the closed-list system for that reason. The motive is that with a closed list the big vote-getters (such as the Sadrists) can enhance their electoral prospects by creating a “ticket” in a very literal sense – i.e. by giving others, less popular politicians, a free ride to parliamentary seats that would otherwise be at risk (that is, if voters were given a chance to intervene in the selection of candidates). As if to underline the lack of respect for Iraqi voters, with all these issues pending, the parliament has announced it will not reconvene until 13 October, only two days before the deadline for completing changes to the electoral system.

Posted in Iraq and soft partition, Iraqi constitutional issues, Shiite sectarian federalism, UIA dynamics | 9 Comments »

Joint Patrols and Power-Sharing in Mosul: Unbalanced Proposals from the International Crisis Group

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 5 October 2009 15:25

In the one corner, a steadily increasing group of Iraqi politicians of all sectarian backgrounds who reject the idea of joint patrols between the forces of the Iraqi central government, the Kurdish federal authorities and the United States in what the Kurds refer to as “disputed territories” in northern Iraq, including Nineveh. The latest addition to this camp is Abbas al-Bayati, a key ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in his revamped State of Law coalition. In a statement to the press on 1 October, the day of the re-launch of the Maliki alliance, Bayati made his position on this crystal clear: the governorates of Kirkuk and Nineveh fall within the exclusive sovereignty of the central government, whose responsibility it is to protect the population of these areas with its security forces. In principle, according to Bayati, the forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have no legitimate role; any exception to this rule must meet with the full consent of both the central government and the governorate authorities concerned.

In the other corner, there are, of course, the two biggest Kurdish parties, KDP and PUK. Less easy to explain in rational terms but perfectly predictable is the presence of Washington, represented through its commander in Iraq, Ray Odierno, who has apparently invested a degree of personal prestige in the idea of joint patrols and whose army is increasingly in search of some kind of mission that can define its raison d’être in Iraq. And then, something of a surprise: the International Crisis Group. In its latest report on Iraq, “Iraq’s New Battlefront: The Struggle over Ninewa”, the ICG furnishes the most elaborate justification to date for the project of establishing joint patrols in the Nineveh governorate. Singling out the province as one of the potentially most dangerous in Iraq, the Crisis Group also makes recommendations for power-sharing in local government.

To find the ICG in this position is surprising because it has in the past produced a vast number of exceptionally well-researched, empirically based reports in Iraq, often with interesting policy proposals, including a much-quoted “oil for soil” scheme for Kirkuk, released in October 2008. Indeed, most of the analytical aspects of the most recent report seem to conform with the high standards of past ICG publications on Iraq. But some of the policy recommendations are troubling and distinctly less balanced than previous proposals by the group.

The first of these concerns the idea of joint patrols in what the Kurds refer to as “disputed territories” in northern Iraq. The ICG recommends the implementation of this mechanism, despite the fact that it is something that is supported by the Kurds whilst rejected by most other Iraqi politicians. Not only that, the ICG goes on to portray such patrols as somehow constituting a “compromise” position. This is where the logic becomes particularly hard to follow. The keystone of the argument reads as follows: “While Ninewa’s Arab leaders accuse the KRG of expansionist ambitions, one reason the Kurds rushed across the Green Line in 2003 was to protect Kurds displaced under Arabisation and to facilitate their return to their original homes and lands; the effort to incorporate these areas into the Kurdistan region came later (especially via Article 140 of the 2005 constitution).” The report then goes on to make an analytical distinction between Kurdish expansionism (allegedly this “came later”) and the supposedly more humanitarian and basic agenda of “protecting” Kurds living in Nineveh. The ICG separates “protection” from “territorial ambition”, and voila, Barzani is a great philanthropist!

Frankly, in this case, to assume that one aspect of the Kurdish presence can be excised with surgical precision from the other is a way of reasoning that cannot survive for long in the real world. Indeed, the ICG itself has produced a far more level-headed assessment of this problem in one of its earlier reports, writing last July (in “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line”) that “the Kurds also claim these areas as majority-Kurdish and historically part of Kurdistan, and in reality their presence should be seen as a bid to reclaim them by establishing facts on the ground in advance of a law-based resolution of their status”. In other words, the distinction between “protection” and “expansionism” that forms the basis for the designation of the joint patrols as a “compromise” is in itself entirely artificial, and the ICG knows it. Just a quick glance at Kurdish maps issued long before 2003 should eliminate any doubt about this; they often include an extra “ethnic” line indicating areas claimed as belonging historically to Kurdistan.

Kurdish map from around 1998 showing areas of actual control and ethnic "borders"

Kurdish map from around 1998 showing areas of actual control and ethnic "borders"

In order to understand why Iraqis react so strongly to the joint patrols, it can be useful to revisit the legal basis for the controversy. In particular it is important to take note of how the singling out of areas as “disputed” ones so far has been an entirely unilateral process, controlled by the Kurds and sometimes with the support of the Americans, but never in any systematic dialogue with Baghdad. Thus, the only post-2003 definition of the extent of Kurdistan is that of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) of March 2004 which was also confirmed in the October 2005 constitution, where the federal region is defined as those areas that were administered by the Kurds “on 19 March 2003 in the governorates of Dahuk, Arbil, Sulaymaniya, Kirkuk, Diyala and Nineveh”, often defined with reference to the so-called “green line” that separated the de facto autonomous Kurdish region of the Baathist era from the central government. And guess what, there is of course an unspoken, logical corollary implicit in the TAL: Every square inch of land south of the green line is the exclusive sovereignty of Baghdad until progress has been made on the settlement of those “disputed territories” that are alluded to (but never defined) later in the document. True, Kurdish militias stormed over the Green Line in 2003, but their expansionism into these areas was coordinated only with the Americans and their continued presence there does not enjoy any legitimacy within the Iraqi constitutional framework.

The Kurdish region as per the TAL

The Kurdish region as per the TAL, indicated in orange; areas with Kurdish population are in green

Areas of Kurdish expansion beyond the Kurdistan federal region

Areas of Kurdish expansion beyond the Kurdistan federal region since 2003, as indicated in the orange area of actual Kurdish control per 2009

In other words, any neutral and balanced international arbitration effort should use the Green Line as its point of departure. Like its namesake in the Israel/Palestine conflict, the Green Line is beautiful simply by virtue of its utter meaninglessness: In the murky world of ethno-nationalism it will prompt nothing but a “syntax error” response. It has no relationship at all to racially based claims and counter-claims, it is just where Iraqi and Kurdish forces happened to stand in March 2003. But whereas in the case of Israel/Palestine the international community has prudently accepted the 1967 lines as a point of departure for negotiations and has generally ignored Israeli maximalism of the “Judea and Samaria” type, in the case of northern Iraq both the ICG and the USG choose to extend recognition to unilateral ethno-national expansionism by the Kurds. In fact, when the Iraqi government asserts control of areas that belong to Baghdad according to the TAL, Washington sees this as a “reckless” challenge to the Kurds, apparently ignoring the fact that Baghdad has judiciously abstained from what would be a logical counter-measure to the Kurdish policy: identifying “disputed territories” inside the KRG-controlled area (where there are many Arab and Turkmen minorities who historically have closer ties to Baghdad than to the Kurds) and sending government forces to “protect” those groups against Kurdish highhandedness.

The second problem in the ICG report concerns the idea of power-sharing in Nineveh. Once more, the empirical basis for the proposed ICG solution is uncharacteristically weak and partial, and appears to have been lifted almost verbatim from an interview with a Kurdish parliamentarian without any critical discussion. Worse, the quoted matter is in itself so full of factual errors that it remains a mystery that the ICG should choose to take it at face value. It goes as follows:

“Abd al-Mohsen al-Saadoun, a Kurdish parliamentarian, articulated the Ninewa Brotherhood List’s perspective as follows: ‘In this last election, both lists won, the Brotherhood List and al-Hadbaa List. What I mean is that governance in all of Iraq is based on muhasasa [ethnosectarian quotas]. The presidency council is decided this way and so are the parliament speaker and his deputies, as well as cabinet ministers, and it also happens in the provinces – except Ninewa. In Ninewa, al-Hadbaa has gone with the idea of absolute-majority rule. This is not in the constitution. By not accepting the Brotherhood in local government, al-Hadbaa carried out a coup against democracy and national consensus.’ Moreover, he suggested, a double standard was being applied: ‘It’s funny that everyone is demanding that the Kurds share power with the Arabs in Kirkuk but fail to make that same demand in Ninewa.’ As part of a power-sharing deal in Ninewa, the Brotherhood List, as runner-up in the elections, says it is entitled to the posts of council president and deputy governor, senior positions in the security apparatus and about a third of the ‘key’ appointments in local government.”

Also, added in a footnote: “Al-Saadoun said: ‘Since they got the governor post, we should have the deputy position. When we say we want the council president post, we say they can have the vice-president position’…” Later on in the report follow the recommendations by the ICG, which are in fact strikingly similar: “A  Brotherhood presence in the top echelons of government, for example as deputy governor and/or council president, would give the Kurds the assurance they seek.”

Let’s deal with these contentions seriatim. The Kurdish representative alleges that local government in all of Iraq is based on muhasasa and that this principle has a constitutional basis. That is simply untrue. There is no specific reference to the composition of local governments in the constitution, just a reference to future legislation. The only law that has materialised so far is the provincial powers law of February 2008, which failed to make any special provisions for power-sharing. Indeed, some of Iraq’s governorates are ruled by simple, minimum-winning majorities (notably Basra), and there appears to be no muhasasa for example for Sunni minorities in Babel or the Shiites of Salahaddin. Indeed, the Kurdish contention in this case distorts the situation in Nineveh itself. The Hadba has of course promoted Kurds to very high positions, except that those Kurds are not politically affiliated with the KDP and the PUK. That is the exact equivalent of what the Kurds did themselves in Nineveh and elsewhere in the north for four years subsequent to the local elections of January 2005, in which the Kurds participated but many parties supported by the largely Sunni Arab and Turkmen majorities of those areas boycotted. Subsequently, the Kurds in many cases installed Arab and Turkmen placemen in the local councils – people who were loyal to themselves but did not represent local interests in a meaningful way. As for “double standards” regarding Kirkuk, it should be noted that local Arab and Turkmen groups there are not calling for power-sharing necessarily as an end goal but primarily as an instrument for creating a more level field, especially to address post-2003 changes to the demographic structure of the city pending final status negotiations.

Finally, at a more general level, the appeal to “constitutionalism” seems particularly hollow in this case. The constitutional approach for “disputed territories” was outlined in article 140, whose implementation was delayed beyond the original December 2007 deadline thanks not least to the inability of the Kurds to make compromise on other areas. The court of first instance here must now be the ongoing constitutional revision process. Hence, when local officials loyal to the KRG make unilateral declarations of “secession” from Nineveh and demand inclusion in the Kurdistan federal region, then frankly that is their problem: They are behaving in an unconstitutional way and are engaged in illegal forms of land-grabbing. At some point, the Kurdish authorities in Arbil will have to understand that they cannot claim the high moral ground of constitutionalism and state-building whilst simultaneously destroying the Iraqi state at the local level, although it is a worry that both the ICG and Washington still seem to acquiesce in this kind of nonsense as if it represented acts of great statesmanship. Indeed, there are reports that US military officials recently took part in functions inside Nineveh where the Kurdish flag was hoisted by the peshmerga forces.

Just for the record, back in 1919, Iraqi officers in Damascus including many from Mosul handed the British authorities a demand for the establishment of an independent Iraq within its “historical borders” from the Gulf to Dayr al-Zur on the Euphrates (in present-day Syria) and Diyarbakir on the Tigris (today in Turkey, historically considered the northernmost area of Arabic-speaking minorities). In more recent history, Iraqis in Nineveh wisely settled for a more pragmatic approach, abandoning their claims to Diyarbakir  and ceding Dahuk to the Kurdish autonomous region that was created in the early 1970s. Today they are focusing on the territorial integrity of the rump Nineveh governorate. But sadly, on this issue, the Kurds, General Odierno, and the International Crisis Group all appear to be stuck in 1919 and its ethno-nationalist way of thinking.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Iraqi nationalism, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories | 7 Comments »

Maliki Re-Launches the State of Law List: Beautiful But Is It Powerful Enough?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 1 October 2009 14:18

Today, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has put together a new line-up for his State of Law (dawlat al-qanun) list that will contest Iraq’s parliamentary elections in January 2010. In terms of Iraq’s maturation from a sectarian to an issue-based kind of politics, Maliki’s list represents considerable progress, although it was not quite as wide-ranging as some had hoped for… Full story here.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi nationalism, UIA dynamics | 13 Comments »