Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Akkaz Revolt: A Test Case for Iraq, and for Iraqiyya

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 20 October 2010 13:02

For the past couple of years an interesting energy revolt has been simmering in the mainly-Sunni governorate of Anbar: Local councillors are increasingly expressing a desire for a leading role for the local authorities in developing the Akkaz gas field. When the central government earlier this year included that field in a batch of contracts put up for auction to foreign companies, the local council protested and recently issued a threat about non-cooperation in case the deals went ahead.

Today, the Akkaz field was awarded to a South Korean consortium after an auction in Baghdad. It will be interesting to see not only how the governorate politicians in Anbar react, but also how the Iraqiyya coalition – which is strongly represented locally in Anbar – responds at the national level.

The constitutional facts of the matter are that the central government is supposed to be in the lead when it comes to “existing fields”, albeit in some kind of unspecified cooperation with the local authorities. Back in 2007, when an attempt was made to agree on an oil and gas law, Akkaz – which was discovered in the Saddam Hussein period before 2003 – was listed in the annexes to the draft law in category 3 of “non-producing” fields in need of considerable investment. Of course the oil and gas law was never adopted (and the Kurds protested strongly at the way the annexes were drawn up), and the central government has since gone ahead with the award (or attempted award) of several category 3 fields in previous licensing rounds with foreign companies, including Badra, Gharraf, Kifl and a gas field in Diyala. It is thought that the degree of “coordination” with the local authorities in these mostly Shiite-majority governorates (that is, except Diyala) has been quite minimal, and whereas protests from the local governorates themselves have been limited – and possibly have been ameliorated by the generous fees given to oil and gas-producing governorates in the 2010 budget – a general challenge to the government’s line has been mounted in the courts by Shadha al-Musawi, a former deputy of the old, all-Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, with respect to the contract signed with a British-Chinese consortium for  the supergiant Rumaila field in the Basra area.

Thus, the question is whether the oil ministry needs to do anything more in terms of coordination with the Anbar authorities than they have done in places like Dhi Qar. It is interesting that so far, the vision of a dominant central government in these issues has been promoted by Hussein al-Shahristani, a close ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Conversely, the Kurds and forces close to another Shiite party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) have been accused of abetting regionalist tendencies in Anbar, which used to have a nationalist orientation. Given the current rivalry between Maliki and Ayad Allawi to win over the Kurds in order to form the next government, it would be interesting to see where Allawi’s Iraqiyya really stands on this important issue concerning the key question of whether Iraq should be centralised or decentralised. If Iraqiyya supports the Akkaz revolt against Shahristani, maybe it should stop calling itself Iraqiyya altogether and instead merge with the Kurds and ISCI to form a new parliamentary bloc called Al-Kurdistaniyya? It is noteworthy in this context that the ministry of planning, headed by Ali Baban who is considered quite close to Maliki, recently announced its decision to scrap the question about ethnicity in the forthcoming census – a move likely to meet with Kurdish protests and applause from the Sunni Arabs in northern Iraq.

37 Responses to “The Akkaz Revolt: A Test Case for Iraq, and for Iraqiyya”

  1. Santana said


    I am 100% sure Iraqiyya is very pro-centralisation and it would be hypocritical for them to handle this field (or any of Iraq’s fields) any other way.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, I am glad to see that confirmed. Note that Crescent Petroleum, where Ayad Allawi is reportedly a board member, is sometimes accused of fomenting Anbar regionalism on the gas field issue, possibly in some kind of greater scheme involving also its KRG investments and the Nabucco pipeline project.

  3. gabri133 said

    Marathon Oil Corporation: Marathon Acquires Position in Four Exploration Blocks in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
    A fully integrated US O&G company… Marathon is the 4th biggest integrates O&G co in the US behind Exxon, Connoco and Chevron!
    The end for small boys in kurdistan?
    Something moving in the front oil between the KRG & the GOV?

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Any specifics to suggest this is something more than just another unilateral KRG deal?

  5. gabri133 said

    This kind of big fish making a move in this playgroung without insurance?
    We aren’t talking about KoGas and KazMunuaiGaz this time…

  6. Reidar Visser said

    I am not sure just who is in a position to issue any assurances at this point, given the confused political situation?

  7. Mohammed said


    are you sure about Allawi being on the board of Crescent Petroleum? If so, is this not a huge conflice of interest?

    How can somebody who is on a board of an oil company that is strategically focused on Iraq even be a MP much less president or prime minister?

    It just begs the questions as to how many other corporate connections the good doctor has (that we don’t even know about).


  8. Reidar Visser said

    Mohammed, I have only secondary sources for this, but it was in the news when he visited Russia alongside Badr Jaafar, the CP director. I did not hear about it myself until recently and have tried to provoke some kind of refutation from Iraqiyya friends but so far to no avail. Maybe others can clear this up?

    At any rate, a clear position on Iraqiyya in this issue is certainly called for.

  9. Santana said


    It is a unilateral deal….but moved quickly to the table once the Kurds became Kingmakers – it seems that the “Unilateral oil deals” part of the 19 points has been grudgingly approved by Maliki and by Allawi’s side in comparison to some of the other obscenely crazy demands. An Oil executive with Exxon told me today that Marathon was told by the Kurds to show faith and move quick and not wait till gov formation like the hundreds of other major companies that have been waiting.

    “You are apprehensive of monarchy;I,of aristrocracy, I would therefore have given more power to the President and less to the Senate. ” John Adams to Thomas Jefferson Dec.1787

  10. M said

    There are some talks around reviving regionalism in the South by a few of Basra’s city council members. Also, a friend told me yesterday that there is an article in the constitution that grants provinces the right to have independent representations in embassies and consulates abroad. Where is this all going?

    It might be a matter of time(if not happening already)before Southern provinces join in the rebelion! Have you seen Basra lately? can anyone believe this city: as mush as it sits on a major share of the world’s third oil reserve, it also sits on the world’s largest share of garbage – awaiting the trickles of its own money from the Baghdadis!

    So, the few remaining idealists in the so-called centralists and nationalists camp should start wondering: how much more people should put up for the sake of unity at the expense of dignity, and nationalism at the expense of “life”. Nationalism brought in Saddam and bringing in Allawi, Mutlaq and Shaalan “again”. It is the best excuse to rally the local opportunists, Arab regional conspiracists and international idealists.

    I am glad the self-procalimed nationalist Allawi is a board member of an oil company. It is a small item in a long list that will eventually undermine his spurious nationalist agenda. I also think oil and gas discovery in Anbar is such a blessing. It will place Iraq in some sort of resource balance and encourage Sunnis to join the quest regional rights.

  11. Reidar Visser said

    What’s the point of creating a region if the Basra governorate council cannot even get rid of those piles of rubbish? To the best of my knowledge, the collection of dustbins in the streets of Basra is not considered the exclusive prerogative of the central government, right?

  12. M said

    Honestly, they should do just that. The city pays their salaries? Right? I pay you to govern me well or otherwise, I’ll hold you accountable or have you do community service! Democracy 101.

    Basra is beyond dustbins at this point and will remain so as long as it is at the mercy of central
    budgeting and policies.

    Going forward, many expects the current political process in all of its daily addictive details will result at best in a pacifying fragmented and weak power-sharing structure that will strengthen the case for regionalism. People will be forced to seek an alternative to the central mess. Reading through the recent WB Iraq poverty report, we are only superior to Djibouti in socioeconomic and health indicies. We do not even exist on UNDP HDI.

  13. Maybe someone can make sense of this. According to Asharq al-Awsat, Sadr seems to be getting on the “national partnership government” bandwagon, telling Maliki during their meeting in Qom earlier this week that he will not be part of a government without the participation of Iraqiya, ISCI, and the Kurds.

    Reidar, is this also just “lip service” or a populist ploy by Sadr to regain some of his lost support on the street? I know Sadr genuinely does not want to support Maliki, but I doubt Sadr is sincere about the inclusion of others since a partnership government would significantly decrease his relevancy and diminish the need to provide him with concessions. Essentially, like the Kurds, he losses his kingmaker status in an “all-inclusive” government.

  14. Reidar Visser said

    Mahmoud, I guess the Sadrists are also afraid of a strong government, so it makes sense for them to call for the inclusion of as many as possible. They may be feeling that the whole of Iraqiyya is unlikely to join any Maliki-led government, and that a fractured Iraqiyya may suit their (and, incidentally, Iran’s) agenda eminently. Actually, the Sadrists explicitly criticised Maliki’s political-majority project as early as in the autumn of 2009. Recently one Sadrist deputy made a big point of calling for the inclusion of the non-winning lists in the next government! The more, the merrier it seems..

  15. Tore said

    The Kurds aren’t the only ones doing unilateral deals:

    “Iraq awards major contracts to develop gas fields –

    “The winning bids

    * KOGAS (South Korea) and KazMunaiGas (Kazakhstan) to develop the Akkas gas field in the western province of Anbar
    * Kuwait Energy and TPAO (Turkey) to develop the Siba gas field in southern Iraq
    * TPAO, Kuwait Energy and KOGAS to develop the Mansouriya field in Diyala province, near the Iranian border””

  16. Reidar Visser said

    But the key question then is, where are the protests from the governorate councils in Diyala and Basra (which would be the relevant “other side” eligible for involvement)?

  17. Santana said



    As far as I know those deals were done thru other words-Central gov approved deals.

    “As a nation we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” Soon it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this, I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty–to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” Abraham Lincoln

  18. Kermanshahi said

    Reidar, the question is, are they really pro-centralisation, or ar they just anti-Kurdish?

  19. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, I guess I’m asking whether they are perhaps more pro-Kurdish than you think!

  20. Kermanshahi said

    The thing is, Reidar, they’ve constantly been bashing the Kurds under the motto of “centralism” and “iraqi nationalism,” but many of these kind of people actually support such things as regional oil deals when it comes to Sunni areas like Anbar. The real reason many of them have Kurd-bashing for so long is not because of political disputes but just out of racism. It’s no coincidence that many of them were members of the Ba’ath Party (yeah many members didn’t actually agree with Saddam – but many of them agreed with the ideology (and enough of them like Saddam) and their policies are proof of it).

  21. Reidar Visser said

    Except Fawaz al-Jarba I cannot recall any openly pro-federal politicians from the north-west.

  22. robinson said

    وقال الملا: «نحن لن نسمح بذلك إطلاقا، وسنقوم بمظاهرات حاشدة واعتصامات، وإذا لم تستجب الحكومة المركزية فسنوقف الدوام الرسمي، وإذا استمرت الحكومة بتجاهلنا سنعلن فورا إقليم الأنبار».

  23. Reidar Visser said

    Thanks! So there we have it, the first calls for the Region of Anbar. Biden would have loved this; it’s just three years too late.

  24. Santana said

    Guys- There are several resaons behind this protest…it is a protest against how the Ministry(which is still under the leadership of Maliki) wants to market the production and what little added value there is for the Anbar region…the protestors are not saying “we wanna negotiate our own deal” like the Kurds do……what they are really against is how little added value there is for the Anbar region by just pumping oil or gas and then shipping it out. They want the Gov to incorporate into the development a major peripheral support center -just like the Kurds have in the North….(Refineries, Tank-farms..etc- and had the Government been on the same page with them and factored in all this before awarding it then they would be celebrating and not protesting…in other words it is not a Centeralization VS Decentralization issue ….it is more about the structure of the deal…the Anbaris are interested in
    reducing unemployment,stimulating the local economy, tacking on Oil related industries like Plastics, Lubricants…….etc…more Oil or gas revenue goes to the Oil Ministry this way anyway…this is very different than what the Kurds want, which is akin to a 3 year old screaming at the top of his or her lungs “Mine, Mine, Mine…….and then once the Kurds get it they hand 30% over to DNO and Hunt….and then lo and behold DNO and Hunt show their appreciation by hiring ex-NSC, Pentagon or State Dept people to lobby with extreme fervor so KRG can milk the cow (Iraq) even more in the future.

    “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” –
    — Thomas Jefferson

  25. Reidar,
    Al Anbar’s objections in Robinson’s link are not centralist/federalist imbalance, they are calling for more local manufacturing in order to create jobs rather than exporting raw gas. I am sure many Iraqis are sympathetic.

  26. Reidar Visser said

    Faisal and Santana,

    Well there is an explicit threat to establish the ARG – Anbar Regional Government – in that report.

    Also see the article below which again goes much further than you suggest in terms of dreaming up exporting rights for the governorate etc:

  27. Reidar,
    The loss of employment in Iraq is not a dream, it’s a real nightmare, specially in Anbar. When oil contracts are politicized, like everything else in Iraq, and when highly qualified Iraqi engineers get a fraction of a foreignor’s salary for doing even more work, it is justified to blame the government who signed the contract.

  28. Reidar Visser said

    And threaten to destroy the idea of a centralised state? Sorry, I just don’t get it, all those people who condemned the Basra scheme in 2009 and suddenly offer highbrow arguments in favour of the Anbar scheme in 2010.

  29. Kermanshahi said

    Reidar, with a Kurdistan regional government already existing the creation of an Anbar regional government and Basra regional government is really the first step to a split up of Iraq along ethnic and secterian lines, don’t you think?

    And I’ll tell you exactly why these people didn’t like the idea of a Basra regional government (and are anti-KRG) but like the idea of an Anbar regional government is because there is such an obvious Sunni secterianist atmosphere among the supposed Iraqi nationalists, among the politicians and among the supporters, some of whom have multiple times insulted the Shi’a faith on your blog.

  30. Santana said


    I beg to differ…I think it is way too premature to call it an “Anbar Scheme” just …those comments were probably meant to attract some attention to the cause and add a bit of drama…I know many Anbar leaders and spend alot of time with them…never have they ever mentioned an “Anbar Federal region”. When Anbaris start spending a million bucks a month lobbying Washington for their own region like the Kurds do then I will take it more seriously.

    “Mankind needs government, but in regions where anarchy has prevailed they will,at first,submit only to despotism. We must therefore seek first to secure government, even though despotic,and only when government has become habitual can we hope succesfully to make it democratic.” Bertrand Russell 1938

  31. Reidar,
    Its a long run from job deprivation to threatening federalism. There is no comparison between KRG which provides jobs to wide section of its population and the central government which could not even pay the awakening forces. The issue here is jobs, the Anbar population did not change direction. Reidar, Jobs is not high brow!

  32. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, the distaste for combining governorates into sectarian regions seems to remain. But I am amazed at the extent to which the local politicians in Anbar, including several so-called “nationalists”, are prepared to push the iqlimiyya trend in the name of the existing governorates.

  33. Kermanshahi said

    What I find distastefull is the way Shi’a are treated in all Sunni dominated countries and the way the Iraqi Sunnis have now suddenly (supposedly) become “non-secterianists” after they lost power and failed to regain it through armed conflict. Now that didn’t work either, they wanna do autonomy just like the Kurds – but ofcourse, ba’athist leaders will keep bashing the Kurds while they’re at it.

  34. robinson said

    I highly doubt these guy’s are “serious” per se in threatening the declaration of an Anbar Region. The timing (coinciding with the awarding of the contract) of the noise coming out of anbar is particularly telling. The PC probably hopes they may be able to eek a few % points of profit out of Baghdad if they make a fuss now, and the businessman quoted from al-Qa’im and his ilk are probably hoping to railroad the Koreans/Kazhaks into hiring more local security personnel.

    I think it’s a mistake to look at this as an actual regional movement; rather it’s a negotiating tactic. Nothing more.

  35. Reidar Visser said

    Still, it is interesting that the Basra project, too, has oscillated between “mere bargaining” and more serious phases throughout the 2004-2010 period.

  36. IMARK said

    With Al-Zamman reporting initial agreement between Iraqiyya, ISCI and Kurdish Coalition, it looks more and more to me that the Iraqi nationalist project, supported by most Iraqis including the ordinary Kurds, is in jeopardy. Adil Abdul Mehdi’s vision of future Iraq is identical to Biden’s project and Allawi seems to have succeeded in dragging the ”Sunni nationalistic politicians” behind the divide Iraq scheme. This project suits US, Israel, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and even Turkey, all dreading the emergence of a new strong country (and I don’t blame them! They want as big a share of the pie as well).
    Actually, I think that the damage is done. The Kurdish politicians have nails! And they feel strong in the face of any future centralist government. The Iraqi voters have been cheated again. The Iraq nationalist project will have to wait for decades to come.
    What is your opinion?

  37. Kermanshahi said

    IMARK, there never was an “Iraqi Nationalist project,” specially not one which was supported by anything more than 1% of the “ordinary Kurds” (hardly any of which even identify with Iraq or being Iraqi). What there was, was a resurgence of Arab Nationalism, among both Sunnis and Shi’as, at expense of religious fundementalism and political Islam (hence the decline of ISCI and IIP and growth of INM and SLC), which were causing the growth of secterianism and the conflict between Sunni and Shi’a.
    The Arab Nationalist which would have been created would have healed most of the tension/conflict between Sunni and Shi’a Arabs at expense of the Kurds, which would have probably resulted in a new civil war. The government would have likely been similar to the previous regime (which an increasing number of Iraqi Arabs was starting to say “was not all that bad…”) only it would not have been as strong militarily and it would have been less Sunni-dominated. But it would have definetly created strong tensions with Syria, Iran and probably Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (and possibly the US aswell), which some of you seem to think is a real good idea, but what is actually just extremely stupid.

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