Iraq and Gulf Analysis

In Washington, a Window-Dressing Exercise; in Diyala, another Federalism Bid

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 12 December 2011 19:55

The arrival in Washington of Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has been accompanied by considerable media hype.  A key talking point for the Obama administration is the idea that Iraq is facing a more positive future as 8 years of occupation are coming to an end.

Among the indicators of progress cited by President Barack Obama today are the statistics of violence in Iraq, which currently stand at an all-time low. Obama also mentioned a series of “indicators” that strictly speaking relate to the future rather than the present, such as the “expected” increase in Iraqi oil production and the “scheduled” meeting of the Arab League, to be held in Baghdad. Additionally, much attention has been given by the US media to recent statements by Maliki to the international press that all emphasise the idea of Iraqi sovereignty towards its neighbours.

Opponents of the Obama administration, on the other hand, are trying to highlight possible indicators of Iranian hands working behind the scenes. Previously, the so-called special groups and the Sadrists more broadly have received attention; recently, the fate of the pro-Baathist Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq, still camped in Iraq, as well as the pro-Iranian suspected terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq – currently in US custody in Iraq – have been suggested as bellwethers with relevance for the coming period and possible test cases re continued Iranian clout in Iraq.

Some will also ask about the realities of the “non-interference” concept that seems to be the current Iraqi foreign policy doctrine: Iraq will not interfere in Syria, and will not let Iran interfere in Iraq. What, then, are we to make of rumours that Iraqis, including Sadrists, actively (and militarily) support the Syrian regime these days? If that is the Iraqi interpretation of non-interference, can we be assured that informal Iranian “support” will not continue to characterise Iran–Iraq relations?

The critics of the spin-doctoring are right, but they could in fact have painted a far more dramatic and wide-ranging  picture of the precarious situation in Iraq. Just look back at the formation of the second Maliki government that was finished one year ago almost to the day. Among the features highlighted by commentators in the international community and especially the US government at the time (and criticised by others as unrealistic) was the agreement to create power-sharing through a national council for high policies as well as through distributing the security portfolios to the biggest political blocs. But where are we today? One year after the formation of the government, all the elements of power-sharing highlighted by optimistic commentators back then remain unimplemented. The strategic council is hardly at the drawing-board stage and even optimists within the Maliki government suggest that any agreement on security ministries is many months ahead.

The composition of the Iraqi delegation accompanying Maliki to Washington very much reflects this state of affairs. Maliki is assisted by one adviser and two Shiite Islamist ministers with close ties to Iran, two Kurds, one long-exiled, nominally Sunni defence minister who enjoys only limited support in Sunni-majority areas, as well as two technocrats. Glaringly absent is any representative of the Iraqiyya coalition that won most votes in the March 2010 parliamentary elections.

If that is not sufficient to raise doubts about the realities of power-sharing in today’s Iraq, perhaps developments in Diyala today can serve as a better reminder. Reportedly, Iraqiyya figures played a key role in launching a request for a referendum on federal status for that governorate – interestingly with at least some Kurdish support (some say in exchange for the acceptance of Kurdish claims to the disputed territory of Khaniqin). There was rejection from some Shiite parties including ISCI as well as in the Khalis sub-governorate, plus reports that a Kurdish local politician in Diyala was arrested today by a force from Baghdad. Nevermind that the whole federalism bid to some extent was accompanied by illegality in the way it mimicked the “declaration” of a federal region attempted by Salahaddin in late October!

When you have the resources of a superpower, safely withdrawing military forces is in itself not exactly a major accomplishment. True, violence in Iraq is down, but in the big picture the critical reduction of violence antedated 2009. Maliki does things in the name of Iraqi nationalism that Iran doesn’t like, Obama told us today, but when was last time that actually happened? Probably in autumn 2009, when he decided to try to run the State of Law alliance separate from the other Shiites in the upcoming parliamentary elections – and failed. Sunni interest in federalism – virtually non-existent in 2009 – is a sign of the disintegration of national politics rather than a positive development.

The inescapable truth is that much of the current pathology of Iraqi politics dates back to the 2009–2011 period, precisely when President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were in charge in Washington.

32 Responses to “In Washington, a Window-Dressing Exercise; in Diyala, another Federalism Bid”

  1. Salah said

    Maliki first act:

    طوقت قوة من الشرطة مبنى مجلس محافظة ديالى الواقع في مركز المحافظة.

    وذكر مصدر امني لوكالة كل العراق [أين] اليوم الاثنين إن ” قوات الشرطة طوقت مساء اليوم مبنى مجلس محافظة ديالى وقطعت الطرق المؤدية اليه”.

    ويأتي هذا الاجراء بعد اعلان محافظة ديالى اقليما عصر اليوم، فيما أعلن قضاء الخالص رفضه قرار مجلس ديالى باعلان المحافظة اقليماً ، ووصفه بـ [الطائفي] حسب بيان صدر عنه .

    Read more:

    So this is raising a question: The call for Diyala, Federalism is it came from the people of that part or someone trying to make the miss and playing his game here?

    قعطت عشائر بني تميم الطريق الدولي الرابط بين محافظتي ديالى وبغداد احتجاجا على اعلان المحافظة اقليما .

    وقال الناطق الرسمي باسم عشائر بني تميم في ديالى مزهر مغامز لوكالة كل العراق [أين] اليوم الاثنين ان ” المئات من أبناء عشائر بني تميم في المحافظة خرجوا بتظاهرات وقطعوا الطريق الدولي الرابط بين محافظتي ديالى وبغداد احتجاجاً على قرار مجلس المحافظة باعلان ديالى اقليماً “.

    وكان مجلس محافظة ديالى قد عقد بعد ظهر اليوم الاثنين اجتماعاً طارئاً قرر فيه اعلان المحافظة اقليماً ادارياً واقتصادياً ، فيما أعلن قضاء الخالص رفضه قرار مجلس ديالى باعلان المحافظة اقليماً ، ووصفه بـ [الطائفي] حسب بيان صدر عنه.

    Read more:

  2. Reidar Visser said

    The Diyala federalism bid remains hazy, to say the least. I have seen some Kurds supporting it, but also some criticism by Kurds.

    The idea articulated by council speaker Talib Hassan that the bid is unconstitutional because the request was made in the governorate building rather than in the governorate council assembly seems irrelevant as far as I can recall the region formation law.

  3. Turning to body language, Obama shaking hand with Maliki suggests that Obama needs Maliki and is trying to please him more than the other way around. What disappointed me in his interview on 60 Minutes is his comparison between the killing of Bin Laden and his position on Iraq. I think Obama is balancing the largely symbolic death of Bin Laden and few members of his ragtag organization with the very substantive Iranian control over Iraq. I think the US should realize that Iran really Couldn’t Care a Hoot about their own nuclear program compared with their influence over Iraq, they would give up their bombs In An Instant if they could annex southern Iraq. Now they can have their cake and eat it too.

  4. Salah M. Yahya said

    If that call initiated by one man “in the governorate building” to have some sort of official backing (in fact fakes backing) then why one man call picking all the attentions?
    any reason / reasons?

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, not totally sure if I understood you correctly, but just to be clear: The decision to request a referendum (and declare a region) is supposedly a majority decision by the council (regardless of which building they were in) and apparently Iraqiyya members of parliament were prominent in communicating it (and presumably supportive of it):

    وقال مستشار محافظ ديالى لشؤون الاعمار والاستثمار راسم العكيدي خلال مؤتمر صحافي مشترك عقد، اليوم، في قاعة الاجتماعات بمبنى المحافظة مع أعضاء من مجلس محافظة ديالى وأعضاء من القائمة العراقية في مجلس النواب هم سليم الجبوري ومحمد الخالدي، وعبد الله الجبوري وحضرته “السومرية نيوز”، أن “مجلس محافظة ديالى صوت بغالبية أعضائه على اعتبار المحافظة إقليما إداريا واقتصاديا”.

    Faisal, re the handshake, Mike Knights has an opposite take on it, here:

    For once, I think I’ll disagree with Mike and suggest that Maliki’s Washington visit is more than anything theatrical and that he now considers Tehran his number one source of support.

  6. Salah M. Yahya said

    Thank you for your reply, appologies if my point not clear, what I meant, why we or others tooke this call seriously if it came from one man said so not by “a majority decision by the council ”

    So do we need to care about it?

    You had before spin & a usual Biden menu of gaffe we had Bieden gaff, so now In Washington, a Window-Dressing Exercise should add as, & Obama menu of spin & gaffe

    Iraq to grow faster than India and China: Obama
    Washington: As Iraq moves forward on the path of reconstruction and economic revival with the end of war and withdrawal of American forces from the country, it is expected to grow much faster than the two Asian giants, India and China, US President Barack Obama said on Monday.

    What withdrawn do with economic revival?

    Billions spent on reconstruction and economic of Iraq for the last nine years directly by American and Iraqis as officially they stated many times what those billions done now on the sudden after withdrawal of American forces there will be different life for Iraq?

  7. It’s also important to understand the domestic politics of America right now. For one thing, as we head into the full frenzy of an election year, the reality is that foreign policy really isn’t that important. Not knowing that China was a nuclear power or that we had only just intervened in Libya wasn’t enough to drop Herman Cain’s popularity even a few percentage points (it took a sex scandal to knock him out).

    Second, Iraq just isn’t sexy anymore. The press here is largely motivated by sensationalism and laziness and the average American rarely takes the time to do the research for themselves. The extent of Americans’ understanding of Iranian influence in Iraq comes from the fear factory of certain right wing pundits, but is largely devoid of content other than “Muslims bad! Iran bad!” What with misrepresenting the “Arab Spring” as their new chew toy, the media largely ignores Iraq except to note casualty numbers on particularly violent days.

    And Reidar, there was theatrical value for Washington too. For Obama, this was largely a ceremony heralding the completion of one of his central campaign promises–withdrawal from Iraq (yes, Iraq still mattered to the American public in 2008). It seems to me that the administration’s strategy is “Withdraw And Hope Really Hard For The Best.” Perhaps al-Maliki has picked up on that.

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Seems there is a lot of drama going on in Diyala tonight, with the leader of the Hall movement (within Iraqiyya) supposedly arrested. Ur Agency goes as far as hinting about a link to the federalism issue (“against the backdrop of…”) whereas the Hall website says the reasons are unclear.

    Here is the Ur report:

    بعقوبة /اور نيوز

    اعتقلت قوة من وحدة المهمات الخاصة بمحافظة ديالى مساء اليوم رئيس كتلة الحل بالمحافظة كتاب السلطاني على خلفية اعلان المحافظة اقليما اداريا واقتصاديا .

    وذكر مصدر امني في ديالى ان قوة من وحدة المهمات الخاصة داهمت منزل رئيس كتلة الحل في حي التحرير وسط مدينة بعقوبة واقتادته الى جهة مجهولة. وكانت قوة خاصة قادمة من بغداد قد اعتقلت في وقت سابق من اليوم عضو مجلس محافظة ديالى عن التحالف الكردستاني الشيخ زياد احمد .

    وقال جمال شاكر المتحدث الرسمي باسم مجلس المحافظة “ان القوة اعتقلت الشيخ زياد، رئيس لجنة النزاهة في مجلس المحافظة، بالقرب من مبنى المجلس بموجب مذكرة اعتقال قضائية”.

    وكان مجلس محافظة ديالى اعلن اليوم باغلبية اعضائه المحافظة اقليما اداريا واقتصاديا. واكد زياد احمد عضو مجلس المحافظة في تصريح صحفي ان طلب اقامة الاقليم سيرفع رسميا الى مجلس الوزراء ومن ثم يتم الاستفتاء عليه من قبل اهالي ديالى .

  9. Salah said

    Seems there is a lot of drama going on in Diyala?

    عاجل.الخالص يهدد بقطع طريق {بغدادـ كردستان} الدولي ويطالب بضمه الى العاصمة في حال اعلان ديالى اقليما

    الإثنين, 12 كانون1/ديسمبر 2011 18:11 | | |
    {ديالى : الفرات نيوز} هدد قائمقام الخالص بقطع الطريق الدولي الرابط بين بغداد واقليم كردستان في حال اعلان ديالى اقليما، مطالبا بضم القضاء الى العاصمة

    جاء ذلك في بيان اصدره القائمقام عدي الخدران، خلال عقده اجتماعا طارئا ضم اعضاء المجلس البلدي وشيوخ عشائر ووجهاء القضاء، وتلقت وكالة {الفرات نيوز} نسخة منه، اعلنوا فيه رفضهم لاعلان ديالى اقليما ، واصفين اياه بالاقليم الطائفي الذي يشتت وحدة المحافظة .

    واعلن مجلس محافظة ديالى مساء اليوم الاثنين، المحافظة اقليما لتكون ثاني محافظة يطالب مجلس محافظتها ان تكون اقليما بعد صلاح الدين.

    يذكر ان قضاء الخالص شمال ديالى من اكبر الاقضية في المحافظة ، وهو ثاني اكبر قضاء بعد الفاو.انتهى32.

    You all waiting for, With this looks Iraq more closer or very near to partitioning as US & other regional , oil cartels to see while left on stove for nine years and now US lift their hand as this we been seen its coked by Iraqi master sheaf.

    بمساعدة زيباري..بارزاني يستعد لاعلان الدولة الكردية في نوروز المقبل!!
    زعمت مجموعة عراقية ناشطة ن رئيس اقليم كردستان مسعود بارزاني يتهيأ لاعلان دولة كردية مستقلة في نوروز المقبل.

  10. Reidar,
    Michael Knight’s article is priceless: “(The US’s) limited effort to negotiate a new security agreement — sent a strong (and apparently unintentional) message that Iraq needs America more than America needs Iraq. This has increased U.S. leverage.”
    I bet many Iraqis will find this humorous.

  11. azzam said

    isn;t the solution for the center to delegate powers to the governorate instead of flexing its mussles. Isn’t the latter going to make the situation worse for the “centralizers”??? Ah well. Lets sit back and watch what happens.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    The White House has now published a propaganda page which celebrates the act of withdrawal from 2009 to 2011, entirely without reference to the actual political scene and developments in Iraq in that period:

  13. Salah said

    Why Malki so interested negotiating with Obama to get Ali Musa Daqduq, a Lebanese a Hezbollah operative from Americans, while there are tens of more and most important that one terrorist?

    Why US did not move him to Guantanamo as they done with other Iraqi prisoners what they waiting for with this terrorist as they claims

    “Years from now we will be asking not ‘Who lost Iraq?’—that already is clear—but ‘Why?’”

    But Iraq is not, and never was, America’s to lose.

  14. Reidar Visser said

    That hapless Cato Institute piece exemplifies the standard Democrat argument that Iranian influence in Iraq is somehow natural. I’m with the Republican critics on this, although you can of course criticise the Republicans too for going to war in the first place and then implausibly promoting SCIRI and the Kurds as the guardians of their new Iraq.

  15. Salah said

    Reidar, despite been Republicans or Democrat, or let say specifically left or right, both they have mistakes when in comes to Iraq.

    Let not forgot 72% or more in congress voted for GW Bush to go to the war.

    As for “Iranian influence” is natural or not this need to argued from different views and points. Which side of equation or people you think they have game playing?

    Let go back to topic which relay interesting Mutlaq have different view from his Kutlah.

    أعلن نائب رئيس الوزراء لشؤون الخدمات والقيادي في القائمة العراقية صالح المطلك دعمه لقرار مجلس ديالى باعلان المحافظة اقليماً .

    وقال المطلك في مؤتمر صحفي عقده بعد اجتماعه بالكتلة العراقية في البرلمان وحضره مراسل وكالة كل العراق [أين] اليوم الثلاثاء ” أننا مع رغبة اهالي ديالى في اعلان محافظتهم اقليماً مستقلا ادارياً واقتصادياً وان من حقهم المطالبة به لانه حق كفله الدستور العراقي “.

    وأضاف ان ” هذا الاقليم جاء بسبب المركزية الشديدة و البغيضة وهي من دفعت وأجبرت اهالي ديالى بالذهاب نحو تشكيل الاقليم بسبب سوء الأوضاع الامنية وضعف مستوى الخدمات واستحواذ المركز على صلاحيات وقرارات المجالس المحلية “.

    Read more:

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Here’s the somewhat anti-federal statement of a local leader of the Mutlak bloc:

    وصفت جبهة الحوار الوطني برئاسة نائب رئيس الوزراء لشؤون الخدمات صالح المطلك في ديالى، الثلاثاء، قرار إعلان المحافظة إقليماً مستقلاً إدارياً واقتصادياً بـ”المتسرع”، خصوصاً أنه يتزامن مع الانسحاب الأميركي نهاية الشهر الحالي، معتبرة أنه لا يصب في مصلحة الاستقرار.

    وقال القيادي في الجبهة المنضوية في القائمة العراقية أسعد المشايخي في حديث لـ”السومرية نيوز”، إن “توقيت إعلان تشكيل إقليم ديالى غير مناسب لأنه يتزامن مع خروج القوات الأميركية”، مضيفاً “نحتاج في هذا الظرف إلى التهدئة والعمل المشترك لضبط الأمن والاستقرار”.

    واعتبر المشايخي، وهو رئيس اللجنة الدينية في مجلس ديالى، أن “القرار لا يصب في تحقيق مصلحة المحافظة في مجال الاستقرار والهدوء”، مشيراً إلى أن “القرار كان متسرعاً ونحن نرفضه حالياً”.

    But the most vocal criticism appears to be Shiite-led.

  17. Passer By said

    “What, then, are we to make of rumours that Iraqis, including Sadrists, actively (and militarily) support the Syrian regime these days?”

    Recently i saw a clip where an Anbar insurgent group (Anbar Brigades) claims to be attacking Mahdi Army and possibly Iranians on their route to Syria.

  18. Salah said

    Let read about “the actual political scene and developments in Iraq in that period”

    After years of talking about what victory would look like (and downgrading that definition, conveniently, to accommodate evolving realities “on the ground”) it seems to matter little. No one — not the most strident defender of Bush’s preemptive strike strategy or the war’s greatest skeptic — can say with any sincerity that the U.S. and its coalition partners have achieved greatness in Iraq. For those who feel obligated to maintain pretenses, any rhetoric about democracy and peace sound like boilerplate now and feel as satisfying as a tie in a fight. Everyone just wants to go home, pride dented, bodies bloody and tired, and without cause for celebration. “Empty” seems like the right word.

  19. Is this the real motivation for Maliki’s trip to the US? To appeal for Assad’s stay in power? The source is biased but the content is plausible.

  20. Reidar Visser said

    The Sadrists are investing a good deal of energy in publicly expressing dismay over the visit. My impression is that much of this could be for the consumption of their electorate rather than something meant as a real threat to Maliki.

  21. Lars said

    Deputy PM Minister with some remarkable statements :
    US deceived by Al Maliki
    Al-Maliki the worst dictator ever seen in Iraq history

  22. JWing said

    I think it’s the fact that the Sadrists cannot give up on your of the main talking points, namely the U.S.occupation. Since they’ve strapped themselves to Maliki, they can’t very well criticize the government or lack of services, so they’re sticking with the U.S. bogeyman.

  23. Do you think it is possible that Iraq may restructure their currancy in a short time frame or a long one? I am enjoying this blog – Thank you

  24. Reidar Visser said

    Melissa, I am not an economist so I cannot speak with any particular authority about that question. Very generally speaking, it is my impression that people who are awating a revaluation of the dinar sometimes stretch their interpretation of Iraq news stories a bit too far beyond what is realistic. But again, others may have much more to say about this than I have.

  25. Thank you for your reply Reider. I try not to stretch the news, although I do have the Iraq Dinar – I m really enjoying your blog – especially the comments section – dialogue between you and the others.

  26. Rich said

    I would love to hear a little more explanation concerning what you mean by “stretching news stories” concerning the dinar.

  27. Reidar Visser said

    Rich, this would bring us off-topic, but in very general terms I sometimes look at incoming links to my blog and have found some dinar revaluation stories that to my mind seem to introduce a motive on part of the Iraqi government towards revaluating the dinar when this motive is difficult to discern for everyone else. I don’t want to offend anyone and it is of course totally legitimate to ask questions relating to the Iraqi economy all the time. But to avoid disappointments, I would just caution against externally imposing a motive on Iraqi players. It’s what historians call the battle of master narratives.

  28. Ashley said

    Reidar, Thank you for your thoughts. Do you think Maliki will go for a third term? I think most Americans fear Iraq will turn to Iran, what is your take on this? Thank you.

  29. Reidar Visser said

    Ashley, my take is that unless Maliki finds some real Sunni and secular partners – and so far there is very little sign of any such development – the whole thing will gradually gravitate into the Iranian sphere of influence.

    I find it sad because it didn’t have to be that way.

  30. Salah said

    the whole thing will gradually gravitate into the Iranian sphere of influence.

    This not a hard discovery, if you asked normal minded Iraqi after 2004-2005 they will tell straight Iraq given to Iran willingly by US, most of those politician well know for decades are Iran proxies and lovers they created funded and supported by Iran.

    After 8 years telling us now “gradually gravitate into the Iranian sphere of influence.” Is just meaningless as it’s a reality long time ago unless you not felt it that way, why? You should ask yourself?

    بغداد_ فارس الشريفي
    كشفت مصادر شبه رسمية ان السفارة البريطانية في العراق تسعى لتكوين اكبر تجع عشائري لإعادة فرض نفوذها على منابع النفط ورسم إستراتيجية التحالفات القديمة من جديد .
    وقال المصادر التي فضلت عدم الكشف اسمها في تصريح لـ(المواطن) ان ” هناك حراك داخل أروقة السفارة البريطانية الهدف منه هو ضم اكبر عدد من شيوخ العشائر لى تجمع يكون بديل لمجالس الإسناد التي يدعمها رئيس الوزراء نوري المالكي ” وزاد ان ” هناك عدد من شيوخ العشائر خاصة ممن كان لإبائهم تحالفات مع بريطانية زمن الحكم الملكي بدءوا فعليا في التحرك ليكون هذا التجمع نواة لتكتل جماهيري يشارك في الانتخابات القادمة ” وتابع المصدر ان ” بريطانية تسعى للحصول على امتيازات نفطية في العراق بحالة صعود شخصيات من هذا التجمع الى سدة الحكم في العراق “

  31. Reidar Visser said

    The point is, things looked better in 2009 and it could have turned out differently. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the story about the Brits and the tribes!!

  32. I can see there is interest in the economic short and long term prospect of Iraq. I have a short speculative blog entry regarding the politics of removing the zeroes from the Iraqi currency. My entry is in Arabic here.
    In a nutshell, I suggested that Maliki’s obsession with the possibility of a coup against him on one hand and the precedence of currency re-introduction by Saddam on another might lead to an opportunistic move, where the Iraqi government could claim that all old currency will be subject to proof of legitimate ownership before being accepted for replacement with new currency.

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