Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Talabani, Maliki and the Disputed Territories

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 12 January 2012 19:58

Certain comments by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki over the past week have failed to receive the attention they deserve. As the political scene in Iraq quietens down for the Shiite Arbain festival and a long weekend, it may be worthwhile to take a closer look at Maliki’s statements regarding disputed territories and the creation of new federal regions that may well reflect his negotiation strategy over coming months.

The most sensational aspects of Maliki’s comments are as follows. Firstly, they seem supportive of a plan by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, to introduce a bill to parliament that would adjust by law the boundaries of governorates that comprise so-called “disputed territories” and have boundaries that were modified during the Baath. This would be done prior to a final settlement of the disputed-territories issues by referendum. Secondly, in practical terms, Maliki revealed that with respect to Salahaddin governorate, which was created by the Baath in 1976, the plan would involve transferring parts of that governorate with Turkmens and Kurds to Kirkuk and parts with Shiites to Baghdad. Thirdly, Maliki used these arguments against any early referendum for a Salahaddin federal region, indicating that the Talabani plan would have to be implemented prior to any decision on federal status.

The Talabani plan, or law proposal, has not been published in its entirety. Nonetheless, there is sufficient information in these comments by Maliki to identify both theoretical and practical problems related to its potential application.

On the theoretical level, we know the desire of Talabani and the Kurds more broadly to reverse any administrative changes to governorate boundaries that they interpret as having flowed from racist and anti-Kurdish motives. In particular, Kirkuk’s loss of a solid chunk of territory to Salahaddin in 1976 is seen as something that needs to be rectified. The Kurds appear to believe that the number of Kurds and possibly pro-Kurdish Turkmens in the area will work in their favour as far as aggregate numbers for a reconfigurated Kirkuk governorate are concerned, and also maintain that it would be more difficult to make these changes if Salahaddin was to receive federal status prior to a final territorial settlement. To some extent, chronology works in advance of the Kurdish claims in this regard, because the creation of Salahaddin in 1976 was one of the last major changes to the administrative geography of Baathist Iraq, potentially making it a convenient cut-off point. Other major changes, such as the creation of the Muthanna governorate and the separation of Dahuk from Nineveh both antedated 1971. Clearly, the Kurds do not want to go back to 1971 since they probably see the creation of Dahuk as a virtuous move whose reversal is undesirable (it was in fact part of the peace negotiations between the Kurds and the Baath at the time).  

But exactly at the same time as the creation of Salahaddin in January 1976, another new Iraqi governorate came into existence: Najaf. This in turn has similarly created cases of “disputed territories” with respect to neighbouring and more well-established governorates like Karbala. Presumably Talabani does not aim to abolish the Najaf governorate. Presumably, too, his law proposal contains impenetrable arguments for abolishing Salahaddin but not Najaf!

At the practical level, there are problems too. Why should the Shiite parts of Salahaddin plus Samarra revert to Baghdad but not Sunni Tikrit? All of these lands belonged to Baghdad in the early 1970s, reflecting administrative realities that date back at least to monarchical times. If the Talabani proposal involves attaching Shiite but not Sunni parts of Salahaddin to Baghdad it will no doubt be seen as sectarian, perhaps in resonance with the idea of a “smaller Iraq” from Basra to Samarra that has been in vogue among some exiled Iraqis.

Iraq administrative map 1971

It is interesting that Maliki is flirting publicly with ideas that will be seen by many Iraqis as typically post-2003 partition-oriented discourse – precisely the sort of thing Maliki has tried to steer away from since 2008. On the other hand, we should perhaps not exaggerate the importance attached by Maliki to these ideas as end goals in themselves. Maliki knows perfectly well that whereas giving him the premiership was completed in a single parliamentary session, fulfilling all his promises to the Kurds and others depends on further legislation in parliament. Each legislative initiative comes with at least three crucial junctures (first and second reading before a vote), each of which offers opportunities for unexpected drama that can easily consign a legislative project to the growing catalogue of on-hold items awaiting political consensus.

This may well be Maliki’s real intention in flirting with the Talabani initiative on disputed territories. The Kurds will see it as a concession of sorts. Sectarian Shiites will like the idea of a bigger Baghdad extending to Samarra. None of it is likely to come into existence anytime soon.

Meanwhile Maliki governs.

38 Responses to “Talabani, Maliki and the Disputed Territories”

  1. “None of it is likely to come into existence anytime soon.”
    Nope. Maliki is Audacious, he will short circuit the process and make it stick.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    So what do you do if you’re Iraqiyya? Pushing for the “implementation of the Arbil agreement” will likely go nowhere. Besides, such a strategy may well prompt the revelation that there never was any Arbil agreement.

    The remaining alternatives are 1) Withdraw from government and focus on oppositional role; 2) Cooperate with Maliki through existing ministries; 3) Focus on federalism and in particular challenge Maliki’s reluctance to grant a referendum to Salahaddin to the federal supreme court; 4) Focus on early local elections at the sub-governorate level.

    3) Might well backfire if more Sunnis come out against federalism. The councils in 4) are pretty powerless but the elections could be used to challenge Maliki symbolically.

    I think the most likely scenario is actually 5) Maliki continues to win over tiny breakway factions from Iraqiyya that can strengthen his hand somewhat towards the Kurds and enable him to remain in power even with a very slight majority (or even plurality) in parliament.

  3. Santana said

    Yes Reidar- I think Maliki will continue to win over tiny breakaway factions cuz he dangles positions and cash (stacks of “Dafater” for those who do not know -1 daftar = 10,000 USD) Maliki can dip into the Iraqi Central bank and take out cash for a host of other fabricated reasons – and I am not making this up- I have reliable sources that work IN the Central Bank- and they have ample evidence to this- but their lives would be at stake if they raise a stink about it. SOL guys hand out 5 dafater to any Iraqiya PM showing willingness to break away -even if they don”t join join NA-…these 5 dafaters is just an appetizer ….after that it is 4 dafater/month as long as they continue to cooperate.

    Also- as everybody can see – Iran was very worried about the AAH – Sadrists fued – Iran and Maliki were worried that it may send the Sadrists towards Allawi and Barzani … Iran applied pressure to get em to all hug and kiss and keep the sectarian agenda strong and effective and they did….so Iraqiya can forget about any Sadrist defections.

  4. MD said

    Santa you talk such nonsense. You remind me of the talk in Baghdad straight after the war. People were saying “did you see what saddams army did to the Americans at the airport? They massacred them but it’s now a big cover up”. When I asked people how they knew this I had some people tell me their neighbour is a general in the army and he gets reliable info. I had some people swear they’d seen footage.

    Sounds like your story. Show me any evidence or verifiable facts. This is BS from someone from the losing team.

  5. Mohammed said

    Hi Santana:

    I have no doubt that there is corruption at the highest levels of government. It doesn’t mean I believe everybody in state of law is corrupt, but undoubtedly, some of them are. I do find it remarkable that even Iraqiya has not publicly accused al-Maliki of stealing money for himself (after all, they have called him everything else in the book , I doubt that “thief” is any worse than “dictator.”)

    But I do have four points to make about your post:

    1) Bringing in allies, or former political opponents to join SOL (or at least distancing them from even worse enemies of SOL/al-Maliki) and offering them juicy government positions is far as I am concerned part of the “spoils system,” It is morally questionable, but I do not know a single government on the face of this earth that does not do that (including the good ole’ USA). In the ideal world it should be fixed and positions should be filled by the most qualified, but we are not going to solve that political phenomenon today.

    2) On the other hand, the absolute bribery you are alleging is certainly deplorable if true. Why has al-Maliki failed to apply this bribery system to get MPs from Sadrists and ISCI to jump ship and join him. After all, Ammar al-Hakim can never resist a chance to attack al-Maliki in the press. If I was the PM and had no fear of God and had access to all the money in the Central Bank, before trying to bribe Iraqiya, I would make sure I gut the ranks of ISCI and Sadr so they stop being a thorn on my sides and consolidate my Islamist shiite base. As far as I know there has been little if any defections from Sadrists or ISCI to SOL. Could it be that al-Maliki has tried and the Sadrists and ISCI just simply can’t be bought?

    3) If some Iraqiya people are easily bribed, then it is also damning of Iraqiya that you are picking people of such low moral fiber as members of your block. For example, how did you guys pick the prior electricity minister who set up a huge scam that was uncovered? Iraqiya is alleging many people within SOL/ISCI/Sadrists are corrupt, and I wholly agree. However, are the ministries that are being run by Iraqiya any less corrupt? My sunni sister-in-law had to pay a three thousand dollar bribe to work in the finance ministry last year (that was led by Iraqiya/ESSAWI if I am not mistaken). She is well-educated and perhaps even overqualifed for the job, but she had no other choice because she and her husband are not affiliated with any party, and she needed work.

    4) If it is simply a matter of bribing people, then I must say that the Saudis have the most inept intelligence service in the world. Saudi Arabia has hundreds of billions of dollars at their disposal. Their number one security nightmare is Iran. The 30 billion they just spent on US arms purchases is really nothing but a 30 billion dollar bribe to America to re-affirm need for continued protection from the big bad persian wolf. But part of the Saudi cold war with Iran surely extends to limiting Iranian influence in Iraq. I am sure that the Saudis could go to every politician in Iraqiya that you suspect is wavering and switching sides and give them 10 dafaater a month or more in an undisclosed European bank account that would be impossible for Iraq’s government to know about. That would be a drop in the bucket, and money well spent if that is all that is needed to shore up the base of the anti-Iranian forces in Iraq. Why aren’t they bribing Talabani as well (you previously stated that Iran was his sugar daddy). Expenditures for bribing Iraqi politicians would be just a drop in the bucket for Saudi Arabia.

    Interestingly enough, I have heard very little in the press about what Saudi Arabia is up to with respect to Iraq.

    What are your thoughts?


  6. Santana said

    MD- It will come out in due time- I don’t have to show you ANYTHING …and if I am with the “losing team” as you pointed out then yes-you are right, Iraqiya is losing or it seems that way at the moment…….. and I am gonna guess you are with the winning “Mullahs” team that is backed by Iran…………I will not jeapordize my sources and put their lives at risk- and I certainly would not publish specific details on here any more than what I said ………but I can and may reach out in confidence about this to the USG ……I am just not sure that they care anymore?…..especially this “brilliant” administration who’s decisions are all US elections driven.

    Mohamed- SOL does not need to bribe other shiites that are already with them…if they get out of line then Maliki dials 911 (Iran) and they bring em back to the fold as always – and yes we have some Iraqiya guys that would sell their soul to the devil……..
    as far as Saudis- the Saudis have ZERO influence in Iraq and are so terrified of Iran that they will not even contemplate doing such a thing.

    I never said Iran is Talabani’s sugardaddy…they may have been years ago when the Kurds were broke and fighting each other – now Talabani has more money than God but I do believe Talabani holds the Iranian gov in high regard – due to a 30 year relationship.

  7. Reidar,
    The determining factor in Iraqi politics now is not Iraqiya and its moves, policies and expectations, it is Maliki and what he is scared of next. However, of the five alternatives you mentioned the one I find most constructive is number 4) Focus on local and federal elections, particularly on trying to win Shia votes.

  8. observer said

    do you really not see the impending danger to democracy and to the fabric of Iraq by the behavior of Maliki and Da3wa (let alone the entier NA)? Implied in your question are defenses and justifications for the behavior of Maliki as if all is good and we are just talking about small adjustments here and there int he direction of the ship of state. Do you not see the large breaches in the sides of the ship and it is about to capsize?

    Iran and the west are about to go into a confrontation. By the looks of it, the current leadership of the government of Iraq wants us to take sides with Iran. Do you not see that? Do you think that is heathy for the political fortunes of She3a in Iraq? Do you think that Maliki’s support of Assad’s Syria is good for long term relations with Syria (you can bet your bottom dollar that the syrian people will hold a grudge against Iraq, jut like you are holding a grudge against Saudia and all the Arabs for supporting Saddam!!!!).

    Think a couple of years into the future !!!!!! and figure out for yourself the potential consequences for Iraq. Do you think that Iraq helping Iran avoid sanctions will be “forgiven”? Every last be of reparations are going to be extracted.. I just do not see how you guys continue to condone the increasingly despotic Maliki and Da3wa, or are you of the position that these are just sour grapes and as reidar used to call it “a nice narrative”.

    I left Iraq once to escape the increasingly despotic nature of Saddam and the Baath and when I left people thought I was crazy for leaving because as they put it “i had it made!”. I see the same signs I saw in 76, 77, and 78… You are not old enough to understand what I am syaing but talk to your parents who went through the era I am referring to.

  9. Mohammed said


    Like I said, I have the utmost respect for you, and perhaps we are operating on a different set of facts on the ground, and thus this is leading you and I to a different set of decision paths. I have never said that al-Maliki or al-Dawah are ideal leaders, and I have condmened many of their practices. Unfortanetely, for now I would say that we are having to choose between the lesser evil (and I have used that term before).

    With respect to Saudi Arabia and the arabs, it is not a matter of holding a grudge against them for siding with Saddam in the past. Rather, it is their continued backwards (mutakhalaf), and evil sectarian policy of hatred of Shiites today that worries me. You talk about Iraq’s alleged support of Syria. I agree with you. Al-Maliki should be more forceful and state clearly that Bashar Al-Assad’s policies are wrong and murderous, and that he should step down as his people do not want him. I will “call a spade a spade” as you say. However, please explain to me the moral difference of what Syria is doing to sunnis in comparison to what Saudis and Bahrainis do with Shiites in their own countries. When shia would protest in qatif or other hotspots for simple human rights, the Saudis would send in tanks and attack innocent men, women, and children the exact same way Assad does today. We have already seen that in Bahrain. I would encourage everybody to watch the al-Jazeera video “Shouting in the Dark” and after that, please explain to me how civilized Saudis are.

    I have no doubt that the Saudis will do whatever they can to ensure that Shia have as little power in Iraq today, just like they crush their own people and those of Bahrain. So, my questions about bribery in my prior post are quite fair. If there isn’t any Saudi actvity within the Iraqiya camp, I would be shocked. Santana, forgive me for doubting you, but I really cannot agree with your statement that the Saudis would not interfere in Iraqi affairs out of fear of Iran. In fact, it is because they fear Iran and Shia, that I am sure that they would interfere. It is the logical thing to do (I threw morality out of this equation long time ago).

    Now, with respect to holding grudges, I am quite a forgiving man. I will hold Iraqiya responsible for their actions today (not what they did before). Saleh Mutlaq is on youtube calling the Baath Party the greatest party to ever rule Iraq (and this is in post-Saddam pre-2010 elections Iraq). Since he has this attitude today, I can never support such a person. He is unfit to be a deputy PM in a country with widows and orphans due to Saddam’s murderous regime. He might be honest about his feelings, but so was Hitler, and that certainly does not mean I should cheer for him.

    Observer, you always retort that I should not defend SOL/al-Maliki/Dawa by practicing moral relativism. But what choice do I have? I see no party in Iraq today that truly represents the truth. If Iraqiya wants to be the change that Iraq needs, then they need to lead by example. They should be as outspoken of sunni sectarianism, as they are of shiite sectarianism. The wahabi preachers in the Gulf, and blasting their poison in the satellites today are detrimental to Iraq. Is Iraqiya as outspoken about the evils of some of the gulf monarchies as they are of Syria or Iran? Al-Maliki has not come out and supported Bashar Al-Assad the same way Iraqiya showers praises upon King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. At worst, al-Maliki has stated that Syria’s problems are internal, and wanted to tow the “Iranian line” as undoubtedly Iran is putting pressure on him to do.

    With respect to Iran and the oncoming confrontation, I hope al-Maliki will do the right thing. Let us not forget for a second however, that if America and Israel do attack Iran, then this has nothing to do with justice and morality. It is simply a strategic war to prevent Iran from becoming more powerful and attaining nuclear independence. Like I said before, the mullahs are an evil, wicked lot, and they have done much to harm their own people and the Iraqi people. But all Iranians believe Iran has the right to be self-suficient in the nuclear power cycle (and the Iranian moderates do not welcome a war on their country). There has never been any credible evidence from the IAEA that Iran has done anything to warrant being attacked. If Iran is attacked because of the nuclear issue, this would certainly not be a just war, and it will set back the cause of moderates in Iran by decades.

    sorry for the long post Observer and Reidar.


  10. Mohammed said


    With respect to Iraq and baathism in the 76, 77, and 78, I have talked to my father frequently about this. What he tells me is back then, you had to be listed as at least a “Baath Supporter” to have a chance to be at University of Baghdad. There were grades—supporter all the way up to group leader and local party boss.

    And yes, I agree with you, it seems the same question is asked today as it was asked back then: “Anta hizbi?” (translated “are you a party member?” for those who do not know arabic on this forum)…however, back then this implied if you are a member of the baath party (and back then it was an official question since there was no pretense about who runs the country), and today, it means if you are member of al-dawaa (asked unofficially of course). Deplorable, I completely agree with you.

    However, I can honestly tell you that of the Iraqi students being sent abroad to study in the USA today, I can say that these people are not all Dawah members, and I see Kurds, religious shiites, religious sunnis, secular shiites, and secular sunnis. In the late 70s, being listed as a baath supporter was pretty much a prerequisite for study abroad. Today, having a connection to a corrupt politician in Dawah (or for that matter any other party willing to pull some strings for you) may help advance a student who never had the grades to get the coveted scholarship. But students are not forced to hold hizb meetings in the USA since I would say 70% of the students have nothing to do with Dawa.

    Furthermore, there is not the atmophere of fear in Iraq there is today that was far more pervasive in Iraq back then. My wife’s cousin openly praises Saddam on facebook for the whole world to see. Could people back then openly praise Mohammad Baqir Al-Sadr in newspapers and live? Nope. Things in Iraq are bad today, but to tell me that the same atmosphere exists in Iraq today as 76-79 is just not supported on the facts alone.

    Observer, look, you may not be understanding me. I share your concern for Iraq turning into a autocratic regime (perhaps not to the same acuity as you). I want a secular, free, pluralistic country just like you. I want to have sunnis and shiites marrying one another. I have no hatred for sunnis. They are good people (no worse or better than shiites), and I want to live in a society with different cultures, sects, and religions.

    Where I am lost is what strategy Iraqiya is pursuing. Every time Iraqiya cries “foul play!” and walks out of government, al-Maliki doesn’t give a damn, and he merely accumulates more power. I do not want al-Maliki to operate so unchecked. I want term limits, I want checks and balances. But it is not happening overnight. Iraqiya has 8 or so ministries. What are you guys doing with them? Are they corruption free? Your definition of power-sharing right now is not realistic. He is not going to hand over cotrol of the security ministries to you guys (and I have asked this question umpteen times on this list, and I have now concluded that the definition of power-sharing for Iraqiyia means getting oversight or control of defense and interior). You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that he is not going to give you that now. However, I am simply urging you to at least make an impact where you can instead of abdicate everything to him. It is not an all or none process. There is no trust right now, I know. So, where trust matters most is in security. He wont trust you, and you wont trust him. But trust can be built for future iraqis so 10-20 years for now, joint security is possible.

    sorry if I frustrate you Observer. I do not mean to. I admire your candor, intellect, and patriotism. I am just trying to figure out what your practical strategic plan is.


  11. Observer said

    Please there is no need to preface your statements with words of praise regarding my person and the such. The bottom line is that we have to base our interactions on the implicit assumption that we both care for this place and for its future and well being. We can agree to disagree. I am tired of Iraqis accusing each other of “treason” when they disagree with any state position of the opposite side.

    That said – please do not take my questions to you as and implicit accusation that you are a hizb Da3wa supporter but playing coy. There are facts that need to be addressed head on and even if it is uncomfortable, one has to accept that life is not black and white (it seldom is) and there are different shades of gray that we have to use our own moral compus to navigate.

    My position vis-a-vis the current course of events is that Iraq is heading for disintegration if nothing is done to counter the moves of Maliki and Da3wa. You need to address that head on. I do not accept the position that Maliki is the least evil for certainly that is not true (Adel or Bayan Jaber or Jaafary can foot the bill !!!) The latter do not have an octopus of Da3wa behind them.

    You dedicated 2/3 of your response to Saudia Arabia and attributed positions to me that really are Santa’s position. Maybe you think we are one and the same, but trust me when I say, I have no idea who he (or she) is though I have my own theories. I need not dig into who is who as I am interested with the general logic of arguments, not who is making them (the who is immaterial as long as we are dealing with logic not propaganda).

    I have stated here that I have no doubt that SA is pumping money into Iraq through its own channels, but I know it is not through Iraqia coffers. It maybe through this party or this. I am sure that Iran does not support Da3wa directly (why should they when Da3wa has the contracts of of the Iraqi government – be it sales of oil, or kick backs on construction contracts). It is logical too that Sadris do not pay for the weapons provided by Iran – no? But why are we even arguing who is worse SA or Iran?

    Let me ask you this – do you have any doubts that the west and the US will beat Iran? Guys, wake up and smell the coffee. Iran is going to loose sooner or later and it is a matter of time, so why on earth would you think for one minute that Iraq is better off aligning itself with Iran?

    As to how the Bahraini government or SA government treat their She3a! Why are you bringing that as moral equivalency with what Syria is doing to its population?. Do I have to condemn every act of indecent behavior to be taken seriously. I was not aware that there is a political correctness measurement for an argument to be correct. Sure enough it is indecent what SA and Bahrain are doing to their minoraties but why is that even important to what Malikis is doing to the ship of state of Iraq. Of course Maliki and Da3wa would want us to be involved in that discussions because they thrive on sectarian passions and thus they can make it ok for the majority in to keep their collective mouths shut and allow Da3wa to drift the ship of state of Iraq to run in parallel to that of Iran… only they are both heading to the shawls and are about to run aground!!!

    And finally – who said that foreign policy of the west is based on morality? Diplomacy and foreign policy are based on interests and mutual benefits. Now tell me where are the benefits for Iraq from aligning itself to Iran.

    got to run

    PS on Mutlag – if you only know what I did recently at a dinner invitation — but you have to know who I am to be able to believe it. Let us just say that I refuse to break bread with people like him.

  12. Santana said


    You have a good heart and I have no doubt that you are a moderate and I wish all Iraqi Shiites thought like you on many things ….. but some of your facts are way off….I asked you previously to offer ANY alternative other than working with SOL (Observer and Faisal have both stated the same) ….please get it out of your head that there is any hope in trying to work anything out with Daawa or is a COMPLETE deadend !

    Regarding your comments on Iran – all I can say is if Iran wanted Nuclar power for peaceful purposes then that is one thing but they don”t and there is ample evidence that the enrichment has gone past the peaceful purposes mark….so- to me Iran with nuclear weapons is akin to handing a loaded Glock pistol to a deranged 15 year old on heroin ! Everybody always tells me “well- Israel has Nukes”….and this is true but for some reason I really do not feel any threat whatsoever from that – I believe Israel will only use them defensively ,whereas Iran will use them offensively and for expansion purposes.

    I hope the U.S does something about Iran without Israeli involvement because we need Iran neutralized but not open the door for sympathetic Muslim extremists that will side with the Mullahs just cuz Israel is involved in the attack.

    As far as Saudi…I really wish I could tell you more !! …but believe me their involvemment and support for Iraq’s Sunnis or to Iraqiya is ZERO….the Saudis are happy they were able to go into Bahrain and kept it from falling to Iran ….and they do NOT wanna antagonize Iran any more than that…so there has not been anything at all – no money, logistics , fighters, even their media is asked to tone it down……..I wish the GCC would balance Iran’s influence and evil meddling in Iraq and send help in ALL forms but no – unfortunately they are too afraid…
    My hope is on Turkey ! They have the courage and can/will help establish the balance that Iraq needs ….it’s too bad that Iraq needs all this outside interference but with Daawa, Maliki and Iran taking over all Iraq , the U.S neutered with no leverage anymore than Turkish support and involvement is badly needed. Erdogan is a GREAT man !

  13. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, what I am unable to fully fathom is the certainness with which you characterise Maliki as the one and only vector of Iranian influence in Iraq, and that you do not see any “octopus” as far as Jaafari and Bayan Jabr are concerned. Let’s go back to April 2010: In a fabricated “referendum” among their members, the Sadrists came up with Jaafari as their preferred PM nominee. Jaafari had toed the line and joined INA after Iranian pressure in summer 2009 when Maliki refused. He has maintained ties with Iran and is still acting in parliament and meetings of the National Alliance as if he were a premier candidate. Is there any reason to believe he is under less Iranian influence than Maliki?

  14. Reidar,
    It is clear to me from Observer’s comment that he was comparing Maliki’s means and ability with that of Jaafary/Abdul Mahdi, he was not comparing allegiances like you describe. Maliki is certainly more able that both, no?

  15. Observer said

    I am responding to the statement made by M that Maliki is the lesser evil. That pretty much describes the state of mind of the DOS. When in fact the lesser evil is somebody without the depth of Da3wa as a supporting organization that is tapping its roots down to the lowest ranks of DG’s.

    They are all under influence by Iran. Alos note that I am not saying that being under the influence of Turkey, SA, etc is any better, but in a world that the latter are closer to the US, being closer to Turkey at least is better than being closer to Iran!.

    your PostScript came on after i posted.

    As for as I am concerned the atmosphere of fear is around us all over Baghdad. When you sunnies and Christians raising 3ashoura flags, some like to interpret as a sign of “support” to the sh3a, when in fact it is a way to protect the owners from the wrath of the rabbles.

    I am beginning to see people speak in quite tones when criticizing the government no different that what I started seeing in 74-75 and onwards. I am also seeing that more and more DGs are being brought in and replacing competent DG’s simply because the new young turks are Da3a.

    The Baathis also did not have a litmus test on the graduates sent outside in 70 to 76… but that certainly changed once the Baath was able to shutter the doors of the communist party and kill the Kurdish movement after selling half of Iraq to the Shah.

    I can keep on bringing you examples of how history is repeating itself. You claim that it is not the same. I claim it is on the same road and it is time to act before it is too late. I do not want to get into a circular debate. You can continue in your path and hope that everything will turn out ok. Meanwhile I advise you to work on getting yourself a Green Card so that at least you have the option to save yourself…..

  16. Mohammed said


    Good points in your last comments, and I think I am finally getting to at least some form of a cohesive hypothesis about American strategy with respect to al-Maliki.

    Two issues you brought up in our discussions I think are intimately linked:

    1) Alternatives to al-Maliki from the national alliance: al-Jaafary, Bayan Jabar, and Adel Abdel Mahdi. Now if I am the USA, I have to ask myself: “Who do I want in Iraq as PM when the shi# hits the fan” as they say? So I agree with you that the USA may very well get into a military confrontation with Iran. Iran will militarily lose such an engagement big time. But they can inflict some damage. Iran would probably activate its cells in Iraq like the AAH, al-Mahdi Army, Badr, etc and do what they could to destabilize Iraq, maybe launch an all-out attack against the green zone and attack the US embassy. Would America want al-Jaafary as commander in chief of the armed forces if something like that happened? I know I wouldn’t. Al-Maliki has made many moves to increase loyalty in the military command structure. He is more decisive, and can clamp down on Baghdad with the army and ministry of interior against the sadrists and their ilk.

    If al-Maliki has any brains, I am sure that he has communicated with Obama, DOS, DOD, and others in private that should they attack Iran, Iraq would practically remain neutral, and he may say a few words for public consumption. His new ambassador to the USA (Jabir Habeb) seems to be a shrewd guy, and as far as I can see, he is more of a Maliki guy than the predecessor. I am sure folks in DC will war-game this out, and have contingency plans for what to do.

    2) With respect to Iran and Iraq, al-Maliki for now must tread a very careful line. Let’s face it, without American protection, Iraq is defenseless. Even tiny Kuwait has a more powerful military than us. Iran has the most influence in Iraq and their position must be respected no matter how wicked it is. What do you propose an Iraqi government does on a practical matter? Just shout out in the press and complain about Iranian interference? What is that going to get Iraq? Iran will continue to interfere. America is not stupid. What practical strategic aid is Iraq providing Iran? Some oil smuggling, money laundering, and by-passing sanctions by importing banned material through Iraq through dummy companies. Sure it helps Iran out, but in the grand scheme of things, it is a second order effect. Iraq can only do so much. Already the Iranians and Syrian are drying Iraq up of US dollars, but that will not be enough to save Iran’s economy. By forcing commerce to go through Iraq to get to Iran and Syria, it probably in the short term even helps Iraq as long as Iraqi companies do not get penalized for dealing with the Iranian central bank. With the price of oil going up, Iraq is probably getting even more money right now. The real question for Iran is can they still find customers for their oil/natural gas, and I am sure they will (maybe by having to lose some profits by getting third parties involved).

    3) With respect to Iraq’s relations with other countries, I think al-Maliki has not been wise to say the least. His latest remarks about Erdogan were immature and hurts Iraq. With respect to Saudi Arabia, I blame the Saudis far more than al-Maliki for allowing their seething hatred of their own shiites and Iraq’s shia to blind them from choosing a wise path regarding bilateral relations with Iraq. Ideally, Iraq should have good relations with Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia (see the nytimes op-ed by Ali Allawi from a couple of weeks ago). I see no reason except stupidity for Iraq not having better relations with Turkey. KSA is another story.

    4) So we arrive at our conclusion. I cannot imagine America is willing to support any other player in the national alliance to be PM (especially if there is a chance for imminent confrontation with Iran), and they are not going to tolerate having early elections (results are not going to change much anyways as you said). So, Iraqiya can hold their breath until their collective faces turn blue, but the Americans are not going to change horses this far into the race (and when I mean Iraqiya, I do not mean you Observer on a personal level). America will put some pressure on al-Maliki, but it won’t amount to much, even chapter seven is something al-Maliki can bide his time with.

    5) Iraqiya has evolved into pretty much a sunni party (with a token secular shiite as its head). As long as Iraqiya carries that label, and al-Maliki is able to peel off supporters here and there, you are fighting a losing war. I agree with Faisal that Iraqiya needs to be able to attract shiite votes. If Sistani wanted to, he could utter one fatwa and tens of thousands of people will spill into the streets from Baghdad to Basra. That is power. Iraqiya can perhaps mobilize people in Anbar or Mosul or Sallahudin, but it will become a sectarian march on the streets easily dismissed by the central government because Iraqiya has no real appeal to the rest of the country.

    You say that you wouldn’t break bread with the Saleh Mutlaq’s of the world, but that is in fact what Allawi has done. It may have gotten Iraqiya more sunni votes and eeked out a plurality in the elections, but it costs you in the south, and your overall image and moral leadership suffers with 60% of the country. So too does the image of Allawi flying to meet King Abdullah of KSA before the elections and after the elections. It might be politically expedient, but his image suffers from this. If he calculated that regional players and the USA would deliver the PM to Iraqiya, his calculation was wrong then, and is wrong now. He is repeating the same pattern now as before, but I am afraid to no avail. The message that Iraqiya is hitting the airwaves with boils down to: “Al-Maliki is a dictator because he is not giving enough power to sunnis!” (I know it is not that simple, but that is what the average Shiite translates it into)…Do you really think that message has appeal to all of Iraq? In this charged sectarian atmosphere, you need to build a message that is more inclusive and has more appeal to the rest of Iraq (aka the 60% Shiite slice of the pie that determines elections). Perhaps you need a “charm offensive” directed at the Shiite base of the national alliance (think about what matters most in day to day lives of the average Iraqi of Basra). Iraqiya right now is stoking the flames of sectarian anger in the country by reinforcing to the sunnis that they are losing out on power…al-Maliki is only too happy to oblige and fan the flames along with Iraqiya (perhaps that is why he handled the al-Hashemi situation the way he did). With each mini-conflict, you lose and he wins. I would say that it is time for fresh tactics.

    6) Finally, Observer when I praise you, in all honesty it is out of a sense of guilt on my part more than anything. You are there risking your life to make things better for our people, and I am not. Yes, you are much older than me, and if we met face to face, I would be calling you Ammu. I am just trying to throw ideas and ask questions because I am so disheartened about the repeated tragedies that have befallen our nation over decades. If I am wasting your time, I am sorry.


  17. Observer said

    I do not have time to respond in detail so I will just sketch out general responses.

    Forget a military confrontation with Iran. No going to happen. The way it is going, it is going to be increased economic sanctions and prohibiting companies that are doing business in Iran from acces to US (and possibly European) markets. That is part of the reason for the dummy companies in Iraq. The US knew that Saddam was using Jordan to by pass sanctions but they allowed it so that they can monitor trade and only intercepted shipments that were important enough from the duel use point of view.

    That said, your hypothesis about the relative value of Maliki vs. others does not hold water. Maliki was the only acceptable alternative for Iran AND the US to agree on!!! For many reasons that I do not have the time to go into (mostly Iranian vs Majlis). Regardless, there is no way Iraqia is going to form a government with Da3wa, especially after all that has taken place since the last elections. As to why Allawi does what he does, all I will say is that this is politics and that is sausage making. By the way, Malikis does the smae on his side (AAH, Sadris, etc., etc., etc.).

    As for Iraqia strategy. Do you think that Maliki’s pressure on Wifaq comes from a vacuum? He knows pretty well how far he is removed from the base and this is part of the reason for him inflaming the sectarian divide. Anyway, there is no reason to devine when and how the next elections are going to take place. Iraq is about to explode into a civil war and mark my words, 2006/2007 will be a picnic in .

    Were you old enough when Milosovic was doing the same in the former Yugoslavia to stay in power? If not, please read some of the press accounts from the early 90s’ and you will be surprised at the parallels with Iraq and Maliki.

    I will leave it at that for now, but rest assured that if Maliki is allowed to stay in place after this crisis, then the only way out is division- be it a confederation form or actual separation, I am not smart enough to predict.

    It maybe the best way out anyway. The only possible solution out of this that may preserve some strength in the future is to replace Maliki and get Da3wa out. But from the looks of things, it is not going to happen.

    The Kurds may get their republic after all, but the price will be sharing their oil revenue 50/50 with Turkey. With some 30 to 35 billion barrels of oil (sans Kirkuk) it may yet be possible for the Kurds to survive with a decent economy. It would be far better for them to keep Iraq united (in a confederation form at least) to be able to keep more of their wealth to themselves.

    As for the Sunnnies, – well they have no interest in being a part of a state where they are marginalized regardless of how many votes or seats their list gets in any given elections. Having a region for themselves is far better. At least they get the same rights as the Kurds to develop the oil/gas resources of their region – do recall that 3akaz, and Mosuil are the largest gas reservoirs in the region and they can work with the Kurds and Turks to export to Europe through a common gas line. As to how much of that wealth will reach the average citizen? Well that depends on how enlightened their leadership is/will be. It will be more that they are getting now, so they will be better off anyway. That leaves the she3a under the reigns of the She3a Islamic parties who would have us align with iran to save the she3a of the world. Oy vay as our cousins would say.

    Do not get stuck in the details and try to look at the big picture. Enough tea leaves reading for now,

  18. bks said

    Santana, why is Iran more likely to engage in first use of nuclear weapons than any other state?


  19. Observer said

    PS – Do you really mena it when you say that Iraqia is “stoking the fires of sectarianism”.!! I had to do a double take on that one. Are you reading the events on regular basis and now are confusing a reaction with the action?

  20. Santana said


    What Iran wants is to control the region – Arabian Gulf to the Mediterranian….and they wanna do it country by country with Nukes in their arsenal to ward off anyone that may think of stopping them….like Turkey for example…and without that “loaded Glock” it makes it very difficult to have these expansion ambitions. Why else would Iran want Nukes?? If they behave they would never need them….but they don’t wanna behave…they feel they have to spread “wilayet alfaqih”. I doubt that they will be allowed to get that far though….God willing the U.S will hand their ass to them soon and rid the world of this evil regime.

  21. Santana said

    Maliki’s new Security apparateus- I guess he learned a lot from Saddam-

  22. TJM said

    “Why should the Shiite parts of Salahaddin plus Samarra revert to Baghdad but not Sunni Tikrit?”

    Samarra has a shrine for the 10th and 11th Imams. Tikrit has a hole that Saddam hid in. That seems like a significant difference.

  23. Mohammed said


    Your question about the phrase I used in my prior, “stoking the fires of sectarianism” post requires further explanation.

    Let’s use the al-Hashemi, and regional independence issues as examples. Al-Hashemi has been very vocal in the media about how the arrest warrant is really a warning to all “his people,” and by “his people” he means Sunnis. By making these statements, he is getting Sunnis in an uproar. One can argue that really this incident had nothing to do with sect, and rather had more to do with getting rid of a vocal opponent. Let’s say that Adel Abdul Mahdi (after growing a pair of cojones and prior to resigning as VP) echoed the same statements that al-Hashemi and Saleh Mutlaq and blasted al-Maliki everyday that he could. According to your theory, should I assume that they would get rid of Adel somehow. That is not sectarianism, it is mafia politics.

    Look at me for example, I am a highly educated, religious Muslim (I pray, I don’t drink alcohol, I fast, my wife wears hijab, I love the ahlulbayt, I read duas from mafateeh, etc… I just don’t care for a lutmiya, or bashing my head with a machete or chains.). I guarantee you that somebody like me would never flourish in the current government structure of Iraq today. They don’t want people like me spoiling their parties, and would rather have a high-school dropout who is willing to be a Dawah, Sadr, or ISCI team player. Is that sectarianism? For goodness sakes, one of the ministers in Iraq today was previously busy just organizing hajj tours for Dawa people from Canada a decade ago, and now he is a minister! It is not sectarianism but cronyism.

    We are all human beings with far more commonalities than differences. The people in Fallouja, Ramadi, Mosul, Karbala, Najaf, Basra all want the same things in life. They want electricity, safety and education for their children, the ability to earn a living, great healthcare, and religious freedom, and a corruption-free government. I really doubt that the average Sunni is complaining of not having any voice in government. Maybe the tribal heads and people elected from majority-sunni provinces feel that way. But, in reality it is the average apolitical Iraqi that suffers the most irrespective of religion or sect.

    If the resources of Anbar, Mosul, and other areas are not developed appropriately, the biggest reason is incompetence, and not sectarianism. Look at Basra. It is in horrible shape. They are 95% Shia. There are no modern sewage systems, electricity generation is completely inadequate, the ports leading to the Gulf are in dilapidated conditions, and there is poor access to healthcare. This is not because of sectarianism. It is about corruption and incompetence. If Basra today wanted to become a federal region, I am sure al-Maliki would stop them too.

    Personally, I doubt that we are on the verge of a civil war as Allawi says. Nir Rosen has written an interesting account of the Iraqi civil war with some insights that really bring the point home. An American military man told him: “The Iraqi civil war will be over when the Sunnis realize that they lost, and the Shiites realize they won.” I just don’t see people in Ramadi, Musul, and Fallouja ready to start a war. What would be the objective of such war? They cannot conquer Baghdad. Would they want to fight for independence? They could create havoc in the countryside, but the people who will suffer the most are the Sunnis. The Iraqi armed forces are far better trained, equipped, and organized than they were in 2006. The mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad essentially do not exist anymore. The Sunnis were pretty much chased out and they now live in a few sections of Baghdad. They would lose those too if another war started. It would be a catastrophe for them and the Iraqiya leaders and al-Maliki know it.

    The danger of the Iraqiya leadership in over-emphasizing the sectarian dimensions of the current crisis is that you lead the common folk down a destructive path that they did not want to travel down in the first place.

    “Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, IT IS THE LEADERS of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY.” — Nazi Leader Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg Trials.


  24. Observer said

    Doubt all you want, but the tensions are all around me and I am seeing the same signs I saw in 05/06. Military theories aside, if the Iraqi government is willing to use the army to quell a civil regellian then it is understandable why Maliki would want to support Asad. By the way, do please tell me if the iraqi army was ever successful in quelling the Kurdish population? Or how about the success sadam had in “destroying” Da3wa and subjugating the she3a population.

    Civil peace does not come from forcing the other side to accept defeat but from addressing the injustices (be they real or perceived). I know you will come and tell me that the Sunnies will never be satisfied unless they have the reigns of power. But I will tell you point blank that the leadership of the sunnies knows very well that their time in power is over. What they are looking for is not to be marginalized. You can accept that or not – your choice, but if Maliki is not even interested in consulting with his own partners how do you expect the sunnies to accept being even more marginalized.

    Embedded in your response are the reasons as to why Sunni’s would have no interest in maintaining their relationship to Baghdad (and also the Kurds) so the scenario I gave you on how Anbar/Musil/Tikrit/Dayal can be better off by creating a majority sunni region is valid just the same. What interest do Sunnies or Kurds have in maintaining presence in Baghdad which has no resources except for an oil field under Sader city? If the reason is incompetence as you would like me to believe, then the sunnies and the kurds can be much better off separating themselves from the incompetent She3a controlled Baghdad (and given the rulings of the courts and the precedence set to date, the incompetence is going to continue). The Sunnies can take a page from the Kurdish play book and develop their resources without having to submit to the whims of Shehristani or anybody else for that matter. There are funders ready willing and able to come in and support the building of pipelines and development of gas or oil fields. So why is it that Baghdad thinks that it has a monopoly on the development of trade or regional resources.

    Anyway you cut it (be it incompetence or sectarianism), the status quo can not be sustained. And there is no American army to force the parties to behave properly. If the Americans with all their sophisticated gear could not quell the sunnis (or for that matter the Sadris) then good luck to the rag tag Iraqi army.

    By the way, your quote is about wars between nations not civil war. But it can work in the case of Iraq. Both she3a and sunni leaders are playing the same game.

  25. Observer said

    It was with a heavy heart that i read the article you linked to.

    Saddam and the Baath will be part of the Iraqi psyche and way of behavior for generations to come. The victims are both sunnis and she3a – all of Iraq. It is the poor really that continue to pay the price.

    As long as the rights of a human being are not respected and as long as the law is in the hands of the executive, we have no chance to join the ranks of the developed (or even developing) world.

    Sadddam’s and the Baath crimes against humanity,were made possible by the invention of the revolutionary command council and giving it the right to legislate and subjugating the justice system to the whims of the executive. With one stroke, the system of checks and balances was gone and a whole country and two generations disappeared…

  26. Observer said

    I had a conversation today with good friends talking about the future of Ira in view of the current stalemate.

    In summary, the solution is to get into an agreement to work on a confederation of sunni and Kurdish region that would stand toe to toe with the She3a Islamic parties dominated south.

    This will eliminate all the problems of disputed territories starting from Kirkuk north to Musil and east to Dialya and will make it possible for the new entity to develop the resources together and work with Turkey to get the pipeline for both gas and oil through Turkey.

    Simply stated, it would be brilliant, if some how the Kurds and the Sunnies can develop trust!!!!!. Would that be too much to ask for?

    I await the nay sayers!!!!!!!


    Reminder – this poster is a She3a Iraqi who hates wiliat al faqeeh and political islam.

  27. Santana said


    I am TRULY amazed that you have any hope in Daawa and Maliki !!….his actions all indicate that it is Iran that is telling him what to do on a day by day basis.I am not saying he likes this situation but he knows damn well he is history if he goes against it…..I mean come on ! Alienating Iraqiya and the Kurds and all the Arab neighbors is a very dumb strategy !!….and will lead to civil war soon. Isn’t it obvious that he likes who Iran likes and hates who Iran hates ??? or is this all just a coincidence?

  28. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, um, wouldn’t that fabulous Sunni-Kurdish confederation need some Basra oil money to keep it going for the first decade or so?

  29. Observer said

    Some belt tightening is needed. Soem loans as well. But in two years production in KRG will be 400k barrels a day. A little bit of loans to anbar will kick start the production and transportation of products infrastructure to Europe. Meanwhile tanker trucks can take care of the needs of Jordan…

    The major point is that the Kurds and Sunnies have stronger playing cards and Sheristani can not continue to bluff ;)….

  30. Observer said

    ps oh do not forget about Kirkuk (which would not be disputed any longer) 😉

  31. Reidar Visser said

    And does it have a name yet? I just suspect a reconstitution of the grand vilayet of Mosul or the old Islamic province of Jazira might just somehow meet with a little resistance among the Kurds? Also today there are references to Dawlat al-Anbar in the Iraqi press…

  32. Shiastan and Sunnistan 🙂 .. But there will be tremendous consequences for the Shia in Arab countries and Iran will be the oil superpower of the world. These are unlikely outcomes, unfortunately there are some who think that Iran’s status will likely rise or at least stay the same in the near future.

  33. Santana said

    I love Observer’s idea….I really do… but handing over the majority of Iraq’s Oil production and reserves to Iran (as Faisal said) scares the hell outa me.
    I am for a Kurdish – Anbar Unity of some sort.

  34. Observer said

    Reidar, this is an idea not even one day old. It is not a project. Call it the Northern Provence/Region Project (sort of Like Italy’s’ north and south).

    Besides, the hope is that once Baghdad realizes that they do not have a monopoly on strong cards (be it instruments of violence of the state, or monopoly on money), they would relent 😉

  35. Observer said

    Faisal and Santana
    Iran’s increase influence will be dealt with in due time by the west. Sooner or later, the south of Iraq will escape the grips of the Islamic parties as their incompetence or putting religion above economic development. Then we would have a confederation or a federation that may work just yet..


    here is an example of why She3a Islamic parties will not last in Iraq…

  36. robinson said


    gamesmanship? (’cause they anticipate that Maliki will not let the Ministers back)

    أكد مصدر في القائمة العراقية، التي يقودها رئيس الوزراء الاسبق اياد علاوي، مساء الثلاثاء، أن القائمة قررت عودة وزرائها للمشاركة في الحكومة ونوابها للبرلمان دون شروط.

    وقال المصدر، في حديث لـ”السومرية نيوز”، إن “العراقية قررت عودة وزرائها الى اجتماعات مجلس الوزراء، ومشاركة نوابها في اجتماعات مجلس النواب دون شروط”.

    وأضاف المصدر، الذي طلب عدم الكشف عن اسمه، أن “القرار اتخذ اليوم في اجتماع غير معلن للقائمة”، حسب قوله.

  37. Reidar Visser said

    Salman al-Jumayli today confirmed the Iraqiyya boycott is supposed to continue both at cabinet and parliament level.

  38. robinson said

    Regarding the Guardian article linked by Santana, an interesting response from the MoI

    Of note:

    إن ما أشارت إليه الصحيفة لم يحدد تاريخا لهذه الابتزازات

    Conveniently ignoring: “The last call came in December. They demanded a final payment to let him go, by which time, according to Um Hussein and her neighbours, the family had paid 9m Iraqi dinars.”

    This is also pretty egregious:
    في زمن الديمقراطية لم تعد هناك اعتقالات سرية او كيدية بلا مذكرات قضائية او تهم محددة واضحة،

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