Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The State of the Union and the Iraqi Enfant Terrible

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 18:16

White House speechwriters must be thoroughly annoyed with Iraq these days.

Last month, barely had the dust settled after the departing US forces and jubilant ceremonies in Washington before Iraqi politicians began escalating their political antagonisms to levels not seen since 2006. Even though the whole thing is somehow still hanging together, the signs of warning are arguably more numerous than for many years.

Yesterday, just hours before President Barack Obama was to deliver his State of the Union address, Iraq blew up in his face again. Close to the capital Baghdad, Mulla Nazam al-Jibburi was killed by a gang of gunmen. Jibburi was a prominent defector from Al-Qaeda who had helped build the largely Sunni “Sahwa” movement in support of the Iraqi government.

This was not quite in harmony with the message of Obama’s address. Hours later he told us, “Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies.  From Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America.”

Because, in Iraq there are no Al-Qaeda anymore, right? Except that they may well have been the ones who opted to assassinate Jibburi just hours before President Obama’s speech.

The problems in the State of the Union address as far as it related to the Middle East don’t stop there. How about Iran? Again, according to Obama, “Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one.  The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent.”

Are we so sure that Obama’s policies in the region have consistently weakened Iran? Is it not the case that after failed US diplomacy in 2010, Nuri al-Maliki was forced to rely on sectarianism to clinch his second premier term in ways that at least temporarily increased Iranian leverage in Iraq? Is not the resultant maintenance and reinforcement of the Tehran–Damascus axis part of what makes Iran able to resist other manoeuvres by the international community?

Or maybe US policies towards Iran have different goals:

“Let there be no doubt:  America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.”

So, no nasty nukes please, and we’ll  give you a free hand in Iraq in return? Is that the deal Obama is envisaging? Perhaps Iraq is better left for Iran and Turkey to slug it out, “bringing the region back” as VP Biden once called it?

Let’s consider the region more broadly:

“As the tide of war recedes, a wave of change has washed across the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo; from Sanaa to Tripoli.  A year ago, Qaddafi was one of the world’s longest-serving dictators – a murderer with American blood on his hands.  Today, he is gone.  And in Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be reversed, and that human dignity cannot be denied.

Saudi? No matches found.

Bahrain? No matches found.

What if Iranian oil is sufficiently attractive to Asian markets to make the likely impact of the boycott –  higher oil price – bigger in crisis-hit European economies than in Tehran? This might well enable Iran to hold on to Syria and control Iraq while preventing Obama from talking tough on human rights to the remaining “strategic” allies in the Middle East due to continued reliance on their oil.

Unless Obama can maintain a consistent discourse on the Middle East, perhaps it would be better to leave the region out of the State of the Union address altogether.

28 Responses to “The State of the Union and the Iraqi Enfant Terrible”

  1. Salah said

    Reidar, very nice post, thank you.

    As you all know may know the killing assassinations continue inside Iraq, but the question pausing who behind the killings? Who benefits from them? Why those people killed?
    Checking some names and personal many questions raises. Iraqi media most of them every day almost especially after last election full of news reported of arresting killing al-Qaida members in Iraq….
    Many times the names if they reported in honest way are Iraqis, did call those raise arm against invaders, proxy regime as Al-Qaeda fighter?

    But Al-Qaeda is the convenient name that regime in Baghdad and also for US to hang all killing of Iraqis.

    So weather Al-Qaeda or resistance or whoever behind those killing what major is the normal Iraqis on that land? What they want?
    – Public Service
    – Good health service
    – Jobs (now 26% jobless most youth)
    – Schools for the kids
    In short better life than before 2003…. Did the past 8 years and new “elected “ government doing something in light of that to get this a head?

    All the sings telling Iraqis big “NO”.

  2. RS said

    Reider – to what extent do you think US comments on Iraq (both negative and positive) are driven less by the facts on the ground and more by election campaigning?

  3. Reidar Visser said

    To a very great extent, for sure. Certainly when it comes to the White House, which seems to have agreed to put lipstick on the whole thing ever since 2009. I am more concerned that someone like Ambassador Jeffrey, who is more of a career diplomat, can make comments to the effect that Iraq is the best democracy in the Middle East:

    Alas, the counter-arguments likely to prevail on the Republican side – bomb and/or invade Iran, “re-invade” Iraq through unlikely SOFA re-negotiation – are equally depressing and unrealistic.

    Allawi announced on Twitter that he has been talking to Biden today and “agreed” on ways forward. I suppose that means they will once more stress the importance of holding on to Arbil. Biden, Hakim, Qatar – it seems to me Iraqiyya are once more knocking on the wrong, leverage-less, doors.

  4. Santana said

    I must say that I am very dissappointed with Jeffrey and he truly is trying to put lipstick on a pig…he is still better than Chris Hill by far but it is clear from his comments that someone is putting words in his mouth- cuz there is no way that he believes what he is saying.

    The tension between Maliki and the Turks is on the rise and may be at it’s peak…SOL is not happy with Hakeem’s visit to Ankara- he said Hakeem should have checked with him before he went !…..also- Maliki showed his displeasure about Turkey by airing a show yesterday on Iraqiya TV during primetime about “Turkish Genocide of the Armenians” ….all of a sudden Maliki cares about the plight of Armenians ! The only Turkish shows the Iraqis wanna see are the steamy romance series – which seems to be the only entertainment Iraqis have these days (assuming there is electricity to enable all this).

    A High level Turkish official told me recently that Maliki’s hatred and criticism of the Turks is purely sectarian !! I agree-cuz I would like to see when Maliki will criticize Sulaimani or even Danaii for interfering in Iraq? Danaii says that Federal Regions in Iraq will not be tolerated !! … and I still believe that he is the defacto ruler of Iraq.

  5. Salah said

    Last month, barely had the dust settled after the departing US forces and jubilant ceremonies in Washington

    You really think all “the dust settled” or that dust used to cover your site?

    السفارة الأميركية: المروحية التي هبطت كانت تجري طلعة روتينية فوق بغداد

    السومرية نيوز/ بغداد
    أعلنت السفارة الأميركية في العراق، الجمعة، أن الطائرة المروحية التي هبطت قرب نهر دجلة كانت تجري طلعة روتينية فوق العاصمة بغداد، فيما أكدت أن الحادث لم يشكل أي تهديد لموظفيها.

    وقال المتحدث باسم السفارة الأميركية في العراق مايكل ماكليلان في حديث لـ”السومرية نيوز”، إن “المروحية التي اضطرت إلى الهبوط قرب نهر دجلة اليوم بسبب عطل فني كانت تجري طلعة روتينية في سماء بغداد”.

    وقد يطرح الإعلان عن طلعات روتينية لطائرات مروحية أميركية تساؤلات عدة حول طبيعة عمل تلك القوات عقب انسحابها بشكل كامل من العراق قبل نهاية شهر كانون الأول من العام الماضي 2011.

    وكانت السفارة الأميركية في العراق اعترفت، اليوم الجمعة، أن إحدى طائراتها المروحية اضطرت للهبوط قرب نهر دجلة بسبب عطل فني، بعد ساعات من وقوع الحادث، الذي نفته عمليات بغداد جملة وتفصيلاً، فيما أكدت أنه تمت إعادة المروحية إلى مقرها في المنطقة الخضراء بمساعدة القوات العراقية.

    وقد سلمت القوات الأميركية القواعد العسكرية التي كانت تتخذها مقرات لها إلى نظيرتها العراقية، فيما أكد وزير الدفاع الأميركي ليون بانيتا بالانسحاب، في 15 كانون الأول 2011، خلال زيارة قام بها إلى بغداد، أن مهمة العراق بعد الانسحاب الأميركي إدارة أمنه بالشكل الحقيقي، وفيما اعتبر أن الوصول إلى عراق مستقر وذي سيادة هو نتيجة تضحيات الجنود الأميركيين والعراقيين، أشار إلى أن عناصر الجيش والشرطة العراقية قادرون على إنهاء أي تهديد لتنظيم القاعدة.

    يشار إلى أن الرئيس الأميركي باراك أوباما أكد، في 14 كانون الأول 2011، خلال استقباله جنود الفرقة الثانية والثمانين المجوقلة في الجيش الأميركي العائدين من العراق وأسرهم في قاعدة فورت براغ بولاية كارولاينا الشمالية، أن مستقبل العراق سيكون في يد شعبه والحرب الأميركية فيه ستنتهي، مشيراً إلى أن حرب العراق تمثل نجاحاً باهراً تطلب تسع سنوات، لافتاً في الوقت نفسه إلى “العمل الشاق والتضحيات” التي قدمها الجنود، وقال إنها كانت ضرورية لتحقيق النجاح.

    وغادر الجنود الأميركيون العراق نهاية العام 2011 تاركين خلفهم 900 ألف رجل أمن عراقي يبدون جاهزين للتعامل مع التهديدات الداخلية، إلا أنهم يعجزون عن حماية الحدود البرية والجوية والمائية، بحسب مسؤولين عسكريين وسياسيين عراقيين وأميركيين، فضلاً عن مخاوف إضافية تتمثل بإمكانية أن يتأثر العراق بقوى إقليمية مثل إيران، التي تعتبر عدوة الولايات المتحدة.

    ومن المتوقع أن تستمر علاقة العراق والولايات المتحدة خلال المرحلة المقبلة ضمن ما يعرف بـ”اتفاقية الإطار الاستراتيجية” والتي تنص على التبادل والشراكة بين البلدين في المجالات الاقتصادية والدبلوماسية والثقافية والأمنية.

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, I agree the question of the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad and his views on the formation of federal entities in iraq is interesting. For what it may be worth, the Iranian embassy did issue a formal repudiation of the press stories on the subject.

    Still, it seems reasonable to assume that the Iranians are more worried than before about a potential “Sunni” corridor from Turkey to Saudi Arabia physically cutting them off from Syria.

  7. Ali W said

    Hi reidar,

    Can you please let me know why has sadr quit the national conference?


  8. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, I really don’t know, but many Shiites who are clerics or have clerical aspirations are sometimes eager to keep a bit of distance to the mundane politics of non-turbaned politicians. Except for that meeting with Allawi in Damascus in summer 2010, Muqtada hasn’t been particularly prominent with respect to taking part in ordinary political meetings. My guess is he may be fearful of losing his popular appeal if he becomes too much of an ordinary politician. He may well prefer to go on with his calls for elusive “pacts of honour” and populist demands like the demand for a citizen’s share of the Iraqi oil income.

    Many will probably speculate that Iran has a hand in this but I am not convinced. Jaafari has been quite positive to the idea of a national conference; it seems to me Maliki is the main opponent.

  9. Salah said

    Whatever Iranian embassy did issue on the subject. , there are no doubts that Iran well mangling with Iraq and well positioned inside Iraq both by their proxy and their hidden militias “Badar Brigade” which immerged to Iraqi police forces or “Quds Forces” .

    The tension between Maliki and the Turks followed by launching mortar attack on Turkish embassy in Baghdad, but we did not see any reaction to after recent Sulaimani words even Maliki did appeared and with some reaction as same as he done it toward turkey.
    Off course Iran Embassy issue a formal repudiation, but this norm may also include that the error in the translations from Farsi to Arabic…

    Let read this may give assurance about Sulaimani words

    This is not first time with Iranians when it comes to Iraq matter, you all remembering Fakkah Oil fields when Iranians control some or all those wells in the region at that time Maliki or Dolat alqanun did not make it an issue.

    This is common when Iraqi regime behaving with Iran, there is no need to discuss this matter about real Iran proxy by nature no surprises here.

    As what you suggested ““Sunni” corridor from Turkey to Saudi Arabia physically cutting them off from Syria.” This is too much in an imaginary thoughts and talk. Iranian trying playing in the region for so longe, let not forgot Iranian reached to Buenos Aires is there also corridor they tried to stop it?

    Iranians trying whatever specially inside Iraq to show there reactions of western sanctions, things inside Iran going bad, toady USD 1 worth 18000 toman, however Iraq for them is the door to break the sanctions, Iraq makes sanctions against Iran ineffective

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Wire reports say “big meeting” of Iraqiyya postponed until Sunday. Also Hakim reportedly recalled to Iran for consultations!

  11. observer said

    Regardless of the electioneering season in the US, the situation on the ground in Iraq is very unstable and might go either way. Even if a miracle happens and the NA disengages from Maliki and Da3wa and decides to put forth Jaafary, Bayan or Mahdi (or some new character) as the PM, do not expect Maliki to go away into the sunset. He knows very well that if he gives up the reigns, he and his party are done.

    Given that the US does not want Iraq to be a subject in the discussions of the elections, then you can bet your bottom dollar that the US policy will be “to stay on the current course”. So if Iraqia believes that Biden is going to come to the rescue, then they are dreaming.

    The most likely outcome is a situation similar to the time between the elections and forming the government (or some would argue since the last elections) where Maliki does what he wishes and the rest sit on the sidelines twiddling their thumbs because the law is under the thumbs of Maliki and company and the parliament is full of parties with diagonally opposing views of the best way forward.

    Where that will lead Iraq? As I said earlier, division and confederation (as opposed to federation). That may be the least bloody course of action and if one cares about the little people, then the least bloody is the best way forward. Let the people have some rest.

    meanwhile, let the dust settles form the Arab spring and see if it will sprout in SA, Jordan, and areas to the south. Then also there is the Iranian economy to disintegrate under the weight of sanctions and inability of the central bank of Iran to transfer monies to facilitate large purchases (or selling of oil).

    in response to the previous thread. Really!!! – Maliki and Da3wa are not sectarian? Have you read the doctrine of Da3wa? They are as much sectarian as the Baath was chauvinistic. They may not believe in Williat al Faqeeh, but that does not make them less sectarian, just more saavy. Anyway, As I stipulated earlier, since you do not want to admit the slightest wrong by SOL/maliki/da3wa and insist that the fault is with others, you are not credible as there are dozens (if not hundreds) of actual events and examples that contradict directly what your stated position is.

    – Going against Iranian pressure and signing the SOFA and strategic agreement with the US

    that is a beauty

  12. Mohammed said

    Hi All:

    Just a few questions regarding yours posts:

    Regarding Iranian influence in Iraq, Reidar you said: “Nuri al-Maliki was forced to rely on sectarianism to clinch his second premier term in ways that at least temporarily increased Iranian leverage in Iraq?”

    I would like to get your insight about what factors allow Iran to maintain or increase that leverage with time?

    I am sure that Iran coaxed the Sadrists to support al-Maliki in 2010. However, now that al-Maliki is firmly seated at his post, what can Iran practically do to control al-Maliki? And do you see that control weakening or strengthening with time?

    With respect to the sanctions on Iran, does that not actually increase al-Maliki’s leverage over Iran. If anything, as long as Iraq is able to continue its increase in oil exports, along with the increased prices of oil due to tensions with Iran, then revenues will likely skyrocket. Al-Maliki can use those resources to buy the loyalty of those he needs to secure his base. Furthermore, if Iran and Syria are forced to route imports/exports through Iraq, the Iraqis should get a windfall from middle-man transactions. With the devaluation of Iranian currency, Iraqis should be able to buy much cheaper goods from Iran as well. According to a recent Guardian article, even Iraqi Kurdistan is enjoying an illicit trade with Iran for refined products like gas (since Iran can’t produce enough gas domestically). The only downside to the economy may be the Syrian and Iranian traders flocking to Iraq to buy up all the US dollars they can. As long as Iraq does not suffer legal/UN/US threats for violating the sanctions, the Iranian/Syrian sanctions probably helps Iraq more than it hurts.

    With respect to Santana’s scenario of Qassem Suleiymani having the ability to liquidate any Iraqi leader who defies him, perhaps al-Maliki’s moves to consolidate control over the security forces is aimed as much in protecting himself from Iran as it is in exerting control over his domestic political opponents. Al-Maliki should be intelligent enough to know how to secure the loyalty of people he needs in the defense/security forces. Money talks, and right now, my guess is that he has way more access to money than Iran does.

    From where I see things, Iran has only two possible practical scenarios: 1) have ISCI/Sadrists support new elections, with no guarantee of what would happen after the elections. My guess is that Obama would force the Kurds not to accept such a scenario before the US elections, or 2)Iran can just start causing massive havoc and destruction in Iraq with bombings, gangs, and militia warfare and make life very miserable for al-Maliki and Obama.

    Finally, with the calls by Iraqiya and others for al-Maliki to speak out in the media against Iranian meddling, it might win him some domestic points, but the risks in agitating Iran far outweigh any benefits right now. Look at what happened when he slammed Erdogan. My view is that Iraq is in no position to dictate anything to Turkey or Iran right now.

    Finally, the phenomenon of foreign influence is certainly not unique to Iraq alone. For example, in the USA, everybody knows that Israel (aka AIPAC) has an inordinate influence on American foreign policy. However, no successful US politician or president would dare admit to this publicly or chastise Israel without severe political repurcussions. In an increasingly globalized world, it is natural for foreign powers to have some level of influence on a country. The magnitude of foreign influence/reaction is always factored into a cost-benefit analysis in decision-making even by the most powerful country in the world.

    Yes, Iran has influence on Iraq. My question is what specific policies do you see al-Maliki adopting based purely on Iranian influence that he would otherwise not pursue even without Iranian pressure?

    Can you confirm that Iraq did indeed support the recent Arab League initiative that called for Assad to step down, and allow for the formation of an interim unity government? It seems that even Sharq Al-Awsat as the mouthpiece of Saudi Arabia was surprised at Iraq’s amenibility. Is that not a huge departure from the Iranian strategy of keeping Assad in power?



  13. observer said

    you are being “apologetic” for Maliki.

    Do you think Maliki can stay in place if he defied Iran? One word to the Sadrists, and he is done as PM.

    On allowing Iran to by pass sanctions through Iraq. Really? Do you think that Iraq will be as cooperative with the west to allow monitoring of illicit trade through Iraq to Iran (as jordan was during Saddam’s days)? recall, that Maliki is not in control of Iraq. Iran is (for the time being).

    On influence – of course it is expected that countries would protect their interests, but where you and I differ is the hypocrisy of saying it is ok for Iran to do what it wishes, but not SA nor Turkey nor Jordan, when in fact ALL outside interference will reflect badly inside Iraq.

    Had Maliki and Da3wa been interested in building a state, as opposed to their own empire, they would have been able to marginalize outside interference by actually treating others as partners in governance as opposed to competitors.

  14. Reidar Visser said

    M, my thinking is that the way Iran used the Sadrists to clinch the NA premiership for Maliki in 2010 prevented more natural, “organic” and sustainable alternatives to emerge. State of Law plus Iraqiyya, or State of Law, Kurds and splinters from Iraqiyya. Instead we got this unwieldy all-inclusive government which has failed to develop coherence.

    Potentially Maliki could have liberated himself from his predicament – both the Arbil agreement and Iranian influences. But he would need to be a little bit more succesful in finding Sunni/secular partners beyond White. Recently there are signs he could be reverting to ad hoc deals with the Kurds to get the budget passed.

    I found one WP story saying Iraq “seemed” to support the Arab League initiative. If true, this is significant and under-reported:

  15. Mohammed said

    Regarding the Arab League initiative, see:

    here is the money excerpt:
    “The Arabs have agreed, unanimously, on an Arab initiative similar to that proposed for Yemen, primarily Saudi driven, which requires, at the end of the day, the departure from power of one of Tehran’s allies, Bashar al-Assad. The Arab initiative will be under the supervision of the Security Council, and it has received an Arab consensus, even from Iraq, an ally of Tehran, whilst Lebanon did not dare to object, but rather used “fluid” diplomacy and announced that it was distancing itself.”

    The article goes on to mention how Lebanon tried to oppose the initiative, etc.. Also, calls Maliki a “lame duck.” So…hardly coming from a pro-maliki source, but I found it interesting nonetheless.

    But again my question to you Reidar is what policies do you see al-Maliki pursuing CURRENTLY (last elections are now history) under Iranian influence that he would otherwise not likely be pursuing on his own if he had unfettered control over all of Iraq free of Iranian interference ?


  16. Reidar Visser said

    And I just had confirmed from a reliable source that the emir of Qatar specifically thanked Iraq for its anti-Assad stance. Could of course be Zebari going solo, but he had previously refrained from criticising the Syrian regime.

    What I was referring to was that due to the circumstances of the govt formation in 2010, Maliki still seems to be contemplating an ad hoc alliance with the Kurds for the budget instead of the more stable alliance pattern that could have been expected if he had joined forces with, say, Nujayfi and Karbuli. All very hypotehtically, of course.

  17. RS said

    Iraqiya channel has never been known for being subtle. Ironic nonetheless that a country giving a lesson to others about how to treat their minorities is still so touchy about admitting its own past wrongs, even though they took place so long ago… It does undermine them somewhat.

  18. Salah said

    Looks the change of Maliki regime in regards to Syrian crisis came after a lot of talks about different stands Maliki from other Arab spring movements.
    This change in mind just as been in the past as some trying to put forward that Maliki showing his “Nationalism” hard to believe as he for decades before come to Iraq and after he been promoted for PM. Changing his face distancing himself from very sectarian attitude and behaviours

    But let keep in mind US still have influence on him and his folk to what polices they won’t from Iraq in the region, that factor still major not small and shouldn’t talking ignoring this fact.
    In mean time the change also may be seen as the Syrian case not clear what next step would international community will take specially US and its attention all inside US election time?
    To get more in depth about what Syrian regime and Syrian case let read this in depth article about what options may be the scenario will be in future for Syria.
    Collectively failing Syrian society

  19. I think the change of position of Maliki, Iran and everybody else came from the Syrian street, which through its courage and willingness to sacrifice made it clear that change is inevitable. Everybody had to agree in order to claim spoils from the conflict and to show that they are in control when in reality they are not.

  20. robinson said

    Speaking of Mula Nazim al-Jibburi…

    Interesting, if unsurprising, to see Maliki getting pressure from within the NA to double down and go after elements of the Sahwa. A potential reminder that conceivably pressures from within the NA may make it difficult for him to succeed in siphoning off elements of Iraqiya to form a narrower government that is anything other than pan-Shi’a+Kurdish. (reminiscent of shades of pre-2010 election de-baathification pressures from within INA cutting off any nationalistic tendencies held by Maliki at the knees)


  21. I wonder if the Iraqiya meeting of today is meant to declare its official stand in the opposition (finally!), and if the timing of the go-ahead of Maliki in forming a government of majority has anything to do with his change of position regarding Syria?
    What I am really wondering is: Does the conspiracy theory of US-Iranian agreement over Syria-for-Iraq has any substance?

  22. observer said

    RV one of the sources is wrong. Iraq either supported the Arab League initiative or not. There is no in between. If Emir of Qatar thanked Iraq for changing its position, then the league has no business to postpone the summit (as a result of Iraq’s position vis-avis Syria as the article above indicates). Kitabat is not very reliable and I am outside the country right now and can hardly waste my contacts time to check something this trivial, but it would be interesting to see if Iraq changed its position just so that the summit is held on time in Baghdad — byt the way, I have it from reliable sources that the hotels in Baghdad WILL NOT BE READY in time despite the millions of dollars spent on refurbishing the few 5-star hotel structures existing.

  23. Salah said

    al-iraqia Back looks Maliki realized that he can go a head with his goals

  24. Mohammed said

    You are free to label me as being “apologetic” for al-Maliki. Like I said before, labels to me are irrelevant. What I care more about are policies that have a practical impact on the Iraqi people and beyond. Observer you said: “where you and I differ is the hypocrisy of saying it is ok for Iran to do what it wishes, but not SA nor Turkey nor Jordan, when in fact ALL outside interference will reflect badly inside Iraq. ”

    Regarding Iranian influence, I have readily stated that it is strong and mostly nefarious. I am not opposed to other countries like the USA or Turkey or Saudi Arabia developing positive influence in Iraq. I am glad that Iraq and Turkey have increased their trade to 12 billion dollars (even exceeding Iran). I would not want Iraq to be dependent on Iran because that only would increase Iranian influence. With respect to Saudi Arabia, I have listed to you several examples of negative Saudi influence on Iraq (virulent anti-shiite wahabi extremism via their media, suicide bombers, pushing Sunni iraqis away from a more tolerant version of Islam, etc) , and challenged you to point out what benefits has Iraq enjoyed from Saudi Arabia.

    You talked about the ideals of local control and privatization. I fully agree! So why don’t the Saudis go to Anbar and start building electricity infrastructure and get the first mover advantage to provide Falluja and Ramadi with 24/7 electricity? Iraqis are already paying through the nose for “private generators.” I am sure with economies of scale, modern facilities can be developed to provide electricity far cheaper than people are paying for today, and a private energy business should be able to make a profit if done right. Furthermore, why doesn’t some rich Saudi investor develop a private waste management service for Anbar. I am sure people would be willing to pay for somebody to haul away the garbage. Imagine all the private jobs that could be created. How about building Saudi-financed, private hospitals, etc..etc. Initially to protect such facilities, they can hire locals as private guards if you are worried about Maliki sabotaging these efforts. I am all for that kind of Saudi influence. What legal roadblocks would prevent such private development?

    Santana has aptly called Iranian influence as a “bone cancer” and I 100% agree with Santana about that comparison. As a physician, when I deal with patients that have cancers, I have to be wary of certain medical interventions that can make a cancer (or any disease) more deadly. What I am telling you is that up till now, the only practical effect of Saudi influence in Iraq has been to make Iranian influence stronger via the aforementioned negative effects that I have mention before.

    Observer you stated: “On allowing Iran to by-pass sanctions through Iraq. Really? Do you think that Iraq will be as cooperative with the west to allow monitoring of illicit trade through Iraq to Iran (as jordan was during Saddam’s days)? recall, that Maliki is not in control of Iraq. Iran is (for the time being).”

    My response: If there is anything really important, yes, I do believe the Americans will know about it and put a stop to it. In fact, look at the NY Times Magazine about how the Mossad/CIA have set up elaborate operations throughout the world (including Iraqi Kurdistan) to send faulty supplies and equipment to Iran. It is quite impressive. I am sure that the USA has tons of people in Iraq working for the CIA and they monitor important material very carefully (like missile guidance components, etc). The USA doesn’t really care if some Iraqi front company is buying Canadian wheat for Iran. Al-Maliki can always use the excuse that tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims cross the borders to visit Najaf/Karbala on a daily basis, and it is virtually impossible to stop a truck of wheat along Iraq’s borders. Iran could probably even get wheat shipped to them across the Caspian sea via some Russian mafia outfit if they wanted to.

    However, no matter what Iraq does, Iran’s economy will buckle from this pressure (they won’t starve, but it will freeze them as a third world country). That is what Obama is aiming for (to what end remains unclear to me, because I doubt that even the most severe sanctions will cause the regime to collapse as long as Russia and China will still play ball with Iran, and I see no reason why they wouldn’t..I think Americans view Russian and Chinese policies on Iran as far more important than Iraqi policies on Iran).

    Observer, you stated: ” recall, that Maliki is not in control of Iraq. Iran is (for the time being)….Had Maliki and Da3wa been interested in building a state, as opposed to their own empire, they would have been able to marginalize outside interference by actually treating others as partners in governance as opposed to competitors.”

    I readily concede to you that Maliki is vulnerable to Iran via the Sadrists and that reflects badly on all of Iraq. However, what policies is Iran forcing Maliki to adopt right now that al-Maliki wouldn’t otherwise pursue if 55% of the parliament was State of Law? Do you really think al-Maliki is looking forward to a summer when people are likely to riot when they discover that there has been no improvement in electricity and they watch babies die of heat stroke? Is that why al-Maliki under Iran’s influence is sabotaging the Iraqiya-led electricity ministry ?

    By the way, I was curious also about another one of your posts in a prior thread where you stated: “Ministers do not run ministries, civil servants do.” So are you telling me that Iraqiya ministers do not have the power to hire and fire civil servants working in their respective ministries? Is that what you mean when you say there is no power-sharing?

    Also, you previously replied to me that Dawa doesn’t want to develop resources in sunni provinces to keep them dependent on Bagdhdad. What is the status of the Akkas gas field in Anbar? Based on this report, it seems to be finally on track, no?

    Finally, Observer I want to make sure you understand where I am coming from. I don’t find sweeping labels, characterizations, or speculations about what motivates politicians to be useful. Those are very easy to refute (Al-Maliki and his real “apologists” can easily convince his shiite base that this is all Iraqiya propoganda)..

    Hard facts, on the other hand, are far more concerning to me. For example, if Iraqiya indeed has credible evidence that al-Maliki is ordering people to be arrested and tortured, then I am 100% with you in publicizing this as loudly as possible and putting a stop to this, because then we really are back in Saddam’s Iraq. If that recent Guardian article is even 50% truthful, that frankly is far more concerning to me than any other news item coming out of Iraq. Iraqiya should be hammering al-Maliki about that 100 times more than “lack of power sharing.”

    Make the headlines about the people and not about Iraqiya. For example, instead of saying “Dawah won’t let us provide any input on developing Iraq’s electricity infrastructure..” go with “We have developed a comprehensive plan to rapidly build up Iraq’s electricity capacity so that by 2013 people in Basra through Fallouja will have electricity 20 hours per day, create 250,000 jobs in the process, but the dawah guys have opposed our plans because they don’t give a damn about the Iraqi people…the major aspects of our plans and where expert consultants suggested plants be built are published in this newspaper and website..Please dear Iraqi people go to the streets and demand your rights to decent services! Dawa opposes this plan, what is their plan? buy more electricity from Iran and keep us dependent on them??”

    Most iraqis realize that Dawa is corrupt (even those that vote for them), my guess is that they dont hold Iraqiya in any higher esteem. Create a TV program called “corrupt official of the week” and detail all the filth. The ideas are endless, and that is how you win the support of the 50-60% of the people that didnt vote for you before. You certainly wont get it by making appeals to Turkey, Iran, USA, or Saudi Arabia. Now that Iraqiya has ended their boycott, I wish they develop a laser-like focus on issues that matter to the people.


  25. observer said

    Long and thoughtful post. Look, communication in written form is by nature cold and even worse when written in a hurry. So please do not take offense at anything I write and try to move from the basis that I respect your right to have a different opinion.

    That said – I still insist that you (and many others) have a different standard for SA than others. Did Iran, Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, etc. come in and built a power plant in Iraq for free? Why do you call on SA to do something special for the people of Anbar? Are the people of Anbar not Iraqis? Or is it because they are sunnies and helped Saddam stay in power and thus deserving on mass punishment?

    The developer of Akaz has withdrawn because of the conditions places on it by Min or Oil (again one man decision). The Kurds were pushed to sign contracts that give high rewards to oil companies for risk taken because of the unmoving position of Baghdad vis-a-vis the oil law. In my point of view, if the oil law is passed it will allow for a more robust negotiation with investors, but alas Baghdad wants a tight reign on power.

    All else aside, please note that I and many others have always advocated for Iraqia to take the seat of opposition and make Parliament worthy of its name. Alas, the likes of Kerbuly, and Mutleg and others view government positions as vital to distribute rewards for their supporters. Thus is the state of politics in Iraq.

  26. Mohammed said


    you stated: “That said – I still insist that you (and many others) have a different standard for SA than others. Did Iran, Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, etc. come in and built a power plant in Iraq for free? Why do you call on SA to do something special for the people of Anbar? Are the people of Anbar not Iraqis? Or is it because they are sunnies and helped Saddam stay in power and thus deserving on mass punishment?”

    No, I am not calling for Saudi Arabia to throw out charity for Iraq. I am suggesting that they make smart decisions that can not only be economically viable but are also aligned with strategic interests of having closer relations with Iraq to truly offset Iranian influence. Saudi Arabia is rich in two “W” (Wealth and Wahabism)….So far, they have only used Wahabism..I would make the same suggestion to all of Santana’s gulf buddies as well.

    I don’t understand your question regarding why Falloujah? Why are you interpreting my suggestion of Saudi investment in Anbar as a form of punishment? I would be ecstatic if the Saudis went to Anbar and through private investment, built profitable businesses in electricity, waste management, and health care the benefited all the people of Anbar. Then, let the people of Basra or Hillah see how horrible their services are in comparison. And if the Saudis want to build hotels or private services for electricity, etc in Najaf, more power to them.

    The GCC has a 100 times more money than Iran, they should use it to build stronger ties with Iraq and not wait around until Iran controls everything.


    p.s. regarding Akaz, the URL I sent implied that it was finally approved and things are moving forward, do you have more recent information?

    p.s.s I find it ironic that in a country as wealthy as the UAE, Iran has an “Imam Khomeini Hospital/Clinic” and that is where my iraqi sunni sister in law went to deliver her baby three years ago in UAE because she could not afford any other place…My Iraqi sunni mother in law had a heart bypass in Damascus 4 years ago in “Khomeini hospital”..successful cheap surgery but she still curses Iran to this day nonetheless!!

  27. observer said

    Well I would advise you to look at your long post explaining why SA is different than other countries. I am no defender of SA or any other outside influence, but when I see one side (i.e. Iran) getting a pass on all its influence peddling, especially by our erstwhile She3a Islamic parties, I am not as alarmed as I would be when I see SA getting into the act or Turkey. It is a free for all right now and I would rather have the allies of the US exerting influence rather than Iran. As for advising the Saudis as to what to do, I leave to those who have contacts with them. My contacts with Saudis are limited to those whom I met in the US in grad school.

    I would like to see Iran do the same projects that you are advocating and allowing their pilgrims to spend more than $15 per night for lodging. Recently, officials of Karbala and Najaf complained about the heavy tax on infrastructure. Turkey is not investing either. They have Turkish companies working all over Iraq, making monies from contracts, but not investing, not even (or especially) in KRG.

    As for your interpretation of my words, please read it again. What I am saying is that why people of Anbar and Tikrit should beg SA or any other country for investment? Shouldn’t the Iraqi government be interested in developing those areas as well. I am sure that you are going to tell me that it is just incompetence and not sectarianism or mass punishments for past deeds…

    PS on Akaz – that is old news. Since then the company has withdrawn and things are at a stand still, while all other oil fields are being worked on (albeit very slowly due to government rules on visa’s and bidding, etc.).

    i do not like adding fuel to the fire, but facts must be faced. This is one example of why Iraqi She3a hate SA with passion.

    If the news are true – al sabah is a government organ, then the Saudi government should be the first one to ask for these terrorists heads. If not true, then it is an example of using the press to inflame passions.

  28. observer said

    so it turns out that somebody is trying to work on the sectarian divide. Who will read the second article denying the voracity fo the first. The impression of those who read the first article just reinforces the preexisting prejudices.

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