Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Arbil Agreement and the Real World: Time for Some Cold Water

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 11 February 2012 19:45

Tomorrow, Sunday, Iraqi leaders will once more meet to make preparations for their next big get-together. When, or if, there is ever a national conference-style gathering in Iraq – possibly to downgrade expectations it is now officially just called a “national meeting” – it is unlikely to turn into the implementation of the far-fetched and shadowy Arbil agreement. At most, the meeting will end in renewed agreement in  principle to legislate non-implemented aspects of Arbil (strategic policy council, oil and gas law etc.) whereupon those pieces of draft legislation will come up against the usual stalemates when they actually reach the floor of the Iraqi parliament.

It could be argued that only two items in the Arbil agreement stand out as having some realistic chance for implementation: Cabinet bylaws and the distribution of the security ministries.

Maliki knows perfectly well that the inclusion of the cabinet bylaws as a separate item at Arbil was aimed at restraining himself as a potential strongman. However, unlike many of the other items in the Arbil agreement, on the bylaws one Maliki cannot easily hide behind the claim that the proposed mechanism is outside the constitution. In fact, the constitution specifically demands the adoption of bylaws for the cabinet (85), and not even a parliamentary decision is needed.

What Maliki can do, of course, is to rely on the proven ability of Iraqi politicians to quibble forever over even the most inconsequential details, making it a safe bet to assume that no early adoption of cabinet bylaws is terribly likely.

That aspect should be kept in mind also by those who want to use the upcoming meeting for the purpose of modifying what they see as highhandedness on the part of Maliki. Perhaps they may want to have a look at the second implementable item instead: The allocation of the security ministries.

For more than one year, the security ministries have been in the hands of acting ministers – Maliki himself for interior, with close allies at defence (Dulaymi) and national security (Fayyad). Two main attempts at having them filled through parliamentary procedure (March and May 2011) both failed. There is general agreement that the jobs should be filled by professionals nominated by the secular Iraqiyya (defence ministry) and the Shiite Islamist National Alliance (interior ministry) respectively, although attempts have been made to Maliki to define the defence ministry as reserved for a Sunni rather than an Iraqiyya candidate, which could enable him to impose a figurehead instead. Critics of Maliki claim the current acting (Sunni) defence minister is precisely such a figurehead.

The dynamics of the security ministries have changed somewhat over time. Initially there was considerable intra-Shiite conflict between Maliki’s State of Law and the other Shiite parties, and the Sadrists in particular, about who should become interior minister. The Sadrists at one point wanted Ahmed Chalabi for interior minister; Maliki favoured Shiite professionals who had worked for the old regime.

More recently, there has been renewed focus on the Shiite candidates for the interior ministry, with a more consistent chorus of voices suggesting Tawfiq al-Yasiri, who was once in the Iraqi army but fled after 1991, is now the consensus candidate of the Shiites and that he also enjoys some support from Iraqiyya and the Kurds. The problem now is apparently that Maliki has rejected a string of defence ministry candidates from Iraqiyya, citing de-Baathification in ways that look inconsistent with how he himself is in the habit of employing Shiites with a Baathist past. In fact, it seems Maliki is actually quite happy with Dulaymi as acting minister. It is not entirely unlikely that Maliki is using the candidacy of Yasiri mainly as a fig leaf and that he is actually also happy with his close ally Adnan al-Asadi continuing to exert de facto control at the interior ministry.

If that assumption is correct, probably the only way Iraqiyya can obtain support for one of their own candidates at defence is to think outside the box. What Iraqiyya could do in order to make Maliki change his mind is to remind him of the fact that the Sadrists are waiting in the wings with a claim for a deputy interior minister. If they want to reach out to Maliki, Iraqiyya could make sure to support an interior ministry candidate that the other Shiites detest. There is precedence for this: In the second half of April 2011, Maliki reportedly offered Iraqiyya to support their candidate for defence if they would give him the necessary support to get rid of Ahmed Chalabi as the interior ministry candidate of the Shiites. Maliki has similarly resisted other candidates for the interior ministry considered too close to the Sadrists such as Abd al-Karim al-Sudani. As recently as September 2011, Maliki was in trouble in Maysan when he imposed a police chief (Ali Ghazi al-Hashemi) with a military and Baathist background against the wishes of ISCI and the Sadrists.

Alas, Iraqiyya is apparently not thinking along those lines at all. In a sad repeat of their manoeuvres to obtain Shiite support for their Ayyad Allawi as premier candidate in summer 2010, Iraqiyya leaders have once more been courting ISCI and Sadrists in order to “challenge” Maliki. As has Turkey. As has the United States (minus the Sadrists). These players just don’t see that the “challenge” to Maliki will never tip the balance.

If Iraqiyya proceeds like this, one of the few likely results of the upcoming national meeting could be the appointment of a Sadrist deputy interior minister. How wonderful.

23 Responses to “The Arbil Agreement and the Real World: Time for Some Cold Water”

  1. Salah said

    “What Maliki can do, of course, is to rely on the proven ability of Iraqi politicians”

    Reidar, May excuse me, I cannot see in today Iraq neither been able politicians nor leader as, most of them are not interested to solve their internal differences, for the last 8 years the showed no attentions serving Iraq and Iraqis.
    They living in the past memories each time they crying what old regime done to Iraq and Iraqis. They come to power without merits, they using religious, sectarian and ethnic skills to get promoted which brings Iraq to bumpy roads and live they don’t like for themselves and their future.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Haha, please read the sentence carefully. It says Iraqi politicians are “able” to quarrel forever, aka incompetent.

  3. Salah said

    Thanks for your hint and correction.

    The fact with Iraq politics parties was with their creation process within their body. We see parties are created by a group of grieving people trying make their case heard and then turned out they have hidden agenda.

    Now they are naked we all seen hem and their outcome nothing impressive from them although I (may be more Iraqis like me) was critical from the start of Da’awa party and other.

    The sicking things in today politics in Iraq we seen same parties changing their party name, fragmented and splits making more parties this lead to more chose and in reality it more an extension to same behaviour and attention in the end they come together and telling the make collation, what the hick this means?
    More chaotic, more same drama and same sickness.

  4. Lars said

    Reidar, can only agree with what I read. Maliki will agree to most and shortly after – as in the past – add “as long as is it constitutional. I guess the kurds have already figured that one out, so my question is : what´s in it for the kurds ? Are they just needing some time and yet another excuse for justifying independance or is it the O & G law which is more realistic on the short term, than what you project. Could you explain how important is the vote of the kurds for the upcoming budget, could there be a bargain / condition for those votes – maybe related to the O & G Law ? As I remember some recent articles kurdish MP´s were complaining about reduction of the kurdish allocation in the 2012 budget proposal , so I guess if they have to accept this, there would have to be some kind of other compensation, which could be the O & G law . Do you see any relation at all ?

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Lars, I think this is the perennial problem of the Kurds: What they want (oil, Kirkuk) depends on further action by parliament or even more complex processes involving referendums etc. What Maliki wants is simply parliamentary support for passing the annual budget and that’s it. So he can easily hide behind empty promises and screw them (or whoever else he uses as budget partner) later on.

    I think the articles on a reduction of the Kurdish share were flawed in the sense that what they described was in fact the normal reality – the Kurds get 17% of the expenditure budget after some “national” expenses including foreign affairs and defence have been deducted. Now, last year, the Kurds did manage to achieve something in the shape of oil cost coverage for DNO and Genel. The next step would be profit money for the oil, but I suspect that is something Maliki may be more reluctant to sign up to. Also, some in Maliki’s camp insist that the Kurdish share of the budget is too high so there may not be much leeway there.

    Lately there have been some indications Maliki is prepared to pursue the Talabani initiative on changes to administrative boundaries of governorates that contain “disputed territories” as a concession to the Kurds. But again that is a longwinded legislative project where it will be easy for Maliki to feign sympathy with the Kurds only to see everything unravel in parliament.

    The problem for the Kurds is although they were kingmakers, once they made their pledge to support Maliki in a big government, they actually lost much of their leverage. Whatever remaining negotiating strength they have derives from the continued inability of Maliki to build lasting ties to Sunni Arab leaders with substantial popular support.

  6. Wladimir said

    Iraqiyya is against interference by Iran, but keeps looking to Iran proxies to unseat Maliki?

  7. Reidar Visser said

    The Iraqiyya narrative is that ISCI is now less pro-Iranian than before and that the Sadrists have a Iraqi nationalist core. I think it may be true that Ammar al-Hakim today is not necessarily as close to Iran as his father was (or as he himself was perhaps 4 years ago). The question is how much support Hakim commands in the ISCI-Badr coalition more broadly. I think those who are close to Hadi al-Ameri still retain pretty close ties to Iran. As for the Sadrists, there is no doubt they prefer to be seen as Iraqi nationalists. But then again it seems their leader Muqtada is in the habit of changing his mind after talking to Ayatollah Haeri in Iran, a strong Khamenei supporter.

    I would suggest that Iraqiyya looks at the bigger historical picture. It is an undeniable fact that the Iraqi National Alliance, i.e. the Sadr/ISCI/Fadila half of the Shiite alliance, was created in 2009 by Iran, in Iran, and that Maliki for a long time resisted. What made Maliki PM in 2010 was apparently dialogue between the Sadrists and Iran. Similar dialogue between Iraqiyya and the Sadrists through the good offices of Qatar and Syria went nowhere. In 2011, Maliki seemed to signal interest in keeping some US forces longer even though Iran didn’t like the idea. The policy of his oil ministers to ramp up Iraqi production will eventually bring down oil prices and hurt Iran.

    I think Iraqiyya are taking a much too static view of Maliki. If he needs to be an Iranian proxy in order to hang on to power, he will do that, for sure. But Maliki probably likes to be seen as an independent Iraqi national leader and Iraqiyya are ignoring a potential for rapprochement by refusing to consider that aspect of Maliki.

  8. Santana said

    Reidar- you wrote –

    “I think Iraqiyya are taking a much too static view of Maliki. If he needs to be an Iranian proxy in order to hang on to power, he will do that, for sure. But Maliki probably likes to be seen as an independent Iraqi national leader and Iraqiyya are ignoring a potential for rapprochement by refusing to consider that aspect of Maliki”

    We have covered this a zillion times…..what “potential for rapprochement” ! ??? I will humor you and say IF there is such a thing it will NOT go anywhere because the minute Iran sees such a “rapprochment” as you say then they spring into action to derail it! They will remind Maliki how he is where he is because of them and that just like they put him there then they can remove him !! Iran holds all the cards- the Sadrists, Badr, Talabani, Fadheela, Daawa……

    So- if you agree with what I said then what are the other options ? – if any…if you don’t agree then you must not believe that Iran has that kind of power and influence.

    EVERYBODY on here must remember the most important fact in Iraq and that is WHATEVER is good for Iraq in terms of stability and prosperity then Iran will work against it…………Iran’s Mullahs are absolute evil !!……”potential for rapproachment” yeah right…..sure.


  9. Reidar Visser said

    I guess I am saying Iraqiyya hasn’t tried the simplest avenue for rapprochement which is to give Maliki the chance to pick an interior minister that dislikes the Sadrists and Badr in return for a defence minister to Iraqiyya’s liking. In my interpretation, Maliki is more interested in keeping the Sadrists and ISCI away from power than in fulfilling any pan-sectarian wish the Iranians might have.

    Since 2009 almost all proposals from Iraqiyya to Maliki have been defensive (i.e. based on their static image of Maliki as irreconcilable) instead of oriented towards game-changing options.

  10. Santana said

    Again Reidar….I ask…. do you actually believe that Iran WOULD agree to the appointment of a Nationalist Interior Minister that might hurt the Sadrists and Badr ‘ ????????

  11. Reidar Visser said

    I’m suggesting the idea should be sufficiently attractive to Maliki that he might feel an urge to get more distance from Iran again, like 2008-2009.

    I’m not saying this will happen just like that; I just find the other alternatives – strategic policy council, early elections, regime change in Iran etc. – to be even more unrealistic.

  12. Mohammed said


    Let’s say Iran tells sadrists to turn on Maliki if Maliki adopted policies against iran’s how can sadrists succeed in their calls for early elections if Iraqiya decided to support Maliki for his new stance?


  13. Santana said

    Thanks Reidar- 2008-2009 was a WHOLe different beast bud…..Maliki does not have that luxury anymore.

  14. Santana said

    Mohamed- Iran would not just tell the Sadrisrts to turn on Maliki……you are too nice and have no idea what kind of punches they will throw….they will tell Daawa itself to turn on Maliki as well…Iraqiya is to never ever be part of a 163+…..look- basically all the Shiite parties no matter how Nationalistic they are (or decide to become once they start realizing “wasakhat” Iran) they know they are no match at all for Iran’s wrath…….Badr would start an assassination campaign immediately – and you know Hadi Alameri is 100% Iranian…….I believe Ammar Alhakeem is a Nationalist but he recently admitted to a friend of mine (can’t mention his name on here) that if Iran was not holding a “toothia” over his head he would tell them to go to hell and join Iraqiya…..for those who don’t know arabic- “toothia” is a heavy club or a stick.

  15. Reidar Visser said

    But some of that dynamic remains! I’m not making this up. Look, here are some notes on the police dismissal in Maysan I was talking about, with ISCI and Sadrists up in arms against Maliki for appointing someone with a past in the Iraqi army as new police chief (and sacking their own friend)

    And this is September 2011, long after Maliki had supposedly become a fulltime Iranian pawn. Would Iran really prefer an ex-Baathist to a Badrist or a Sadrist in a place like Maysan?

  16. Santana said


    Ali Al-Hashimi has two things going for him that got him the position- first, he is a Shiite (not all Hashimis are Sunnis) and second , a Daawa member.

  17. Reidar Visser said

    But he is also a professional army guy with a Baathist past, disliked by people who spent the 1990s in Iran.

    In other news today, White once more say they are supporting Tawfiq al-Yasiri for interior minister. They often say things they think Maliki will like.

  18. Santana said

    Ok Reidar- I will chalk this example in favor of your argument but the mounting evidence of what I am talking about is much larger….plus we don’t really know what sort of communication Ali Alhashimi has had with the Sadrists or with the Quds Force to allow his appointment to go thru.

  19. Mohammed said


    Good points about possible Iranian responses (such as assassination campaings,etc) if Maliki or others tried to defy them. However, I have already responded to this point in prior posts. Namely, I am sure Maliki and others know about the threats Iran is holding over their heads. I try to put myself in Maliki’s shoes, and imagine how I would respond to such a threat. The best response would be to have strong control over the security and defense ministries so that the leadership and officer corps are loyal to the office of the prime minister. While one may consider this an “autocratic” tendency in Maliki, in fact he has done just that! Moreover, as Iraq’s revenues are growing, he will have the monetary resources to buy the loyalty of the people he needs to ensure the security of his inner circle. Obviously, such measures also are a potential threat to democracy if aimed at suppressing legitimate freedom in Iraq (instead of resisting Iranian hegemony), and there needs to be checks and balances to prevent abuse.

    Yes, Iran has a “toothia” over Iraq right now, but as sanctions are taking an ever bigger bite out of Iran’s resources, there is a potential to weaken Iran’s influence. I expect Iran to do whatever it can to control Iraq including disrupting Iraqi oil exports (for example the new off-shore terminal that was just opened will be a prime target for Iranian sabotage and will be practically impossible to protect). Imagine how Iran feels while under new devastating sanctions, and Iraq is only increasing its exports to Iran’s former customers.

    No matter what you think of Maliki, any person with his mentality and ego does not want to be pushed around by an outside power and play the role of a puppet. Maliki may do so out of necessity if he feels he is weak, but don’t think for a second that this is a role he relishes. But, if Iraq becomes stronger and Iran becomes weaker, Iran may wind up needing Maliki more than he needs them. If he feels that he has sufficient control over the security situation, and that he has settled his disputes with the sunni regions of Iraq, look for him to act more independent of Iran.

    However, Santana, where Iraqiya confuses me is your definition of the greater threat to Iraqi prosperity. Is it really Iran or is it Dawa?
    As Observer stated many times, he believes that the real threat is that Dawa is becoming more powerful and pervasive in Iraqi society (another face of the Baath). So Reidar, I am no t sure that Iraqiya is really interested in Dawa/SOL becoming more powerful (at the expense of the other Islamist parties like isci/sadrist).

    However, I strongly believe that no matter how powerful Dawa became, it can never develop a base of support in the sunni heartland of Iraq, and as such, it cannot repeat what the baath did throughout all of Iraq. The bottom line is that Maliki/Dawa need sunni partners to govern Iraq to ensure peace in the country.

    I am sure by now Observer and Santana want to knock me on the head with a “toothia,” so let me end this post with a simple youtube video that demonstrates why Dawa cannot become pervasive in the hearts of Iraqis. I present to the jury, Exhibit A: A prototypical Shiite islamist Iraqi recruited to the new Iraqi army that is allegedly ushering in the era of willayat ul faqih in Iraq (make sure audio is on):

    I rest my case!


  20. M,
    “I expect Iran to do whatever it can to control Iraq including disrupting Iraqi oil exports”
    You got me stupefied! Iran disrupting Iraqi oil flow when Iraq is its main external backer? That doesn’t make sense.
    I think you have an irrational faith in Maliki and his intentions. If Maliki really views Iran as a threat then all he needs to do is to get out of its camp. Iraq is the financier of the Iranian camp on the expense of the Iraqi poor.

  21. Mohammed said


    From what I have read and heard, I am sure that there is oil smuggling going on between Iran and Iraq (and I have no idea about how much control over that Maliki has given that even the Kurds are smuggling to Iran and keeping the proceeds to dish out to reward party/clan loyalties)…

    As for Iraq, being Iran’s “main financier” as you allege, can you please clarify what you mean by “financier”? According to, Iran has an estimated GDP of around 470 billion USD, with revenues of about 110 billion dollars. Iraq is in no position to sustain Iran’s economy. Even for argument’s sake, if Maliki was sending off 10 billion a year to Iran, it would be a drop in the bucket compared to what Iran need.

    Iraqiya runs the finance ministry, and you have access to the budget and expenditures. So exactly how much of the total Iraqi oil output do you reasonably think is un-accounted for compared to expenditures that are needed to run the country at its current levels? Given that Iraq is still under Chapter 7, I very much doubt that Maliki can move large amounts of money around from oil proceeds without our friends in Langley knowing about it.

    If Iraqiya has evidence that Maliki himself is stealing money (or even if his son is stealing money), please publicize it and hold him accountable. I completely agree with you that this money belongs to the people. Iraqiya leaders have already called him a “dictator worse than Saddam,” but even they haven’t dared to accuse him of stealing for his own gain or to support Iran.

    I am the first one to readily acknowledge that there are many corrupt Iraqi politicians including Dawa/Sadrists/ISCI/Iraqiya who are probably pulling a “Haazem al-Shalaan” every now and then. My guess is that they are stealing that money for their own little piggy banks, and not for Iran.

    As for why would Iran want to attack Iraqi oil output, it would be the logical thing for Iran to do in the event that they are attacked by Israel/USA. The only real weapon Iran has to hurt the west is to drive up the price of oil and push Europe and USA into a depression (if you take out Iran and Iraq’s oil output, that is going to drive prices of oil up, and make the west think twice about attacking Iran).

    Finally, with your contention that I “trust” Maliki, my response is…trust is irrelevant. I have never met the man, I don’t know anything about him more than what I read and hear. My view is that he is probably not any better or worse than the average Iraqi politician. The big difference is that (like it or not) he is running the show right now, and as far as I can see, Iraqiya is in no position to impose its will upon him. Most of my criticisms are along the same lines that Reidar has voiced on this forum. Iraqiya is being very unrealistic in its strategy. This has nothing to do with moral superiority of one party or the other and I do not approve of some of SOL’s tactics.
    Reidar is not suggesting Iraqiya does anything immoral. If Maliki is nominating people with blood on their hands, then Iraqiya should oppose this by all means. But simply being a road-block to annoy him is irrational and may appeal to your emotions, but does not serve the Iraqi citizens who voted you into office. I would tell the same thing to Maliki—he needs to be more practical and stop stomping on his political opponents because it will make Iraq unstable.

    We are now in a very dangerous time with events going on in Syria, Iran, Bahrain, and even escalating riots in the eastern parts of Saudi Arabia. Iraq’s leaders need to start acting like grown-ups instead of looking for unrealistic solutions.


  22. ash said

    If I may, I am very new to this forum and find myself amazed as to your veiw points and what I recieve as imformation on Iraq and it’s growth and future.
    I have seen/read/heard the announcment that Iraqi is no longer under chapter 7 and is now considered a sovereign country. Is this not true ? Also, as an outsider I would think that the situation Iran is creating with the world markets would give Maliki and the Iraqi parties to step up and become the next Saudi Arabia. You guys have the 3rd largest oil deposits and were just announced to have one of the top 5 deposits of natural gas in the world. I see this as a wonderful power that is not being harvested and have to wonder why. Are the past tensions between blocs so strong that no one can move forward?
    Again, I am just trying to learn and in no way criticizing, please do not think this.

  23. Reidar Visser said

    Iraq remains under Chapter VII restrictions to its sovereignty. This involves above all forced payment of reparations to Kuwait for the 1990 invasion. There are boundary delineation issues too.

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