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Tuesday, October 06, 2009
- Iraq’s Joint Kurd, Arab, U.S. Patrols Face Big Hurdles
- by Tim Cocks (Reuters)
U.S. officials are hoping joint patrols between Iraq's largely Arab army and Kurdish troops will build trust in tense disputed northern areas, dampening the tinder that many fear could ignite Iraq's next war. The troops themselves aren't so sure. ...
[N]orthern Iraq is at the heart of a struggle between minority Kurds and Baghdad's Shi'ite Arab rulers over control of its territory and the vast lakes of oil underneath. ... U.S. officials, who are racing to pacify Iraq before U.S. combat troops pull out by September next year, see the row as the greatest threat to the country's stability as the Sunni-Shi'ite violence which nearly tore it apart fades.
- Maliki Creates Coalition to Compete in Iraqi Vote
- by Anthony Shadid (The Washington Post)
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Thursday unveiled a coalition to compete in parliamentary elections in January that will decide whether he remains in power, as the focus of Iraqi politics moves from months of backroom negotiations over electoral alliances to a contest to sway a largely disenchanted public... .
Politics here still follow a sectarian and ethnic formula— Sunni Arab, Shiite Arab and Kurd—but Maliki, himself once seen as an ardently sectarian figure, has wagered on a nationalist platform that stresses a powerful central government, reconciliation, sovereignty, and Iraqi and Arab identity. He is convinced it will help him prevail over his main rival, onetime Shiite allies joined in a coalition called the Iraqi National Alliance.
- Iraq FM Blames Failed Talks on Lack of Syrian 'Seriousness'
- by Agence France-Presse
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on Tuesday said attempts at mediation with neighboring Syria had failed because Damascus had not taken the talks seriously... .
Turkey had been acting as a mediator in the crisis sparked by the two neighbors' tit-for-tat recall of envoys last month, six days after massive bomb attacks in Baghdad whose masterminds, Iraq says, are harbored in Syria.
- Iraq Vote on Pullout Put on Back Burner
- by Gina Chon (The Wall Street Journal)
Iraqi politicians say they have put aside for the time being any plans to push for a referendum on the U.S.-Iraqi security pact governing the American troop pullout here.
The threat of a referendum had clouded U.S. withdrawal plans. If Iraqi voters were given a chance to vote on the deal some U.S. officials feared they would reject it, forcing an accelerated U.S. withdrawal. Military officials have said they will comply with any quicker withdrawal in the case of a “no” vote in a referendum. The flagging momentum for a referendum now, however, eases pressure on U.S. commanders.
- Iraq Delays Oil Law Until After January Elections
- by Sameer N. Yacoub (The Associated Press)
Iraq's parliament has suspended discussions on a long-delayed oil investment law until after legislative elections in January because of the long running dispute over control of the north's energy resources, a lawmaker said Sunday.
Ali Hussein Balo, the head of the parliament's energy committee, said the decision was prompted by disputes between the central government and the autonomous Kurdish administration over the rights to negotiate contracts with foreign firms in the Kurds' self-rule region in the north.
Setting the Record Straight
“As long as we have a force presence in Iraq our leadership should continue to involve itself in Iraqi political affairs to ensure the right decisions are made.”
—Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), ranking member, House Armed Services Committee, opening statement, hearing, "Status of Ongoing U.S. Efforts in Iraq," September 30, 2009
“The level and nature of U.S. engagement with the Iraqis will continue to change as the U.S. military draws down... . Through the Strategic Framework Agreement, the United States has a mechanism for supporting Iraq to develop its institutional and human capacity. Success will be defined by our ability to support Iraq's developing institutional capacity, from governance to economics through security, that will sustain Iraq's long-term stability.”
—Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander, U.S. Army, Multinational Force-Iraq, news briefing, October 1, 2009
Iraq: Laying the Groundwork for Transition
PM Maliki announces his alliance for upcoming elections (AP)
"This upcoming debate on the election law is going to be very important in deciding how democratic the next elections will be. There is a lot at stake for everybody; there is a lot at stake for the people, there is a lot at stake for the political party leaders."
by Samir Sumaida’ie, Ambassador of Iraq to the United States. Interview with Middle East Bulletin.
After Saddam’s regime was removed, a vacuum was created. It was filled in for awhile, and still to some extent, by the United States. The new regime— the new political order—is not yet consolidated, so you can argue that there is still a political and security vacuum. Each of the neighboring countries is eager to occupy all or part of this vacuum in order to protect their interests, and reflect their priorities. So there is strong temptation for all of our neighbors to intervene in ways that reflect their interests.
For that reason, the coming elections will not be an entirely internal affair between political players inside Iraq. All our neighboring countries will want to influence the outcome of the elections. That creates problems for us. Of course, we always say that our neighbors should be helpful and should refrain from interfering in our internal affairs. The reality is, the best defense against interference, is to strengthen our own institutions and political coherence inside the country. Access the full interview>>
by Paul Salem, director, Middle East Center, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Al Hayat)
As real sovereignty increasingly shifts from U.S. forces to the Iraqi state, Iraq is being tested by a combination of security, political and economic challenges. The bombings of August 19 left 100 dead and 600 wounded; major constitutional and resource allocation issues remain unresolved; ethnic and sectarian tensions are running high; the economy is languishing; the public finances are threatened by low oil returns; and the political leadership is deeply divided. ...
While Iraq is likely to survive these challenges, the political leadership in Iraq needs to approach the upcoming elections in January 2010 and the government that will emanate from them with a broader vision of the key obstacles that need to be overcome. Iraq’s neighbors—namely Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey—also need to achieve a much broader understanding regarding their interests in promoting the sovereignty, stability and prosperity of an independent Iraq. And while the U.S. is withdrawing its forces through 2011, the Obama administration must maintain a high level of development aid and diplomatic engagement, to help Iraq make the transition from occupation to sovereignty, from devastation to development, and from internal division toward greater accommodation. ...
Beyond the obvious threat of al-Qaeda and similar groups, more serious tensions might emerge over the very incomplete integration of more mainstream Sunni groups, such as the Sons of Iraq and al-Sahwa movement, into the armed forces. Arab-Kurdish relations could also lead to security breakdowns if the issues of Kirkuk and resource allocation are not handled wisely. Iraq’s neighbors should help Iraq minimize these security risks rather than considering Iraq an arena for their rivalries. The recent tension between Iraq and Syria over the August 19 bombings is a worrying trend. And the failure of the Neighbors of Iraq meetings to produce any tangible results should not be a reason not to try again. Access the full article>>
by David Ignatius (The Washington Post)
How can America help a fragile Iraq as U.S. troops and influence there decline? The Obama administration should revisit one of the good ideas proposed by the 2006 Baker-Hamilton commission—namely an “international support group” that can draw together the neighboring countries to keep Iraq from blowing apart. ... This is where America still has the leverage to help, by drawing together all the volatile powers on Iraq's borders—Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and, yes, Iran. A regional security framework will aid Baghdad, but it can also reduce tensions in an area that resembles a ticking time bomb. ...
An example of the tricky regional dynamic is Syria. The Obama administration has been working carefully to rebuild U.S.-Syrian relations. Representatives of Central Command made two visits to Damascus this summer to discuss security cooperation on Iraq. This led to a tentative agreement that U.S. and Syrian military representatives would meet Aug. 20 on the Iraq-Syria border. U.S. officials proposed including Iraq, as well. Not so fast, protested Maliki. He warned Chris Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, that policing Iraq's border was an issue for Iraq, not America. ...
Then things exploded, quite literally. On Aug. 19, terrorists in Baghdad attacked the Iraqi Foreign and Finance ministries, killing more than 100 and wounding at least 500. Maliki's government quickly blamed Damascus. ...On the morning of Aug. 20, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus informed Syria that the planned meeting that day was canceled. ... But several senior U.S. officials say that the evidence doesn't support Maliki's charges. ...
What's missing is a regional security framework that would allow postwar Iraq gradually to regain its place with Syria, Iran and the rest as a power player. Building such an architecture would be the diplomatic equivalent of a three-cushion shot in billiards—drawing all the fractious neighbors into a constructive dialogue. This is the kind of game-changing diplomacy that is possible only for a superpower such as the United States. Access the full article>>
by The Economist
Suitors keep knocking on the door of Iraq’s oil ministry but the people inside are still coyly loath to say “come in”. Licenses to develop oil fields are being awarded at tortoise speed. The ministry has been telling companies looking for exploration and drilling contracts to give unusually large upfront loans before they can be considered for long-term deals. Iraq’s parliament, still full of MPs who are wary of foreigners coming to “steal Iraq’s oil”, have obstructed progress by failing to pass the required laws. ...
With MPs in recess for the summer, technocrats in the ministry have quietly been taking some cautious steps towards turning Iraq into the global hydrocarbon giant it says it wants to be. Oil-ministry officials have recently tweaked plans for a long-awaited license auction in December, to make it more attractive. ... Officials met an array of oil bigwigs from around the world [in August] in Istanbul to discuss terms. Most of the prospective buyers were persuaded that they have a chance of winning contracts, with more than one-third of Iraq’s reserves up for grabs. ...
Despite Iraq’s long history as an oil producer, the country still sorely needs foreign help to explore and get the stuff out. ... [M]ost of Iraq’s geologists and engineers have left the country in the past six years. ... So Iraq has too few people of its own to provide the much-needed boost in production. ...
A few months before the crucial election, politicians feeling obliged to beat a nationalist oil drum are unable to tell voters that the country will earn more from its oil only if foreigners are drawn in. If the second international oil auction flops as badly as the first one did, Iraq risks deterring investors for a long time. Access the full article>>
Heard on the Street
Anthony H. Cordesman, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy, Center for Strategic & International Studies, speech, “Shape, Clear, Hold, and Build,” Cosmos Club, September 24, 2009:
“In the case of Iraq the U.S. did provide enough military forces and resources to succeed in largely defeating the insurgency and sharply reducing levels of violence. ... At the same time, the ... Iraq War is anything but won, and the U.S. still needs to act on the lessons of the last eight years. The Iraqi government and Iraqi people must now take the lead in shaping Iraq’s destiny. There is still a serious risk that Iraq could see a new round of ethnic or sectarian conflict. Iraqi security forces still need advice and aid. The Iraqi economy is still far too weak and Iraq still needs help in economic reform. The withdrawal of U.S. combat forces is now virtually inevitable, but it is clear that the U.S. needs to shape a military advisory effort that will do as much to aid Iraq as possible, and this must transition to a State Department led effort. The U.S. ... must help Iraq develop fully effective security forces, move towards full reconstruction and economic development, and reach political accommodation.”
The first Iraqi parliamentary elections since 2005 are scheduled for January 2010. In preparation for these elections, Iraqi political leaders have begun negotiating over new alliances. Below is a look at the current state of the country’s leadership.
Central Government Leaders
Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki: Maliki, who was elected prime minister in April 2006, heads the Shiite Dawa party. In January, Maliki’s State of Law coalition, which ran on a platform of nationalism and strengthened rule of law and security, made large gains in the provincial elections. On October 1, Maliki revealed the composition of his State of Law coalition for the January elections, which includes the Dawa party, some Shiite Kurds, Sunni tribal sheikhs and independents.
President Jalal Talabani: Talabani, a Kurd, is the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). In March, Talabani announced that he would not seek another term in office, leaving open the question of which ethnic group would fill the presidency in the next government. The president is considered the second-highest position in the government, but has limited powers. It is also unknown who will be his successor within the PUK.
Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi: Abdul Mahdi is a member of Islamic Supreme Iraqi Council (ISCI). He was ISCI’s choice for prime minister in 2005 when a coalition of ISCI, Dawa, Sadrists and other groups gained a majority of seats in the elections. After four months of negotiations Maliki beat Abdul Mahdi and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Sadrists’ nominee, for the prime minister post.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi: In May, Hashimi stepped down as leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), the largest Sunni party, and in September he announced that he was forming his own party, the Renewal List. He has yet to name the new party’s members, but has said it will include tribal leaders and academics.
Ayad al-Samarrai: Samarrai is a member of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party. After a four month stalemate in the parliament, in April, he was elected speaker of the Council of Representatives, Iraq’s parliament. He was elected only after Maliki was promised that as the new speaker he would not seek to pass a no-confidence vote.
Other Notable Leaders
Ammar al-Hakim: Hakim heads ISCI, Iraq’s largest Shiite Party. He took over leadership of the party in August after the death of his father, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, one of ISCI’s founders. Hakim had been managing the party’s affairs since May 2007, when his father became ill. ISCI is the leading party in the Iraqi National Alliance, a majority Shia coalition announced in late August that includes a few Sunni and Kurdish parties. It is unknown who will lead the coalition in the January elections.
Ayad Allawi: Allawi served as the prime minister of the Iraqi Interim Government from May 2004 to April 2005. He heads the Iraqi National Accord party, a group originally founded to challenge the Hussein government, and leads the Iraqi National List coalition, which won 25 seats in the 2005 elections. The Iraqi National Alliance is in negotiations with Allawi to join its coalition.
Barham Saleh: Saleh was appointed prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in September. Prior to his appointment, he served as one of two deputy prime ministers of Iraq. He also led a coalition of the two largest Kurdish factions in the July KRG elections
Ibrahim al-Jaafari: Jaafari served as prime minister of the transitional government from 2005-2006. In 2007, Maliki replaced Jaafari as leader of the Dawa party. He was expelled from the Dawa Party in June 2008 after forming his own movement, the National Reform Movement. Jaafari is currently part of the Iraqi National Alliance.
Masoud Barzani: Barzani has served as president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) since 2005 and has led the Kurdistan Democratic Party since 1979. For the first time, in the July 2009 elections, the position of KRG president was directly chosen through popular vote, and Barzani won with nearly 70 percent of the vote.
Muqtada al-Sadr: Sadr is an influential anti-American Shiite cleric with political and militant connections. Following the U.S.-led invasion, Sadr commanded a militia group, the Mahdi Army, which he eventually ordered to suspend fighting in August 2008. Even though Sadr withdrew from the public eye in June 2007, followers of Sadr won seats in every southern province in the January 2009 provincial elections. Sadr made his first public appearance in nearly two years when he traveled to Istanbul in April; the U.S. military suspects he is living in Iran. Sadr's supports are currently part of the INA.
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