Always something between Erbil and Baghdad

Kurdistan Alliance officials have said certain clauses in the draft 2010 budget law constitute an attempt to pressure the Kurdistan Regional Government because of oil contracts signed with global companies. Abd-al-Muhsin al-Sa’dun, member of the Kurdistan Alliance Bloc, has said that some clauses refer to imposing sanctions on governorates and regions where oil pumping stops for certain reasons. Back in October Kurdistan stopped oil exports because of continuing disputes with Baghdad. Though oil from the north may have to be exported through Iraqi government pipelines running to Turkey, giving Baghdad a stranglehold on the transport of oil produced there, Iraq needs all the revenue it can get to finance its reconstruction, civil service, and the provision of basic services.

Iraq Oil Exports up by 4%

Iraq Dec Oil Exports Up 4% On Month At 1.977 Million B/D

Iraq’s crude oil exports in December were up 4% at 1.977 million barrels a day, compared with 1.902 million barrels a day in November, an Iraqi oil industry source said Monday.

He said that Iraq exported in December an average of 1.534 million barrels a day from the southern Basra oil terminal, up from 1.498 million barrels a day in November.

Some 433,000 barrels a day were exported from Kirkuk oil fields in northern Iraq via the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The remaining 10,000 barrels a day were exported to Jordan via trucks, he added.

Iraq’s crude oil exports have slowed down below the 2 million barrels-a-day target since September due to attacks on the northern export pipeline. In December, an attack on the pipeline suspended exports via the northern pipeline for a few days. Similar attacks took place in October and September. Iraq usually exports 480,000 barrels a day via that pipeline.

Iraq oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani under fire

Hussain al-Shahristani is under fire for attempting to replace the current director of the Iraqi North Oil Company with an aide of his who, ostensibly, is a loyal political and economic partner.

Staff at North Oil threatened to go on strike and halt oil production if he goes ahead. According to Dubai’s Al-Sharqiyah, North Oil employees criticised Shahristani for appointing his own, personal, aides in the oil ministry and Iraq’s oil companies for the purposes of influencing the country’s oil contracts and revenues for personal and party-political purposes.

The Iraq National Oil Company (INOC) was founded in 1966 by the Iraqi government. It was empowered to operate all aspects of the oil industry in Iraq except for refining which was already being run by the Oil Refineries Administration (1952) and local distribution which was also already under government control.

Iraq to have media city

The Baghdad government recently announced plans to build a media centre in the city which will contain TV producing centers, news channels centers, filming studios, producing services centers, and hotels for foreign journalists. More information can be found here


    According to Arab media reports, the Transparency League, a monitoring committee in Iraq, has warned that the project will be a “prison” that restricts press and other freedoms. A statement from the organisation, says news channels, states that security agencies do not want the public to know of human rights violations, the failure of government and security agencies, and the corruption of ministries and senior officials.

Peter Galbraith statement on activities in Kurdistan

A Statement on My Activities in Kurdistan
Peter W. Galbraith

Recent reports on my activities in Kurdistan call for a response. I have been both a writer on Iraq and an active participant in events there. After being an eyewitness to Saddam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds in the 1980s, I came to the view that the Iraqi Kurdish aspiration for independence was morally justified and the only sure means of protecting the Kurdish people. In late 2003 and early 2004, I helped Kurdistan’s leaders draft a proposal for a self-governing Kurdistan that was submitted to the Coalition Provisional Authority on February 11, 2004, for inclusion in Iraq’s interim constitution. Under the proposal, Kurdistan had its own government and military, Kurdistan law prevailed over Iraqi law, and Kurdistan controlled its own natural resources, including oil.

As Kurdistan’s leaders recognized, legal control over oil meant nothing unless there was a Kurdistan oil industry. In June 2004, I helped bring DNO, a Norwegian oil company, into Kurdistan. I was paid by DNO and entered into a financial arrangement with the company through a Delaware partnership, Porcupine LP. That year DNO discovered oil in Kurdistan and its pioneering efforts have attracted more than thirty other companies, creating a robust Kurdistan oil industry and giving the Kurds the financial basis for meaningful self-government.

In the summer of 2005, Kurdistan’s leaders asked me to advise them on the negotiations for the permanent constitution. Their proposal was identical to the one they made in February 2004 and they achieved virtually all of it. In its November 12, 2009 article, The New York Times says that I “pushed through” these constitutional provisions for my own benefit. The Times gave no source for this allegation and its reporter never asked me about it.

As even a superficial analysis would show, the allegation could not possibly be true. I was a private citizen, unconnected to any government and with no power to push through anything. I was not directly involved in any negotiations and was not in the room when they took place. I simply provided advice, unpaid and on an informal basis, to the Kurdish leaders, who knew of my arrangements with DNO when they asked for my advice. The Kurds, who had been fighting for independence or autonomy for eighty years, had set the agenda and they pushed through their own proposals. Although the Times asserts that my relationship with DNO was largely undeclared, it was also known to the US and Iraqi governments and I represented the company on a joint committee with the Iraqi Ministry of Oil.

A separate issue arises over what I should have disclosed in connection with my articles in The New York Review of Books. I discussed Kurdistan’s autonomy proposals, including those on oil, in a piece written in March 2004 entitled “How to Get Out of Iraq.” At this time, I did not have any business relationships. Subsequently, I wrote several other articles in 2004 and 2005, some of which briefly discussed the oil issue, and did not mention my business arrangements. These arrangements were covered by confidentiality agreements, but I should have stated that I had business interests in Kurdistan. I regret not having done so and apologize to the editors and readers of The New York Review of Books. In my later articles, I did state that I was “a principal at the Windham Resources Group, a firm that negotiates on behalf of its clients in post-conflict societies, including in Iraq.”

In June 2009, I joined the United Nations as deputy special representative of the secretary-general in Afghanistan. At that time, I terminated all my business activities. Neither I nor Porcupine LP has any ongoing contractual relationship or financial arrangement with DNO. We do not hold an interest in any Iraqi oil field. Porcupine is the plaintiff in an arbitration with DNO related to past disputes from which I may or may not benefit. When I was appointed to the UN position, I disclosed all my financial interests, including those related to the Porcupine-DNO arbitration.

This statement appears in the January 14, 2010 issue of The New York Review of Books.

Iraq government bans alcohol in Green Zone

Oliver August of the Times reports here that the Iraqi government has banned the sale and transport of alcohol in the Green Zone.

Here are a few excerpts for your amusement:

“The Iraqi Government has banned alcohol in Baghdad’s heavily fortified green zone, home to foreign embassies and some legendary drunken parties in recent years.”

“Senior Iraqi officials living in the green zone are not exempt from the new rules. Abdul Bari al-Zebari, a Kurdish member of parliament, was forced to give up two bottles of Chilean red when stopped by guards at the entrance to his residential compound.”

“In the past few years, the compounds that make up this part of central Baghdad have been the site of bacchanalian revelry reminiscent of 19th-century colonial life. Stumbling fully clothed into one of Saddam’s palace pools was a rite of passage for young neoconservative Americans sent over after the invasion.”

“One South African security guard is said to have threatened an Iraqi police officer with a gun during a stand-off over a bottle of Smirnoff. “Baghdad is hard enough when you’re medicated,” said a senior European diplomat.”

Iraq bombs could kill democracy

This piece appeared in the Guardian on Monday, one day after the devastating attacks in Baghdad that killed at least 200 and injured hundreds more. The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni extremist group that includes al Qaeda in Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the twin bombings that targeted government buildings including the ministry of municipalities and the justice ministry.

Note however that the blame-game is prevalent in Iraq; in the Bloody Wednesday attacks of August 19 for example, the Iraqi government blamed Syrian based Baathists yet the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for those attacks too. Further, Iraqi officials also pointed to Iranian complicity but this fell on deaf ears.

Major General Ata [spokesman for the Baghdad Operations Command] told Al-Iraqiya TV that eleven officers and 50 cadres from security agencies in Al-Salihiyah [in Baghdad] have been detained – this re-affirms the point made many times before on this blog, in the below article and others before it, that the terrorists must have had inside help. You do not get so close to government ministries without having the checkpoints on the payroll.

Iraq bombs could kill democracy

Two terrorist attacks in Baghdad yesterday killed more than 150 people and injured hundreds. The perpetrators, reported by the Iraqi government to be Sunni extremist Ba’athist elements and/or al-Qaida operatives, once again hit the heart of Baghdad’s political district, as they did on 19 August.

Yesterday’s bombings, like the August bombings, were sophisticated and calculated and were almost certainly facilitated with domestic and/or transnational help from the powerful and influential. The terrorists managed to enter an ultra-sensitive area, preceded by security checkpoints and increased restrictions, with explosives powerful enough to sweep away the blast walls that protected the government buildings and destroy anything and anyone that stood in proximity. One also has to ask how the attackers were able to get their hands on such explosives in the first place.

A broad analysis suggests complicity on the part of the Sunni-Arab world: keep Iraq unstable and you stop the country from becoming an effective Iranian client state when the US withdraws; or, at the very least, facilitate terrorist attacks in the country and you have some form of a counter-measure to Iran’s unmatched influence. Alternatively, the attacks on Kurdish-run and Shia-run ministries may have sought to encourage incorporation of the Sunnis, specifically the Sons of Iraq fighters, into the Shia-led government, which has so far been slow in doing so. The objectives are not necessarily independent of each other.

A more straightforward analysis suggests prime minister Nouri al-Maliki as the prime target of all this: destabilise Iraq in the run-up to January’s parliamentary elections and you hurt Maliki’s chances of success, as he will be campaigning on the same security platform that won him this year’s provincial elections. Indeed, things are not looking too rosy for the premier now that he has lost his security card. Iraqis will struggle to list his achievements in recent times and find the country no closer to better services and increased employment levels.

The Iraqi premier could prefer to have the elections postponed altogether, which may be likely in the light of ongoing disputes over a new election law. This would provide an opportunity to improve on security and strengthen his new State of Law coalition, which is not what he wanted or what others expected. It includes Sunnis, Kurds and Shias but no prominent or representative ones.

Notably, and despite previous predictions, Maliki failed to get popular Sunnis such as Ahmed Abu Risha on board. Could this be linked to his attacks on the Ba’athists? Possibly. Reports in Iraq also suggest Abu Risha was pressured by Saudi Arabia and Jordan to refrain from joining Maliki’s coalition (Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party was exiled in Iran in the late 1980s and enjoyed funds and backing from Tehran).

Maliki needs something quick and effective; electoral success does after all come down to perception. Maliki has exhausted with no positive result the nationalistic rhetoric against the Syrian government, which he accuses of harbouring Ba’athists and complicity in Baghdad’s deadly attacks.

In the past, the premier steeped up security operations: in mid-2008 he controversially arrested hundreds of Sons of Iraq fighters in Baquba of Diyala province and detained political rivals in the area. In the same province, he played to anti-Kurdish sentiments by conducting so-called security operations in the disputed territory of Khanaqin, creating a dangerous standoff with Kurdish security forces (responsible for maintaining security there at the time). Maliki failed to win Diyala province in the provincial elections but his actions will have nevertheless successfully played to anti-Kurdish and nationalistic sentiments elsewhere in the country. This time round, similar security operations could also follow yesterday’s attacks. Clashes by the Syrian-Iraqi border should not be ruled out.

However, the ultimate victim could yet be Iraq’s nascent democracy. That is unless disputes over the election law are resolved and the elections take place as scheduled.

More important still is restoring voter confidence in the electoral process. Anything less will hand a decisive victory to the terrorists. Increased attacks could also increase the chances of retaliatory strikes by the Shia community against the Sunnis, taking Iraq back to the sectarian warfare of previous years (Shia political and religious forces have so far exercised commendable restraint).

But this is assuming Sunni extremists are deemed responsible for the attacks in the first place. If the attacks really were the product of intra-Shia disputes, with Maliki’s coalition up against the pro-Iranian Iraqi National Alliance (which Maliki refused to join much to the dismay of Iran), then Iraq is at a very frightening point indeed.

The Kirkuk Conundrum

Below is a piece on disputes over the election law and Kirkuk, published yesterday in the Guardian.

The Kirkuk conundrum

Iraq has once again met what very low expectations remain of it. Despite a 15 October deadline, the Iraqi parliament is yet to agree on a new election law for the national elections due to be held in January, and this may, as a result, throw its political, legal and constitutional framework into disarray.

Disagreement among parliamentarians centres on whether to use an open- or closed-list voting system. Under the former, voters elect their own preferred candidates into parliament, while under the latter system, the electorate votes for a political entity, as opposed to an individual, and that entity then awards parliamentary seats to its own fixed list of candidates, submitted to the electoral commission prior to the elections.

Under the closed-list system, parliamentary seats are generally awarded on the basis of party loyalty above all else. It is therefore the established politician, or party favourite, who would worry most about an open-list system – out of fear of being deselected by the electorate.

Most Iraqis prefer the open-list system because it holds politicians more accountable to their constituents; it takes away the vanguard of party loyalty behind which incompetent or unworthy officials hide, and an open-list system generally gives the whole democratic process more purpose and greater effect.

Such is the extent of the dispute that it has led to pro-open-list protests in the Muthanna, Basra, and Misan governorates and intervention by the influential religious authority, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. His office has threatened to lead a boycott of the elections in the event the closed-list system is adopted; this would tarnish the entire electoral process with devastating consequences for political stability.

Ayatollah Sistani’s intervention means that no serious Shia party would publicly defy him. Major parties like ISCI previously supported the closed-list system, but, since the Ayatollah’s call, have changed their stance, with senior ISCI official and Iraqi vice-president Adel Mahdi publicly asserting preference for the open-list system in the past two weeks.

However, just because certain parties may no longer publicly call for the closed-list system, this is not to suggest that they can no longer push for it. The Iraqi electoral commission has said it will adopt the old 2005 law if parliament fails to vote and pass the new law soon, since it needs at least 90 days to organise the elections. The 2005 law used a closed-list system and the suspicion is that parliamentarians who still favour this are employing delaying tactics to keep the 2005 law in effect.

The only major group still to call publicly for the closed-list system is the Kurdistan Alliance; it will not, however, derail the elections over this issue. Instead, it is the question of what to do with the neglected governorate of Kirkuk that has, in predictable fashion, been the greatest cause of division within parliament. Indeed, the issue of Kirkuk itself could also become a pretext to delay the vote and keep the old 2005 law in effect.

Kirkuk, controlled by the Kurds after the 2005 elections, never took part in this year’s provincial elections because of disagreements over responsibility for security and eventual control of the provincial council. Similar disagreements exist once again. Some have called for special arrangements that divide the area into four separate, ethnically-defined electoral constituencies, while the Turkmen and Arabs are calling for voting quotas in response to what they call the modified demographics of the governorate by the Kurds, who constitute the majority there.

The Kurds were forcefully removed from Kirkuk by Saddam and are now returning back, pursuant to the “normalisation” process under Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, which seeks to reverse the Arabisation policies of the Ba’ath regime. According to UN reports and staff present in Iraq at the time, in November 1991 alone, eight months after the conclusion of the 1991 Gulf war, more than 150,000 Kurds were evicted from Kirkuk.

The Kurdistan Alliance, however, has rejected giving any special status to Kirkuk simply because it has a Kurdish majority. If the oil-rich area is given special status, then, by equal measure maintains the Alliance, so should other disputed territories where Kurds happen to be minorities. To implement a quota system would indeed be profoundly undemocratic.

During his visit to Washington this week, prime minister Nouri al-Maliki referred to the constitutional vacuum that will result if the elections are postponed, “because the current Iraqi parliament will lose its legitimacy after 16 January 2010”, he said in a statement.

But herein lies the problem with Iraq. Issues concerning constitutional legitimacy or legal integrity now ring hollow in a country still, embarrassingly, mired in disputes over Kirkuk, centralisation and decentralisation of power, and the management and control of the country’s resources. The inefficient and uninspiring Iraqi parliament is in a state of paralysis, with every man out for his own, while the country’s institutions and ministries constitute individual fiefdoms dominated by the financially and militarily powerful.

The reality is that, until the chief outstanding problem of Kirkuk is resolved in line with Article 140, there may be no compromise on the other issues. Iraq’s constitutional disputes started with Kirkuk and will end with Kirkuk.

Of course, now that election fever has kicked in, with groups seeking alliances and behind-the-scenes deals, attention will not actually be focused on any of the issues that matter. With officials taking the “let’s wait until after the elections” stance, Iraqis will instead get an abundance of slogans and rhetoric for the next three months, and this could continue for another two months after January 2010, until the political framework settles in the country.

This is assuming the whole thing takes place in January in the first place. What is certain is that continued delay will increase public disenchantment and put in doubt US plans to end combat operations by August 2010. This, as a result, would threaten the wider plan to withdraw all troops by the end of 2011.

Iraq-Syrian tensions

Iraq and Syria have had a not so great relationship over the past number of decades. The two countries were governed by competing branches of the pan-Arab Baathist movement, and ties have been largely antagonistic. Relations were severed in 1982 during Saddam Hussein’s rule and soon after the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war. Later, Syria joined the anti-Saddam coalition that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in the 1991 Gulf War.

Since the American liberation of Iraq, Syria has been a launching ground for terrorist operations in Iraq. The vast majority of bombings in Iraq were carried out by Al Qaida operatives and other non-Iraqi jihadists based in neighbouring states like Syria, which became a hub for terrorists like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his network of operatives.

In 2006 Iraq and Syria restored diplomatic relations and have since established a number of economic agreements.

But relations have broken down once again, despite PM Maliki’s security focused visit to Syria less than two weeks ago.

Maliki’s government accuses Syria of harbouring terrorists behind the August 19 attacks in Baghdad which killed more than 200 and injured many hundreds more. In a televised confession, Wisam Ali Khazim Ibrahim, the so-called mastermind behind the attacks, issued a televised confession in which he detailed the order to execute the operation by a man in Syria who wanted the attacks “to shake the administration.” Information leaked by Iraqi security to the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai says that one car used in the explosion is registered in Syria.

Syrian facilitation of militants across its borders and into Iraq and its safe haven for them is therefore still a problem.

The tit-for-tat rhetoric and aggressive posturing is taking place as usual. Maliki has told Syria that it could harbour anti-Syrian elements just as Syria hosts anti-Iraq militants, according to yesterday’s Al-Sharq al-Awsat. According to Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, writes the paper, Syria has rejected an Iraqi government proposal for a strategic agreement which provides for the extradition of terrorist groups operating in Syria. Iraq has a list of names for extradition but Syria has rejected it.

Tensions will not have helped US-Syria relations either. Washington has been concerned about terrorists infiltrating Iraq from Syria since 2003. A senior delegation of U.S. military commanders visited Damascus on August 13 for talks on curbing the flow of terrorists into Iraq; tellingly, Syrian state-television didn’t even report the visit. But with both states recalling their ambassadors, it is unclear whether any such dialogue between the three states will be resumed any time soon.

Also possible is that this is all just Maliki’s attempt to cover up his government’s security failures. Taking away security barriers that could have saved lives was a complacent and negligent act. Speaking to Al-Arabiya, Amman Salman al-Jumayli, member of the Foreign Relations Committee at the Iraqi Council of Representatives, believes Iran may be complicit in the attacks. Iran sponsors, supports, funds and influences most of Iraq’s Shia movement, political or otherwise. Countless weapons caches, missiles, and IEDs are believed to have emanated from Tehran.

The matter could become an electoral issue come the national elections in January, should it continue unresolved that is. Iraqiya news channel reported Al-Fadila (Islamic Virtue Party) calls for Syria to extradite Baath party leaders exiled in Syria. Al-Fadila is a discredited Shia offshoot Sadrist movement led by Abdelrahim Al-Husseini. It’s notorious for being a mainly thuggish group responsible for robbing and extorting the population of Basra province where senior Fadila leader Mohammed al-Waili served as governor until April 2007 when ISCI successfully brought a no-confidence motion against him. Basra’s electorate punished and marginalised Fadila in last January’s provincial elections; the party won only 1 of 35 seats. Fadila will not be part of the new Shia coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance.