Friday, May 24, 2013

2013 Iraq Update #21: Maliki changes security leaders: Is it the solution to Iraq’s security challenges?

By Ahmed Ali

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced major changes to the leadership structure of the Iraqi Security Forces. These changes include high-level leadership, operation commands, and division leadership. Additionally, the Baghdad Operations Command has absorbed adjacent commands in the Karkh and Risafa sectors of Baghdad. The advantage this realignment produces to Iraq’s security posture is not yet clear. The changes indicate, however, Maliki’s approach as he faces mounting security challenges that will also need political solutions.


A waveof attacks on Monday claimed over 100 lives in Baghdad, Samarra, and Basra marking a continued increase in nationwide attacks in Iraq that have persisted against the backdrop of Iraq’s political crisis. Ostensibly in response, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki announcedmajor changes on May 21 within the leadership structure of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The announcement from Maliki’s office did not specify the changes but stated that the decision was taken after “consultations with security officials.” Nonetheless, various reports indicate that the changes included the upper echelon of the ISF and reportedly some of Maliki’s closest military aides. The changes include:

High-Level Leaders:
The removalof the Ground Forces Commander, General Ali Ghedan, and director of the Office of Commander in Chief (OCINC), General Farouk al-Araji. Both of are trusted military advisers to Maliki. Reportedly, General Ghedan will be replaced by Risafa Sector commander General Salahaddin Mustafa. Al-Araji’s position will be filled by General Qassim Atta who until recently was the operations director of the national intelligence and was previously spokesperson of the BOC. Additionally, the chief of military intelligence, General Hatem al-Magsusi, has been relieved and his duties will be assumed by Brigadier General Mohammed Al-Karawi, who most recently was the commander of the 47th Brigade, 12th division Iraq Army (IA). Al-Karawi’s 47th brigade is stationed near the Hawija protest site.

Operations Commands:
The removalof the Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) Commander, General Ahmed Hashem. He will be replaced by 10th division commander, Major General Abed al-Amir al-Shamari. Al-Shamari has been promoted to Lieutenant General and has immediately been transferred to lead the BOC. Al-Shamari’s replacement will be Staff Brigadier General Fadhel Jawad Ali who most recently was deputy commander of the Ninewa-based 3rd infantry division. Related to the BOC personnel changes, its deputy commander, General Hasan al-Baydhani has retired. Moreover, orders have reportedlybeen issued to disband the Baghdad Karkh and Risafa sector commands and subsume them within a centralized structure of the BOC.

Division leadership changes:
General Ismael al-Dulaimi,commander of the Anbar-based 7th IA division, was removedand his replacement is not yet known. Commander of the Salahaddin-based 4thIA division, General Hamed Gomar, has been replaced by Brigadier General Nathir Mohammed Goran of the 5th IA division. Finally, the commander of the 11th IA division, Imad al-Zuhairi, was replaced by Major General Rahim Rasan who previously served as commander of the Muthana Brigade, which operated in the vicinity of Baghdad and is criticized by the area’s predominantly Iraqi Sunni residents for its heavy-handedness.

Not all of these changes have been confirmed by the Iraqi government, though Maliki held a news conference on May 20 in which he declaredupcoming changes within the ISF given the increase in violence. Despite the wide reporting of these changes, there have not been any denials thus far. If true, these changes will be the most wide-scale since December 2009, when Maliki replacedthe former commander of the BOC, General Aboud Qanbar, after major bombings shook Baghdad between August and December of 2009.

Implications of the changes

Maliki’s spokesperson, Ali al-Musawi, deniedthat the changes were the product of “political pressure” that has escalated recently. Security chiefs have been called to appear in the Iraqi Council of Representatives (CoR) in sessions intended to discuss the security situation. Al-Musawi instead attributed the changes to military protocols and security developments. Notably, a Maliki ally in the CoR laudedthe changes and commented that they are necessary to face the current security challenges.

Regardless of the reasons, the security environment in Iraq has been recently deteriorating. This was evidenced by the number of casualties reportedin April, which included 712 people killed and 1,633 injured. This represented the deadliest month in Iraq since June 2008 according to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Additionally, the ISF has suffereda number of recent setbacks including the April 23 Hawija operation, which turned bloody and triggered retaliatory attacks on the ISF. Most notably, the ISF was forced to retreat from the town of Salman Beg, which was briefly controlled by gunmen that may have included elements of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

In light of these events and the upcoming elections season in Iraq, Maliki cannot appear weak. It is therefore likely that he chose to initiate changes that send the message that security provision is still a top priority. Additionally, the changes can be seen as an attempt to change a negative public image, with every bombing or attack tarnishing the reputation of the ISF and Maliki. All positions impacted by the changes are critical components to Maliki’s security architecture.

These measures tend to take time to demonstrate effectiveness, but their short-term impact will be the increased centralization of security control by commanders loyal to Maliki. Operationally, the current ISF approach has not yielded results. Traditionally, the ISF constrain themselves with a reactive operational nature as opposed to the proactive nature that tends to quell armed groups. The difficulties this tactical doctrine creates are compounded by politics. The security environment is linked to political conditions, and Iraqi politics has been especially tense since December of 2012 with the onset of anti-government protests by the Iraqi Sunnis. Hence, governmental attention to protesters’ demands will be necessary to ensure that the security changes are effective. AQI thrives in moments of ethno-sectarian tensions and denying it that opportunity is imperative for the Iraqi government. Likewise, and for the changes to be effective, the Iraqi government has to confront any attempts by Iraqi Shi‘a militias to reactivate their operations as allegedby members of Iraqiyya. As these changes are confirmed, an indicator of their robustness will be increased ISF operations targeting AQI and Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshabandia (JRTN). More importantly, the future of current Maliki confidantes, Generals Ali Ghedan and Farouk al-Araji will be a sign of Maliki’s plans to confront security challenges.    

 Ahmed Ali is an Iraq Research Analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

2013 Iraq Update #20: Presidency and Protests Turn Attention to Negotiation

By Stephen Wicken

Iraq’s prosecutor-general has requested legal action regarding to the ongoing absence of President Jalal Talabani. Debate over the unclear stipulations of the constitution may make the presidency a political bargaining chip as political blocs negotiate over governing coalitions following the provincial elections. Meanwhile, a renewed call for negotiations between moderate Sunni Arab protest representatives and the Maliki government has won some support, although significant obstacles remain in the forms of internal division and calls to insurgency.

Prosecutor-general reopens presidency question

The issue of executive power in Iraq was renewed this week when Iraqi Prosecutor-General Ghadanfar Hammud al-Jassim sent a letter to Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi asking Nujaifi to take legal action regarding President Jalal Talabani’s extended absence from Iraq. The prosecutor-general cited Article 72 of the Iraqi constitution, which states that if the presidency “becomes vacant for any reason, a new president shall be elected to complete the remaining period of the president’s term.” Talabani has been receiving medical treatment in Germany following a reported stroke on December 17, during which time he has not submitted his resignation. No previous attempt has been made to replace him even in an acting capacity, despite the stipulation in Article 75 of the constitution that the vice president should replace the president “in his absence.” To justify the question of its authority to pursue the matter, the prosecution referred to Article 1 of the law of the 1977 Law on Public Prosecution, which charges the state prosecution service with protecting “the system of the state, its security and its institutions, and to guarantee democracy and the higher interests of the people.” The implication of the reference to this law was that the extended absence of a working president threatens the functions of state; no suggestion was made as to why Talabani’s absence should be addressed now, nearly five months after his departure for Europe.

The letter immediately drew criticism from across Iraq’s political spectrum, and particularly from Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party. PUK member Khalid Shwani, the chairman of the parliamentary legal committee, announced that his committee had reviewed the request and deemed it “unconstitutional and illegal.” Shwani questioned the prosecutor-general’s right to make the request, since Article 72 of the constitution refers to a presidential ‘vacancy’ rather than ‘absence.’ This highlights a central ambiguity on the issue: Article 72 refers to the presidency becoming “vacant;” Article 75 refers both to the president’s “absence” and “vacancy,” and stipulates that that the vice president should take over in either case. Shwani’s deputy, Sadrist Amir al-Kanani, agreed that the prosecution had no constitutional authority over the matter, while State of Law Alliance parliamentarian Khalid al-Attiyah called the prosecution’s request “premature.”

Mohsen Saadoun, vice president of the Kurdistan Alliance and a parliamentarian belonging to Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), also dismissed the prosecutor’s authority over the question. Saadoun argued that neither the prosecution nor the judiciary, which published the letter on its website, implying its support, possessed legislative or executive powers under the constitution, and therefore neither had authority over the question of the presidency. Iraqiyya MP Wahida al-Jumaili called the request “unconstitutional,” although she added that it was “essential” for parliament to install a president given the number of vacant positions in the Iraqi government. Jumaili’s colleague Talal al-Zobaie also pointed to the “urgent necessity” of installing a “safety valve” and mediator to “protect the constitution.” Only Muqtada al-Sadr unequivocally endorsed the prosecutor-general’s suggestion, insisting that “it makes no sense in our present time to have an Iraq without a president.”

The timing of the prosecutor-general’s request to replace Talabani reinforces the suggestion of PUK spokesperson Azad Jundiani that “we should look for the smell of politics in this request.” The Kurdistan Alliance, in which the PUK is a partner, only recently returned to the cabinet and parliament after a boycott over the passage of the 2013 budget law. President Barzani, Talabani’s sometime partner, sometime rival in the Kurdistan region, is under pressure over his intent to run for another term, a prospect for which the PUK has shown little enthusiasm. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki performed less strongly in the recent provincial elections than he likely anticipated: his State of Law Alliance lost more than 30 per cent of its seats nationwide, including its majorities in Baghdad and Basra. Saleh al-Mutlak, who Maliki appeared to identify as a key Sunni Arab partner in the majority government for which the prime minister has called repeatedly, also fared poorly in comparison with Osama al-Nujaifi’s Mutahidun coalition. Mutlak’s demonstrated lack of popularity among Sunni Arabs makes him a less appealing ally, encouraging Maliki to look for alternative partners in government, such as the Kurds. Facing maneuvers among his Shi‘a rivals to sideline his State of Law Alliance in provincial governments and without an overwhelming victory to demonstrate a clear mandate for a third term in 2014, Maliki’s political leverage has been diminished. The Hawija incident halted what momentum he had begun to develop through his concessions to Sunni Arabs, and Mutlak’s poor showing at the provincial elections suggests that their outreach initiative on de-Baathification may have cost them.

With Maliki and Barzani each facing opposition at home over their pursuit of further terms in office, an improved working relationship between the two would ease a long-standing source of tension and allow them to turn their respective attentions to other problems. Given Maliki’s documented influence over Iraq’s judiciary, however, it is possible that he prompted the prosecution to reopen the question of the presidency with a view to installing a KDP member and ensuring the maintenance of a working relationship with the Iraqi Kurds. Meanwhile, the relative success of the pan-Shi‘a coalition in Diyala’s provincial election, where both the Shi‘a coalition and Sunni Arab parties gained 12 seats each, has put the Kurds in the position of kingmaker, giving Maliki another reason to reach a deal. Indeed, Kurdish opposition parties have cast aspersions about the possibility of unannounced agreements made during negotiations for the Kurdish return to Baghdad. Equally, it is possible that Maliki seeks to elevate Vice President Khudair al-Khuzaie to the presidency, thus ensuring a long-time ally at the top. Khuzaie, like Talabani, has a strong relationship with Iran and could play an important role should 2014 see a repeat of the 2010 government formation negotiations, in which Iran was forced to broker a deal with the Sadrists for a second Maliki term.

The issue of the presidency will not be resolved with any immediacy, with parliamentarians showing little enthusiasm for replacing Talabani and parliament adjourned until June 18. As political blocs jockey to form governing coalitions in 12 provinces, the presidency may become another bargaining chip in negotiations for the upper hand in Iraq’s political balance.

Sunni Arab cleric’s negotiation initiative wins some support

Abd al-Malik al-Saadi, the senior Sunni cleric who positioned himself as the spiritual leader of anti-government protesters in Sunni Arab-majority provinces in January, announcedon May 13 the formation of a ‘Commission of Goodwill’ to begin dialogue with the Maliki government on behalf of protesters in six provinces. Saadi was the leading proponent of negotiation with the government prior to the Hawija attack, after which he appeared briefly to countenance confrontation with security forces, only to clarify quickly that only self-defense was justified. In early May, he was announcedas the choice of 40 Anbari tribal leaders to lead negotiations. He has rejected the role of politicians such as Saleh al-Mutlak in mediating between the protesters and the government, urgingparliamentarians to distance themselves from the demonstrations. This stance is likely to harden in light of Mutlak’s poor electoral performance and the fact that the political coalition closest to the protest movement, Nujaifi’s Mutahidun, failedto win the most seats in Salah ad-Din and Diyala.

Saadi’s renewed move towards negotiation received the backingof protesters in areas that have seen increasing support for insurgency. Dari al-Dulaimi, a leader of the Tikrit protest camp who declared jihad against the government in the aftermath of Hawija, welcomedSaadi’s initiative, insisting that protesters sought to avoid sedition and bloodshed. In Fallujah, where insurgent groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi (JRTN) have demonstrateda presence at the “Martyrs Square” site, protest media spokesman Mohammed al-Bejari announcedprotesters’ support for Saadi’s negotiation committee. Bejari stated that the protesters sought to “throw the ball in the government’s court,” expressing hope that the government would engage with the initiative “positively and seriously” in order to avoid “more painful” developments in the future.

Despite this enthusiasm for Saadi’s negotiation initiative from at least some sections of more militantly-inclined protests, the cleric faces stiff opposition. On May 16, Anbari tribal leader Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, who has long sought to boost his profile through inflammatory anti-government speeches calling for war, sent tribal forces to surround the headquarters of the Iraqi army in Ramadi after security forces raided his farm. Suleiman dismissed Saadi’s initiative, stating, “we will not accept any talks or negotiations with the government anymore.” Although he styles himself a prominent tribal leader, it is unclear how much support Suleiman actually has. At the same time, however, a wave of car bombings in Baghdad on May 15 that killed or wounded more than 130 people indicates that AQI continues to attempt to inflame sectarian tensions. Even at Ramadi, the symbolic center of the more moderate protest wing, there have been calls for violence against the government and even revolution. As ever, Maliki and the security forces will need to balance responses to genuine threats with patience and self-restraint to prevent another escalation.    

Iraq’s Sunni Arabs remain divided on fundamental questions, particularly whether to work within the political process and whether that work should move towards regional autonomy for Sunni Arab-majority areas. To capitalize on the support he has won from protest factions for negotiations as well as Maliki’s slight diminution in power among Shi‘a parties following the provincial elections, Abd al-Malik al-Saadi will need to bring to the dialogue with the government a set of proposals with which Maliki can engage without further weakening his position among Shi‘a Arabs. Similarly, Maliki will need to approach negotiations constructively, with a view to empowering legitimate Sunni Arab moderates rather than crushing the protest movement that has endured for nearly five months.

Stephen Wicken is a Research Analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

Friday, May 10, 2013

2013 Iraq Update #19: Iraqi Provincial Election Results: Final but not Decisive

By Ahmed Ali

Iraqi 2013 final provincial election results have been released. Overall, Maliki emerged in a strong bargaining position. Additionally, the Shi’a collectively secured a surprising victory against the Sunni Arabs and Kurds in Diyala, and Diyala will be an important test for Iraq. Thus, the announcement sets the stage for an intense period of coalition-building that will ultimately determine the new governors and senior officials in the provinces. 

Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced the final results of the provincial elections on May 4, 2013. Like 2009, no coalition won an outright majority. In fact, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Alliance (SLA) lost over 30% of its total seats across Iraq. Furthermore, SLA no longer has an absolute majority within Baghdad and Basra. Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s under performance in the Provincial elections challenges his majoritarian-government ambition. However, the strong performance of the combined Shi’a coalition in Diyala represents a significant shift in provincial power along ethno-sectarian lines. As well in Salahaddin, where a new local party won the plurality, Maliki may be able to leverage a personal relationship to his advantage.

The results:

Elections took place on April 20 in 12 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. The Kurdish provinces and Kirkuk were exempt, and Ninewa and Anbar elections were delayed until July 4. There wereover 13 million registered voters across the country, and over six million cast their ballots this year, resulting in a 51% turnout. This participation rate is nearly identical to the rateof the 2009 provincial elections. For individual provinces, Baghdad registered the lowest turnout with 33%, and Salahaddin registered the highest with 61%.

As depicted in the graphic above, Maliki’s State of Law Alliance maintained the highest total number of seats in this election. The total dropped from 154 seats to an estimated 102 seats since the last election. Of Iraq’s nine predominantly Shi’a southern provinces and in Baghdad, Maliki’s State of Law Alliance (SLA) came in first place in seven provinces, garnering 97 seats out of 315 seats. Nonetheless, the SLA was not able to capture an outright majority in any province, but maintained a plurality in Basra (16 of 35) and Baghdad (20 of 58). This represents a precipitous decline in Baghdad, from 31 seats in 2009 to 20 in 2013.  

In many cases, in Baghdad, Basra, and Maysan specifically, SLA lost key votes to the other Shi’a coalitions, the Sadrists and Citizen’s Alliance. The Sadrists, who supportedfour electoral coalitions, were able to capture 55 seats in the southern provinces and Baghdad, and a portion of the Shi’a coalition seats in Salahaddin and Diyala. This represents a rise in at least 14 seats as compared to the 2009 elections and a successful electoral strategy. ISCI’s performance among the Iraqi Shi’a parties stands out even further, given ISCI’s decliningpolitical fortunes since the March 2010 elections. In the southern provinces and Baghdad, the Citizen’s Alliance gained at least seven seats. The success of these coalitions is at the expense of Maliki’s SLA, which lost a conservative estimated total of 47 seats.      

In other cases, such as Qadisiyah and Babil, all of the main Shi’a coalitions lost votes to other smaller Shi’a parties. A number of local coalitions were able to perform well. Prominent among them is the performance of the Loyalty to Najaf coalition, which is led by incumbent Najaf governor, Adnan Al-Zorfi. His coalition had 4 seats in the outgoing provincial council and won 9 in these elections. This is evidence of his popularity within the province. 

 Elections were also held in Salahaddin and Diyala, where Sunni participation was concentrated, given the delay in elections in Anbar and Ninewa. In Salahaddin, the Iraqiyya Masses Alliance, which is led by the provincial governor, Ahmed Al-Juburi, garnered 7 seats out of 29. The Iraqiyah Masses Alliance was a new party in these elections, and it won a plurality in Salahaddin over the major Shi’a and Sunni coalitions. It was followed by Mutahidun, which is led by prominent Iraqi Sunni politician and speaker of the Council of Representatives, Osama Al-Nujaifi. Al-Juburi is perceived to be close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but this does not appear to have hindered him in these elections despite the ongoing anti-government protest movement. This may present a post-election opportunity for Maliki to exert influence in Salahaddin.

In Baghdad and Salahaddin, it appears very likely that Mutahidun was able to capitalize on its anti-Maliki stance to win seven seats as compared to Saleh al-Mutlag’s Arab Iraqiyya, which lost seats across the board. Al-Mutlag has been working more closely with Maliki as compared to other Iraqi Sunni politicians. His relative performance in Baghdad in particular may be the result of his close relations to Maliki. In Diyala and Babil, al-Mutlag formed coalitions with al-Nujaifi. Together, they won a new seat in Babil sustained 10 seats in Diyala. Diyala represented a loss to both on account of the strong performance of the combined Shi’a coalition.

Diyala was the game-changing province in these elections. In 2009, Mutahidun, Arab Iraqiyya, and the Kurdish coalition held 21 of 29 seats. In 2013, the major Shi’a coalitions combined forces to achieve a plurality of 12 seats, where only three seats had gone to State of Law before. In combination, Mutahidun and Arab Iraqiyya were able to hold on to ten seats while Ayad Allawi’s party retained two seats, but the Kurds were reduced from six seats to three. The Kurds also lost two seats in Salahaddin. This shift in power in Diyala is drastic. The Shi’a now hold 12 seats, the Sunni Arabs now hold 12 seats, and the Kurds now hold three. Because of this, coalition-building is likely to be more arduous than in other provinces. Diyala’s volatile past, including its status as the former capital of the Islamic State of Iraq, makes the province a critical bell-weather for political participation across the country.

Final certified results are to be announcedby May 17. The elected council members will have 45 days after that to elect provincial council chairs and governors. An absolute majority of votes is needed to fill both positions. The results dictate that political coalitions have to cooperate in order to form governments. To that end, talks are underway to form governing coalitions. ISCI in particular is reaping the rewards of its political revival. Its major decision remains about whether it will choose to join forces with the Sadrists in order to isolate Maliki. At any rate, it is early to determine the shape of the governing-coalitions. But it will be difficult for Maliki’s local allies to form majority governments. Maliki and his SLA emerge from the elections forced to reconsider their strategy. Maliki backedproposals to amend the de-Ba’athification laws. This may have negatively impacted his electoral performance. That may explain why the SLA has been reluctant to push for amending the de-Ba’athification laws.  

Moving forward, the shape of the governing coalitions will provide early indications of electoral alignments for the 2014 elections. This is especially important for the Iraqi Shi’a parties who will be poised to compete for Iraq’s top executive position, the premiership. As violence continues to escalate in the midst of a volatile anti-government protest movement, it is imperative for Maliki and his cabinet to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in all provinces.            

Ahmed Ali is an Iraq Research Analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.       

Friday, May 3, 2013

2013 Iraq Update #18B: Protesters Divided as Kurds Hand Maliki A Lifeline

May 3, 2013

By Stephen Wicken and Ahmed Ali

Moderate Sunni Arab protest leaders continue to renounce violent confrontation with security forces and advocate negotiation with the Maliki government. Anbari protesters remain fundamentally divided, however, with Ramadi the site of calls for negotiation and Fallujah the site of calls for jihad. Meanwhile, the agreement signed between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) allows Maliki breathing space, although it may not produce long term results.

Ramadi Protesters Endorse Negotiation as Fallujah Calls for Jihad

Anti-government protests continued in Sunni Arab-majority areas of Iraq on May 3 despite rumors that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had set the day as a deadline for the protesters to “end or transfer” their demonstrations. Stepping into this situation, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak once more sought to portray himself as the Maliki government’s mediator with the protesters. On May 2, Mutlak travelled to Anbar, where he met Governor Fahdawi, Anbari tribal leader Ahmed Abu Risha, Mutahidun MP Ahmed al-Alwani, and members of Anbar Provincial Council.

After emerging from the meeting, Anbar Governor Qassim Mohammed al-Fahdawi denied the rumors of a deadline, insisting that they were being spread to exacerbate tensions. Abu Risha also insisted that no deadline had been communicated and that the talks had not concerned ending or moving the protests. The protests would continue in the same place until protesters’ demands had been achieved, Abu Risha added, but the Ramadi protest was now more disciplined and would not allow armed or masked people to enter.

Sunni Arab tribal leaders have continued to stress the need to avoid confrontations with security forces. A tribal council in Salah ad-Din rejected the formation of tribal militias on May 3, stressing its support for and solidarity with security forces. The implementation of protesters’ demands, the tribal leaders insisted, would “pull the rug from under the feet of critics of Iraq’s unity.” To that end, Abu Risha announced on May 2 that “the majority of Anbar’s protesters” had chosen senior Sunni cleric Abd al-Malik al-Saadi to negotiate with the government on their behalf. Saadi has long been a proponent of moderation and negotiation, despite a statement he made in the aftermath of the Hawija attack that appeared to endorse self-defense in the event of raids on protests by security forces. Saadi’s mandate for negotiation was reiterated by 40 Anbari tribal leaders who issued a statement on May 3 denouncing “armed manifestations” and calling for the punishment of all who spill “innocent Iraqi blood” whether civilian or military. At the same time, however, the tribal leaders demanded the withdrawal of security forces from cities and insisted on the right to continue peaceful protest and prayer, with protection to be provided by local police. The tribal leaders also refused to hand over to security forces the three protest leaders accused of involvement in the killing of five soldiers in Ramadi on April 28.

As to the likely demands that Saadi might transmit, leading Mutahidun figure Ahmed al-Alwani, whose Ramadi residence has hosted meetings of protest organizers, stated on May 3 that a “negotiation committee” of Anbar demonstrators had the following demands: the suspension of executions; the adoption of an amnesty law; and the delivery of members of the security forces who killed protesters in Fallujah and Mosul. A spokesman for the political bureau of the Ramadi protest committee, Abd al-Razzaq al-Shammari, also echoed the demand that all military and federal police units should withdraw from Ramadi.   

The Council of Iraqi Scholars, the group of moderate senior Sunni clerics that Abd al-Malik al-Saadi formed in 2007 to isolate radical Sunni clerics, announced in a “Friday of Open Options” sermon on May 3 that the only appealing option was for Sunni Arabs to pursue regional autonomy within Iraq. Insisting that the group was not “against the rule of the Shi‘a in Iraq” but simply opposed to Maliki and his designs on dictatorship, and implying that the Kurds had abandoned the Sunni Arabs by returning to government, the group proposed that the Sunni be allowed under the constitution “to judge ourselves by ourselves and decide our destiny in our hands.” The alternative – which, the group noted, no “sane and honest” person would prefer – is civil war. Saadi is no longer a member of the Council of Iraqi Scholars, having resigned soon after its establishment complaining that the group was too tied to the political realm. However, he has continued to associate with the Fiqh Council of Iraq, a body tiedto the Council of Iraqi Scholars with the mission of “guiding the nation.” Saadi has not endorsed federalism in Sunni Arab areas himself – should he do so in his role as negotiator with the Maliki government, he is likely to face serious pushback from both the government and a significant element of Sunni Arab Iraqis.

The question of regional autonomy within a federal Iraq is a deeply controversial one that carries negative connotations for Iraq’s Sunni and Shi‘a Arabs alike. Former Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi noted on May 2 that public opinion in Anbar and Ninewa was split on federalism. On May 3, protesters in Fallujah threw bottles at preacher Ahmed Abd Ali after he demanded the establishment of an Anbari federal region. Fallujah has continued to host militant protesters at the “Martyrs Square” site, calling for jihad and waving the flag the Islamic State of Iraq, al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) front group. The Free Iraq Uprising, a protest group that on April 24 announced it was part of the Ba‘athist insurgent group Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi (JRTN), has also consolidated its presence at the Fallujah camp. The area around Fallujah continues to see clashes between police and militants in a security environment far less stable than that of the larger protest at Ramadi. An attempt by security forces to raid the Fallujah camp, as they did the Hawija protest where the Free Iraq Uprising also had a strong presence, would certainly result in violent confrontation. In Ramadi, by contrast, protest leaders have been successful in preventing further escalation; should they lose control of the protests, or should Maliki attempt to end them by force, the symbolism of an attack on the more moderate protesters would likely have a greater galvanizing effect on Sunni Arabs across Iraq.

Iraqi Kurds Hand Maliki a Lifeline

Iraqi Kurdish ministers returned to the May 2 cabinet meeting after an understanding was signed between the federal government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to address outstanding issues between the two sides. Maliki and KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani signed a paper of principles on April 29. It will serve as a framework for further dialogue and negotiations as joint committees will be set up to address the following 7 points: 

  • Hydrocarbons issues: The KRG has independently signed over 40 oil contracts that the Iraqi government views as a violation of its sovereignty. Complicating matters between the federal government and the KRG is the absence of an oil and gas law that governs those contracts and their revenue. To solve that issue, both sides have agreed to form a committee to work on such a law. 

  • Fiscal issues: The 2013 federal budget was passed in the Iraqi parliament without the Iraqi Kurdish vote, leading to a boycott of the political process in Baghdad by the Iraqi Kurds. According to the new agreement, the 2013 budget will be amended. Presumably, this means the KRG will receive more funds with which to pay oil companies operating in Iraqi Kurdistan. It remains to be seen whether the Iraqi Kurds will raise again the question of their share (17%) of the federal budget.

  • Security: The security situation in the mixed areas has been chronically troubling with attacks by AQI and JRTN in addition to tensions between the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi security forces. For the KRG, the presence of the Dijla, Ninewa, and Al-Jazeera Operations Commands is a challenge and a threat. The agreement stipulates that the issue of those operation commands will be addressed. Additionally, security affairs in areas with disputed internal boundaries will be managed between Baghdad and Arbil. 

  • Article 140: This article is enshrined in the Iraqi constitution to address the status of areas that witnessed administrative changes during the Saddam Hussein’s rule. That includes the oil-rich Kirkuk province as well as border areas in Diyala and Ninewa provinces. Both sides will work to ratify a law demarcating the boundaries of these areas.

  • Sovereignty issues: Since 1991, the KRG has exercised autonomy in granting visas to visitors of the region. The KRG’s ability to invite foreigners has been enhanced since the opening of the Arbil and Sulimaniyah airports. Maliki and the federal government have been critical of this arrangement, positing that the federal government should be involved in the process. According to the agreement, the federal government and the KRG will jointly work on the issue.

  • Legacy issues: The federal government will offer compensation to Iraqi Kurds affected by chemical weapons attacks and other anti-Kurdish operations committed by Saddam’s government.

  • Cooperation: To consolidate relations between the federal government and Baghdad, both sides will appoint representatives to their respective areas.        

Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani endorsed the signing of the framework and decided along with other Iraqi Kurdish parties to send the Iraqi Kurdish Members of the Iraqi Parliament to attend its session next week session. This support boosts the agreement due to Barzani’s preeminence in Iraqi Kurdish politics and decision-making. Barzani’s position will be consolidated further if Maliki visits Arbil and convenes a cabinet meeting there. Despite the fact that the Baghdad-Arbil negotiations have been ongoing, the opening with the KRG provides Maliki breathing space as he manages an escalating Iraqi Sunni discontent. It remains to be seen if this opening will be sustained as events on the ground evolve and have previously manifested their capability to overtake positive developments. Historically, Baghdad-Arbil openings have proven to be tactical and not strategic.          


Moderate Sunni Arab figures are rejecting violence vocally and the Iraqi Kurds have returned to government, suggesting that Iraq’s ongoing crisis may have reached a plateau. On the ground, however, self-restraint on the part of the Iraqi security forces will be essential to preventing a recurrence of the Hawija operation, particularly as AQI, JRTN, and other militants will continue to seek to pull security forces into confrontation. Government efforts to engage with protesters’ demands – such as those of Saleh al-Mutlak, for all that they are likely motivated by political calculations – will have to be sustained and seen as credible by protesters to succeed. Similarly, serious engagement on the points of agreement between Baghdad and Arbil will be essential to prevent the creation of another showdown between the two governments, and particularly between their security forces on the ground. Equally, a Kurdish deal with Maliki that leads to a majority government that excludes Sunni Arabs will be destabilizing. After all, the underlying issues that spurred an explosion of ethnosectarian tensions remain deep, and can easily override temporary de-escalation.

Stephen Wicken and Ahmed Ali are Research Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War.   

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

2013 Iraq Update #18: Maliki Continues to Target Protesters and Calls for Majority Rule

May 1, 2013

By Stephen Wicken

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has declared a majoritarian government is the only political solution in Iraq. He has continued to send security forces to intimidate and harass Sunni Arab protest leaders, forcing them to negotiate to prevent or witness a repeat of last week’s violence in Hawija.

The situation in Iraq remains tense, one week after the attack by Iraqi Security Forces of a protest camp at Hawija. The Hawija incident sparked a wave of reactionary protests and violent incidents across Iraq’s Northern provinces, reflecting a mélange of sectarian, ethnic, and anti-government themes. Iraqi Security Forces under the control of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have attempted repeatedly to arrest organizers of anti-government protests. Militant groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) continue to conduct attacks in order to ignite sectarian tensions, though elements of local Sunni Arab leadership appear to be trying to avoid stand-offs with Iraqi Security Forces that Maliki has sent their way. Maliki’s actions hold new significance in conjunction with Maliki’s renewed statement that “there is no solution to the political process in Iraq but to resort to the national political majority.” Rather than merely to contain a potential security crisis, Maliki may be able to capitalize upon the limited options that are left to Iraqi Sunni leaders to express grievances without igniting violence.

Threatening to repeat his actions in Hawija, Maliki deployed a significant security force to Ramadi on April 29. Ramadi protest spokesman Abd al-Razzaq al-Shammari announced that a military convoy comprising 120 vehicles was heading from Baghdad to Ramadi with the intention of storming the protest site that night. To deter an attack on the protest, said Shammari, a number of Anbari politicians and leaders, including former Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi, tribal leader Ahmed Abu Risha, Anbari Iraqi Islamic Party MP Ahmed al-Alwani, and Anbar Provincial Council Chairman Jassim al-Halbusi, had decided to spend the night at the protest camp “in order to prevent a repeat of the Hawija scenario.” Anbar Provincial Council Vice Chairman Saadoun al-Shalan stated subsequently on April 30 that the provincial council and protest representatives had reached an agreement with Anbar Operations Command for local police to return to “protect the sit-in site” and “end all armed manifestations” at the camp. Under the agreement, police would be allowed to enter the protest site and arrest wanted individuals. The chairman of the provincial council’s security committee, Hikmat Edayeh, subsequently announced that local police had entered the protest site, accompanied by committee members. In contrast with the raid on the Hawija protest camp, the police found no weapons at Ramadi.

Deterred from raiding the Ramadi protest itself, Maliki then targeted a number of its key leaders at the home of Ahmed al-Alwani. On April 30, Anbar Operations Command offered a reward of 100 million dinars (more than $86,000) for the delivery of Ramadi protest spokesmen Said al-Lafi and Qusai al-Zain, and Ahmed Abu Risha’s nephew, Mohammed Khamis Abu Risha. The three were accused of involvement in the shooting of five soldiers near the Ramadi camp on April 27. A Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and police forces then attempted to storm the Alwani’s Ramadi residence – a common meeting place for Ramadi protest leaders – to arrest tribal leader Mohammed Abu Risha and Said al-Lafi. According to Alwani, the MP’s guards surrounded the house, forcing the security personnel to withdraw. Reports conflict on whether there was contact between security forces and guards. One source claimed that two SWAT team members were killed, although other sources stated that only warning shots were fired. The SWAT team ultimately withdrew without making arrests.

Salah ad-Din was also the site of a raid on protest leadership by security forces. On April 28, a SWAT team was redeployed from Diwaniyah to Tikrit to support the security effort in Salah ad-Din, where security forces were involved in a stand-off with gunmen on April 26. On April 30, security forces arrested Samarra protest leader and preacher Mohammed Taha Hamdoun on his way to the protest camp. Hamdoun was released after three hours and returned to the protest site, where he was greeted warmly.

The avoidance of repeated clashes between Sunni Arabs and the security forces is due in part to attempts by tribal and provincial leaders to cooperate with the army and police to isolate militants in Sunni-majority areas. Anbar Provincial Council has been playing a key role in defusing tensions at Ramadi. On April 30, Provincial Council Chairman Halbusi announced that Anbari tribes had handed over 16 suspected AQI members to the police, including “eight prominent members representing the al-Qaeda generation of the 2003-2005 period.” In Salah ad-Din, a tribal council with past ties to the Maliki government publicly rejected the formation of tribal militias. In Kirkuk province, moreover, tribal representatives from the Hawija area signed an agreement stipulating support for the security forces and prohibiting attacks on federal troops, a copy of which was to be sent to the government to demonstrate good faith. Such agreements demonstrate the desire of these tribal leaders to distance themselves from militants groups such as AQI and Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi (JRTN), the latter of which has a historic base in the Kirkuk area and has been successful in drawing security forces into confrontation. Tribal leaders are not unanimously in favor of compromise, however – Anbari leader Ali Hatem al-Suleiman was reported to have vowed to respond with force if security forces stormed the Ramadi protest site.

A number of bombings targeting Shi‘a areas and attacks on members of the anti-AQI Awakening movement, however, suggest that AQI continues to seek to exacerbate sectarian tensions. On April 29, car bombs in the predominantly Shi‘a towns of Amarah (Maysan), Diwaniyah (Qadisiyah), and Karbala, as well as in the Shi‘a neighborhood of predominantly Sunni town of Mahmoudiyah, just south of Baghdad, killed at least 26 civilians and wounded dozens more. A bomb at a coffee shop in the mixed town of Muqdadiyah (Diyala), historically part of AQI’s area of operations, killed another civilian and wounded nine more, while another car bomb in the Shi‘a-majority Baghdad neighborhood of Husseiniyah killed four civilians. Meanwhile, on May 1, a suicide bomber assassinated 12 Awakening members at their barracks east of Fallujah; another Awakening member and two policemen were wounded by gunmen in an attack on a checkpoint at a village north of Baghdad. These events indicate that AQI will continue to target Iraqi Shi‘a and moderate Sunni in order to exacerbate sectarian tensions, hijack protests, and provoke responses from security forces and Shi‘a militant groups in mixed areas.

Responses to the week’s events in the national political realm suggest that the security crisis and Maliki’s recent actions will either to end in exclusion of significant Sunni participation in government or in negotiated settlement that legitimizes majoritarian rule. On April 29, Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi proposed a set of demands involving the resignation of the Maliki government and the dissolution of parliament, to be followed by new parliamentary elections. Nujaifi’s proposal echoes that of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who made an identical call for Maliki to resign in January. Nujaifi’s suggestion may be regarded as an opening volley for negotiations, but is unlikely to meet with greater success than Allawi’s.

Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, one of Maliki’s few Sunni allies in recent months, immediately rejected the possibility of early elections. Mutlak is in a difficult position, having gambled heavily on returning to Maliki’s government in March only for provisional provincial election results to demonstrate his lack of popularity among Sunni Arabs in Salah ad-Din, Diyala, and Baghdad. This, in turn, may limit his appeal as a partner in the “national political majority” government that Maliki once again called for on May 1.

The Kurdistan Alliance announced the same day that its ministers would return to cabinet sessions this week, and its MPs will return to parliament next week. The details of Maliki’s agreement with the Kurds to bring them back into government have yet to be released. The timing of the return, however, following closely upon the release of provisional provincial election results that suggest that Maliki will lose some provincial council seats compared to 2009, indicates that Maliki has discerned a renewed need for Kurdish support as he approaches a majority government. Saleh al-Mutlak, meanwhile, is now attempting to maneuver delicately, presenting himself once more as a legitimate Sunni Arab representative in announcing that excessive force was used against protesters at Hawija, while opposing early elections.  

The immediate aftermath of the Hawija incident demonstrated the depth and breadth of ethno-sectarian tension in northern and western Iraq. It also demonstrated Maliki’s willingness to deploy ISF into protest camps and to target influential Sunni personalities, as well as the willingness of many Sunni Arab leaders to negotiate in order to avoid clashes with ISF. Sunni Arab leaders are torn between the need to address longstanding popular grievances and systematic political marginalization and the need to prevent extended conflict with Maliki’s security forces. The latter desire may cause some Iraqi Sunni to tolerate a move by Maliki to cement a majoritarian government. It may also cause a vocal minority to identify with AQI and JRTN, such that protests diminish and attacks against civilian and government targets increase in the coming months.

Stephen Wicken is a Research Analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.