Background on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Abu-bakr-al-Baghdadi

Newsweek released a profile on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi this week and several useful bits of information came to light. Some of my quotes were based on an assessment of him I wrote recently:

I highly doubt the claim that he was an active militant before 2003 (see Bruce Riedel’s claim) as we have seen very little evidence of any Iraqis being involved with jihadist groups before the US invasion. The claim that he is from the Badri family in Samarra has not been refuted so far but my limited research has not yielded any confirmation from Baghdad’s universities and colleges that a man with such a name obtained a doctorate from there as his supporters claim. Reports that he was a preacher at one of Samarra’s mosques have only been found in daesh propaganda and ‘biographies’ of him but I highly doubt he was a person of any repute, capability or credentials pre-2003 (partly because he was too young). I would not be surprised if he was not even a religious person as most of the Iraqis who became involved in jihadist groups were secular Baathists before 2003. I’m sure he served in the Iraqi army at some point (compulsory service) so had some basic military training and expect that he had good links with the Baathist security apparatus pre and post 2003 (partly through relatives), and came into contact with individuals who were actively forming cells based on models of Zarqawi’s JTJ to destabilise Iraq (which were largely based north of Baghdad and south of Samarra), which led to the formation of JJASJ of which he is claimed to have been a part.

The Americans detained him for most of 2004 in Camp Bucca as a ‘civilian internee’ which means he was linked to a terrorist group but not caught actively engaged in terrorist activities. They released him because he seemingly posed no threat at the time which again shows that he was not a notable figure at the time. It is known that radicalisation took place in Bucca (several daesh leaders were held there at the same time before eventual release) so Baghdadi’s rise began with his detainment where he met his future network and collaborators. The abuses at Abu Ghraib, the success of Zarqawi, the discontent of the Sunnis areas of Iraq would all have presented an opportunity for him to build on his new career as an insurgent. As an Iraqi he would be better able to coordinate with locals than foreigners which would explain his rise to prominence but most reports point to him only being a member of the sharia committees of JJASJ, then MSM, and then ISI, not as a commander of note. Because he was pretty much unknown between 2005-2010 I would not be surprised if he was held shortly at some point by the Iraqis and it is claimed that he was the MSM commander for the town of Rawa in Anbar province, and that he facilitated the entry of foreign fighters from Syria and Saudi Arabia into Iraq through that area. He probably has lived in Baghdad and Mosul at some point during these past few years but very few people got to meet him and those that did saw him wearing a mask. This was partly because of security (his predecessors and peers were all killed using tip-offs and intel) but I think he used the period 2010-2014 to beef up his religious knowledge and to build an aura of mystery around his character. His Friday prayer appearance showed a calm individual whose use of the Qur’an reflects a level of training and education that had prepared him for the occasion. His recorded audio speeches are edgier though and his dealings with JAN and AQ have shown that he views himself as superior and has a hint of disdain for non-Iraqis. The photos of him from his detainment in 2004 and the one released by the Iraqi Interior ministry earlier this year to me show an ambitious terrorist not a caliph. Baghdadi is a man who revels in his position as the world’s top terrorist and sees himself as the successor to Bin Laden. When he arrived in Camp Bucca he was scared and looking for a way out, now he commands a semi-functional ‘state’ and its army. His transformation was complete when he appeared in Mosul as the ‘caliph’ but it is obvious that much effort has gone into this over the years. Very little is known about his character and personal life but it is said that he is ruthless in his dealings, and quiet in person. He has at least two wives and is known to distance himself from all except very few trusted individuals. Paranoia dictates his behaviour and routine but the organisation around him has evolved without much direction from him, thereby leaving him as a useful figurehead without the danger of operational duties.

In summary, once you remove all the mystique and grandeur the ‘caliph’ turns out to be a rather ordinary man who saw his opportunity and took it. He is no different from the hundreds of other Iraqis who attempted to destroy the new Iraq and could have ended up as either violent criminal or faceless terrorist but instead now finds himself at the centre of the world’s attention. And both he and those around him will ensure it stays that way.

Posted in Iraq | Leave a comment

Thoughts on the Federal/KRG deal

In response to questions of how significant the deal is and whether this is the end of confrontation between Baghdad and Erbil:

The deal itself is especially significant because of the timing. The PM promised when forming the new government that he would resolve the dispute with the KRG within 3 months and he has managed that. The Baghdad-KRG dispute has been going on for a number of years but with the threat the whole country is facing it was essential that a deal was struck in order to reduce financial pressures and also present a united political and military front against daesh. Abadi has shown that his government can get things done and the Kurds have shown that they are willing to compromise in order to continue as part of the Federal Iraq.

This is not the end of the confrontation because there are several outstanding issues between the federal and regional government, and even the oil export deal has some details to be confirmed. This does reduce tensions and also is the most significant issue that could have been resolved at this time, so it has set the right tone for further engagement to resolve other disagreements. Both sides have gained and both sides are more optimistic going forward, so a significant step but not the final one.

Posted in Iraq | Leave a comment

Agreement by political blocs to form new Iraqi government

On Sunday 7th September 2014 an agreement was made between the major political blocs in Iraq that led to the formation of the new Iraqi government. The official document is published by the Cabinet Office in Baghdad, which includes deadlines for key issues to be resolved/implemented. On the 8th of September the PM designate Haider al-Abadi presented his government’s program to the Council of Representatives for approval, which received the vote of confidence along with the ministerial candidates. The preamble to the program is here, the ‘strategic priorities’ for the ministries here, and the 2014-2018 government program is here. These documents are the basis of the unity government and will be used as a reference for any dispute that may arise, and what Abadi’s government should be judged on.

A colleague has helpfully provided an English summary of the political blocs agreement and government program respectively:

Political agreement between blocs of the national unity government 2014

Implement a comprehensive program to address outstanding issues in a manner that is entirely in accordance with the principles of the constitution:

1)     Form an inclusive government with a decision making process that espouses team spirit and partnership between all political stakeholders.

2)     Pursue national reconciliation program. General amnesty for those who have not shed Iraqi blood and justice for the victims of terror; depoliticise the debathification process by ending the work of the Accountability and Justice Committee and refer all outstanding cases to the courts to determine; amend the counterterrorism law. 6 MONTHS

3)     All polticial blocs agree to stand together to fight terrorism and liberate all territories occupied by ISIL. All arms and armed units should be under the direct control of the formal state security apparatus in accordance with Article 9(i) of the constitution.

4)     Rehabilitate and rebuild towns that have been devasted by violence and damaged by military operations through establishment of  a  reconstruction fund in coordination with international organizations; provide adequate humanitarian relief to displaced persons until they are able to safely return to their homes.

5)     New approach to security management by raising the professionalism of the Iraqi Security Forces and ensuring that they are representative of all segments of Iraqi society so that all Iraqis can participate in the liberation of Iraq from ISIL. 6 MONTHS

6)     Continue to incorporate volunteers into armed units and introduce new legislation to establish national guards at the provincial level consisting of locals who will serve as reservists to bolster army units, in addition to playing a central role in security management on the provincial level. 3 MONTHS

7)     Combat corruption by implementing a new strategy that begins by reassessing the state’s anti-corruption mechanisms and introducing new measures to reform the country’s bureaucracy.

8)     Ensuring fair representation and participation of all Iraqis within state institutions as stipulated by the constitution by introducing legislation to establish the Federal Public Service Council that will oversee the employment of civil servants in a manner that does not discriminate or exclude Iraqis on the basis of sect or ethnicity. 6 MONTHS

9)     Commitment to safeguarding the independence of the judiciary primarily through passing legislation that governs the Federal Court and Supreme Judicial Council. 6 MONTHS

10)  Commitment to a constructive relationship with the legislature to ensure that parliament can play a positive role; amend the internal regulations of parliament. 3 months

11)  Ensure democratic procedures within the Council of Ministers by approving the internal regulations of the Council of Ministers. 3 MONTHS

12)  Resolve outstanding disputes over the status of independent bodies and institutions.

13)  Resolve outstanding disputes over revenue streams of the religious Waqfs. 6 MONTHS

14)  Commitment to upholding human rights within all state institutions including the protection of all citizens from abuse and violations; complete establishment of the Human Rights Commission; pass bill on freedom of opinion and expression. 3 MONTHS

15)  Introduce legislation and laws to govern the rights and responsibilities between central, regional and local governments in a manner that safeguards the unity of Iraq; pass legislation for the Federal Council and the Commission on Allocation of Federal Revenues. 6 MONTHS

16)  Resolve outstanding revenue sharing disputes between the central government and the KRG by passing a hydrocarbons law. 6 MONTHS

17)  Commitment from the central government to immediately resume budget payments to the KRG in return for a commitment from the KRG to export oil from the Kurdistan Region through the federal system. 1 MONTH

18)  Find an acceptable resolution to Kirkuk and the disputed territories for all the residents in line with Article 140 of the constitution. 1 YEAR

19)  Provision of adequate support for the Peshmerga within the framework of the national guards. 3 MONTHS

20) Activate the committee responsible for revising the constitution in accordance with Article 142. 3 MONTHS

Iraqi Government Program

Security and counterterrorism

-       Commitment to ensure that the state establishes a monopoly on the use of arms and that all armed groups are under direct command of the formal state security apparatus.

-       Ensuring that Iraqi Security Forces are committed to protecting citizens.

-       Rally international support to combat terrorism in Iraq.

-       Work to achieve security and stability of Iraq and the protection of its strategic facilities.

-        Rebuilding  a professional and efficient armed forces that represents all segments of Iraqi society.

Foreign Policy

- Concerted efforts to pursue foreign relations on the basis of mutual interests, with a particular focus on security and counterterrorism cooperation.

-  Commitment to promoting friendly relations with all neighbors based on the principle of  non-interference in domestic affairs of others.

Administrative reform

-       Implement administration decentralization through an overhaul of administrative and bureaucratic procedures.

-       Introduce a comprehensive plan to overhaul civil and military institutions in order to root out corruption and enhance efficiency and productivity of the government by introducing e-government.

-       Utilize local and international expertise to enhance policy planning mechanisms.

-       Establish a strong working relationship with the Council of Representatives to cooperate and coordinate on legislative and supervisory matters.

-       Resolving financial, administrative and legal disputes through the proper constitutional and legal channels rather than resorting to political deals.

Economic reform and development

-       Implement a comprehensive strategy to encourage sustainable development as outlined by Iraq’s National Development Plan 2013-2017.

-       Shift focus towards private sector development and promote investment in variety of sectors.

-       Raising the standard of public services and quality of life for all citizens with a focus on health, education, electricity and transportation infrastructures.

-       Continue to increase oil and gas production and oil export capacity to bolster economic growth.

-       Introduce economic and financial reform package with the aim of transitioning to a market economy.

-        Modernize financial management systems and budgetary spending.

Political reform and social welfare

-       Commitment to the principles outlined in the formal compact agreed upon by political blocs participating in the unity government.

-       Establishing policies on energy and finance that lead to fair distribution of wealth.

-       Depoliticize state institutions and promote equal employment opportunities for all Iraqis with a view to ensuring fair representation of all segments of Iraqi society within state institutions.

-       Firm commitment to uphold principles of human rights within all state institutions including the protection of citizens from violations and abuse.

-       Commitment to resolve all outstanding issues with the Kurdistan Region as well as other political partners that is wholly in line with the constitution.

-       Strengthening the role of women and civil society in the public domain.

Posted in Iraq | Leave a comment

Comments to a journalist

A few days ago I was asked to comment on what the daesh (ISIS) strategies are and what effect the US led coalition would have by a leading journalist for a British newspaper. Below are my original comments as I sent to him, in response to some questions, so they may appear a bit random:

Saudi has shown itself of being barely able to contain terrorism within its borders and certainly a sizeable chunk of fighters, recruiters, funding, support, preachers for ISIS has come from Saudi the country, though probably not the govt or monarchy. Their deradicalization programs have not been hugely successful and the preaching of jihadist ideology is in Saudi, not Egypt or elsewhere. Saudi is an intolerant country, my guess is Obama wants Western leaning Syrian rebels to be trained in Saudi and not Islamist ones, which is a strange mix: using the strict, Salafi based nation where a lot of jihadists and ideology comes from to train Western leaning and secular rebels. Doesn’t seem to be a smart move, can’t think of any positive results likely.

As for examples of mistrust, Iraq was and still is mistrustful of Syria, they believe Assad allowed Baathists to use Syria as a base and allowed foreign suicide bombers to come into Iraq through Syria in order to destabilise it. The govt had wanted Assad to tackle ISIS and recognise that their presence is being taken advantage of by Assad to weaken the FSA and other rebel groups.

The Arab states are mistrustful of any Shia led government in Iraq because they believe it to be too close to Iran and will serve their interests above all. Iraq has fallen fully under the Iranian sphere of influence and the Arab states cannot allow that to remain. Iraq is mistrustful of Arab states because they believe they will never allow a Shia led state to be in place and are finding ways to destabilise Iraq in order to bring back the Sunnis to power.

ISIS would dearly love for Western troops to be deployed to Iraq. That would bring it more recruits, justify some of their actions to the Muslim world, and give their jihadist cause more legitimacy. ISIS has studied the situation, saw how the Maliki led govt was disliked by the West and knows there is much rivalry among the forces fighting it. Above all it has been able to provoke sectarianism and the involvement of the militias means any meaningful alliance against ISIS will either not happen or fall apart quickly. ISIS are strategic, they are not thugs, their leaders are smart and know how to sow discord between its enemies. Remember in Syria ISIS was much hated by the other groups and much weaker but now it has dominated them because they were able to cause friction and avoid head on conflict as much as possible. Fear and propaganda have been their biggest weapons.

Based on this I do not see the defeat of ISIS at the hands of a coalition made of rivals who have much dislike for each other. I think the US recognises this and so the strategy will be one of containment, degradation, and limitation. ISIS knows this too, so is looking for a long term campaign of survival, entrenchment, and influence. Look at the Taliban as an example of how you can outlast your enemies despite their superiority.

The American and Iranians did not cooperate directly in Amerli, it was through the Iraqi intermediaries and both needed to act in Amerli for differing reasons but in essence to save the Shia under siege there. I think the non-aggression pact is now implicit as part of the nuclear negotiations, but that will not stop from either side regularly reminding each other (through very limited actions that they will claim deniability for) that they are willing to go military against each other. The threat of ISIS is forcing states and actors to work with each other but I don’t think that will change views or lead to tolerance or trust in each other. Temporary alliance but not a long term change in attitudes. As you say, my enemy’s enemy is my friend. But there is another saying that your enemy today may be your friend tomorrow, and your friend today may be your enemy tomorrow.

I know they have been self-financed for nearly a year now. The methods they use are: extortion and racketeering, ransoms, taxes, sales of seized goods and property, oil smuggling, robbery of cash, bartering. I’ve also heard that they traffick people/sell them, conduct weapons sales, and are involved in drugs sales and smuggling. They also took jewellery from the Assyrians and sold/auctioned it. They’ve taken over farms, land, homes which they use as investments.

| Leave a comment

The fake sheikh: Why the media repeat Ali Hatem’s false ‘claim’

Ali Hatem Sleiman. Credit: SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

From his hotel lobby in Erbil he appears on TV screens in crisp white attire, like an Iraqi Lawrence of Arabia. In fact his delusions of grandeur are almost as good as Peter O’Toole’s acting. But this ‘crown prince’, as one media outlet referred to him, is only a charlatan, who has time on his hands and some powerful sponsors. Ali Hatem Sleiman claims to be the leader of Iraq’s largest super-tribe, the Dulaim, which maybe number over 3 million members, and is a confederation of hundreds of tribes each with their own tribal elders and nominal leader. None of these recognise that Ali Hatem is the leader of the confederation yet somehow Hatem has managed to have his claim accepted as fact in the media, both Arab and foreign.

The issue of the tribal leader is overstated since the role does not exist practically, because the Dulaim confederation is not a single cohesive unit. A majority of the tribes in Anbar are part of the Dulaim confederation, yet each tribe has its own policies, such as fighting alongside the Iraqi security forces, or holding uneasy agreements with ISIS, as has been the case for the past decade.

To compound the point that Hatem is just for show, Hatem’s own great-uncles, who are actually recognised as leaders of the Dulaim, disowned him. Joel Wing, Iraq analyst at the blog Musings On Iraq, describes Hatem: “He is an opportunist. He aligned with the Anbar Awakening, the Americans, Prime Minister Maliki, the Anbar protests and now the insurgency all in his pursuit of personal power in Iraq. These moves have all failed him as today he holds no office, apparently has no real followers, and his own tribe ended up disowning him for his inflammatory statements.”

Even US officials, thanks to Wikileaks, are shown to know exactly who Ali Hatem really is, and made the deal with the devil.

Kirk H. Sowell, a political risk analyst and the publisher of Inside Iraqi Politics, has studied the various groups of the ‘tribal revolutionaries’ and says: “We find no evidence Hatem has any substantial military organization, and aside from his personal guards, and he may not have any at all. He is a pan-Arab media star and from what we can tell, nothing more. His group is called the ‘Arab Tribes Revolutionary Council’ and no one seems to be fighting on their behalf.”

But not only is Hatem just a façade, he has actually caused much infighting and discord among the tribes themselves. In fact a gathering of Ramadi tribal leaders passed a tribal death sentence on Hatem, referring to him as a criminal.

The poster boy is always highly sought after by the media, someone dashing and able to roll off top-notch sound bites on demand, and Hatem fits the criteria to the dot. He’s worked with the Americans before, he ‘fought’ al-Qaeda so has a badge of honour, he is the ‘leader’ of a large Sunni Arab ‘tribe’, and he is available pretty much all the time, perfect for filing a story the desk chief is breathing down your neck for. So if he claims he is the tribal leader, that’s what you write after his name, without the word claimed of course. As Joel Wing says: “Ali Hatem has some of the best press of any figure in Iraq. For some reason Sleiman has become the sheikh to talk to about the insurgency by both the western and Arab press.”

His sponsors paying for his name and image (and the hotel room) need him to threaten Baghdad with, or at least to use the media for that. Some are Americans raging on about getting the tribes aboard, arming them so they can fight ISIS, others are Gulf Arabs complaining about the lack of inclusivity and the need for Sunnis to lead the Sunnis. Were it possible that Hatem is actually capable of doing so and being that fighting leader then that might not be such a bad thing. But unfortunately it’s a case of his bark being worse than his bite.

In the end you cannot blame Hatem for trying. There is money, weapons, influence and political positions up for grabs. The Americans threw those at some tribes in return for outsourcing the battle against Al-Qaeda, creating the Sawha militias and calling them ‘Sons of Iraq’. They created yet another culture of money talks when dealing with Iraq, opening it up to corruption and abuse. This has plagued the good people of Anbar in particular, who suffer from poor leaders and a cycle of treacherous violence. Some US military officials say Hatem did a job then so he can do it again, but that job was America sweeping it’s dirt under Iraq’s carpet and walking away as if nothing happened.

So the next time you read Ali Hatem, head of the Dulaim tribe, don’t bother with the pinch of salt, just click back on your browser.

(photo credit: SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

Posted in Iraq | Tagged | Leave a comment

7 reasons why daesh are not Muslim, actually conflict with Islam, and go against the Quran

1. They kill human beings without just cause

“O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do” [4:135]

let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice” [5:8]

if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people” [5:32]

take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom” [6:151]

  1. They want to force people to following the same religion as them

“Let there be no compulsion in religion” [2:256]

“To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute” [5:48]

Revile not ye those whom they call upon besides Allah” [6:108]

If it had been thy Lord’s will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth! wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!” [10:99]

“Say, “The truth is from your Lord”: Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it)” [18:29]

“Say: O ye that reject Faith! I worship not that which ye worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you be your Way, and to me mine” [109:1-6]

  1. They ignore the fact that Islam respects multiple religions and cultures

“Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” [2:62]

And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam)” [29:46]

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you” [49:13]

Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just” [60:8]

  1. They ignore the fact that non-Muslims are also rewarded for doing good by Allah

whoever submits His whole self to Allah and is a doer of good, He will get his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” [2:112]

And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction; but do good; for Allah loveth those who do good” [2:195]

“Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (For the right): They rehearse the Signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in Allah and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous. Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for Allah knoweth well those that do right” [3:113-115]

But those who believe and do deeds of righteousness, We shall soon admit to Gardens, with rivers flowing beneath, their eternal home: Therein shall they have companions pure and holy: We shall admit them to shades, cool and ever deepening” [4:57]

Thus do We certainly reward the Doers of Good” [77:44]

5. They do not have religious authority to act on behalf of Muslims

“He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:” and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding” [3:7]

O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination” [4:59]

So take what the Messenger assigns to you, and deny yourselves that which he withholds from you. And fear Allah; for Allah is strict in Punishment” [59:7]

6. They do not treat people with mercy and kindness as the Quran orders the Prophet and all Muslims

It is part of the Mercy of Allah that thou dost deal gently with them Wert thou severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about thee: so pass over (Their faults), and ask for (Allah’s) forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs (of moment). Then, when thou hast Taken a decision put thy trust in Allah. For Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him)” [3:159]

We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures” [21:107]

Is there any Reward for Good – other than Good?” [55:60]

7. They use violence when it is forbidden to do so

“When it is said to them: “Make not mischief on the earth,” they say: “Why, we only Want to make peace!” Of a surety, they are the ones who make mischief, but they realise (it) not.” [2:11-12]

Therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (Guarantees of) peace, then Allah Hath opened no way for you (to war against them)” [4:90]

Do no mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order, but call on Him with fear and longing (in your hearts): for the Mercy of Allah is (always) near to those who do good” [7:56]

But if they incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah: for He is One that heareth and knoweth (all things)” [8:61]

| 3 Comments

Iraq neighbourhood watch update

20120227-224716.jpg

A neighbourhood like the Middle East doesn’t encourage friendly neighbourly-like behaviour, but being nice is certainly not in fashion at the moment. With the Arab spring crawling along the ground bloodied and bruised, some faces have changed, but not enough for most people.

In the midst of this, Iraq is now ‘liberated’ for the second time in the last 9 years and finds itself in a rough neighbourhood with not much for protection or allies. While the US has repeatedly said it is committed to the security of Iraq and the protection of its borders and people, most believe the US has left Iraq to the dogs. While allowing Iraq to fall into total lawlessness like Sudan in the 90s or Somalia more recently is definitely not the favoured scenario for the US, supporting a strong state that may become anti-US in its foreign policy is definitely not acceptable or will be allowed to happen.

As it stands Iraq is not strong enough politically or economically to influence the Middle East and certainly nowhere near powerful enough militarily to support its foreign policy there. It has worked out a basic long term strategy to develop the economic power (increase oil export capacity but not production to allow Iraq to control the only spare capacity in the world) but seems unsure of how to develop policy with regards to its immediate neighbours. Currently Iraq seems to receive its ME policy from Iran, with some internal rewording to soften the tones for the US, but has not managed to figure out its own long term foreign policy that includes Iran as an equal but not superior. Instead dealings with its neighbours seem to be reactionary and short sighted, with no strategy that is designed to accommodate for events on the ground. Some believe that Iraq spends all its time and energy in reacting to events on its own soil that other countries engineer: in effect Iraq is being tapped on the shoulder by so many at once that it is in a daze.

With the Arab League summit due in Baghdad soon, it will be interesting to see who turns up and what the mood will be. So I have drawn up what I understand is the current situation with the 6 immediate neighbouring states, and from this we can see that Iraq is rather isolated at the moment and that the US departure, while helpful in many ways, has served to highlight Iraq’s preoccupation with internal control to the detriment of its foreign policy.

    Turkey

Has followed up strong economic role in Iraq with increasing political influence. Despite Erdogan’s visit last year that saw all parties welcome him, his criticism of Baghdad which lead to a diplomatic spat shows Turkey is stepping up its attempt to counter Iranian influence in Iraq. Opposition figures still flock to Turkey and even the Kurds now see Turkey as a lesser threat than before and are willing to make drastic concessions to maintain good ties. PM Maliki has not obtained any significant support from Turkey for his current maneouvers and the government is still complaining about Turkey’s stifling supply of water. Goods, contracts and oil still flowing well between the two, second highest trade partnership for Iraq.

    Iran

Remains the most powerful actor in Iraq. While it still funds almost all parties, movements, insurgents and militias, it has seen growing resistance to its control over domestic politics. Resentment is high because nearly everyone has defied Iran at some point and paid a price, but now other states are supporting and protecting those who push back against Iran. While a chaotic Iraq is now not favourable following the US withdrawal, a weak Iraq would be ideal as it would remain beholden to Iran politically and economically, but would work against a strong Iraq. Using Iraq as a forward base to defend against an Israeli and/or US attack, and to threaten a regional war with Syria and Lebanon acting in the same capacity as Iraq. Most important trade partnership for Iraq, only ‘ally’ for Iraq in the region.

    Kuwait

Wary of Iraq’s increasing assertiveness and economic power. Though Iraq still seems to be the weak bumbling giant in this relationship, Kuwait is taking steps to check Iraq’s economic progress without damaging political relations (Mubarak port excellent example). Kuwait is still aggressively pursuing repatriations and debt, and has UN and US support in this. Almost all of Iraq’s cash is in the US and it won’t dare defy Kuwait while the US has guaranteed to protect and support it against Iraq. Royal Family has good links with all sides in Iraq, but Kuwaiti parliament is wary of a united Iraq with a nationalist sentiment. Potential for both good and bad outcomes in this relationship, but bad in the mid to long term more likely.

    Saudi Arabia

Most hostile neighbour with no incentive to better relations. Bitter relationship between Maliki and Abdullah has not improved, and both governments can see a huge clash on oil coming. In many ways Iraq is the equal and opposite of Saudi and the potential for political conflict is high. Trade, travel and diplomacy is very limited between the two, and religious enmity and fear is seen on all levels. Saudi has supported groups to fight a proxy war with Iran, but lost out eventually and seems willing to cede political influence to Turkey and Iran, but strengthening economic influence through control of OPEC and support of Kuwait. Negative outlook for the future.

    Jordan

Only favourable relationship for Iraq, Jordan growing weaker and more dependent. Despite poor relations earlier, 2011 showed weakness of Jordan’s economy and poor political influence. Iraq has successfully neutered political opposition and money in Amman, while improving diplomatic ties. Unrest in region and high energy prices have made Jordan more reliant on Iraqi gas and oil, which the Iraqi government still provides at a favourable discount. Both sides seem to be willing to strengthen accord and have been careful to avoid damaging statements. Outlook is highly positive for Iraq.

    Syria

Hedging bets, attempting to develop influence. This is the only state in which Iraq has an extensive intel network and can operate a policy of its own that may not be in line with Iran’s. The Iraqi government has not supported Asad publicly, but privately would like him to stay in power as the alternatives are less favourable, despite accusations of Damascus supporting or allowing terrorists to fund and operate in Iraq. If Assad falls, Iraq will support the new government and will gain influence, and also be in a stronger position when dealing with Iran. If Assad survives, Iraq will find itself in a murkier position between Tehran and Damascus, but not necessarily a hostile one. Positive outcome for Iraq likely in mid to long term.

Perhaps the Arab League will shed more light on these and other relations but at the moment it seems none of Iraq’s neighbours like Iraq and vice versa.

Posted in Iraq | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment