Iraq neighbourhood watch update

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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.

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The “Monkey Master” fable – Why the Arab Revolution caught on

 

In his book “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, Gene Sharp uses a famous Chinese fable to explain why people tolerate oppressive dictatorships for so long.

A Fourteenth Century Chinese parable by Liu-Ji, for example, outlines the neglected understanding of political power quite well:

In the feudal state of Chu an old man survived by keeping monkeys in his service.  The people of Chu called him “jugong” (monkey master). Each morning, the old man would assemble the monkeys in his courtyard, and order the eldest one to lead the others to the mountains to gather fruits from bushes and trees. It was the rule that each monkey had to give one-tenth of his collection to the old man.  Those who failed to do so would be ruthlessly flogged.  All the monkeys suffered bitterly, but dared not complain.

One day, a small monkey asked the other monkeys: “Did the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?”  The others said:  “No, they grew naturally.”  The small monkey further asked:  “Can’t we take the fruits without the old man’s permission?”  The others replied:  “Yes, we all can.” The small monkey continued:  “Then, why should we depend on the old man; why must we all serve him?”

Before the small monkey was able to finish his statement, all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and awakened.

On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the stockade in which they were confined, and destroyed the stockade entirely.  They also took the fruits the old man had in storage, brought all with them to the woods, and never returned.  The old man finally died of starvation.

Yu-li-zi says, “Some men in the world rule their people by tricks and not by righteous principles.  Aren’t they just like the monkey master?  They are not aware of their muddle-headedness.  As soon as their people become enlightened, their tricks no longer work.”

This fable explains in some way how the Arab street woke up from its slumber. The small monkey, whose voice was that of freedom in the fable, is reflected in the young Tunisian man who burnt himself to get the others to realize they needed to do something.

 

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Why should America continue to pay for Iraq’s reconstruction?

I’ve now read in full the report released today by the Government Accountability Office of the United States Congress on Iraqi-US cost sharing. The subtitle of this report, Iraq has a cumulative budget surplus, clearly elucidates the Obama administration’s policy that the US has done enough for Iraq and that it should now proceed on its own.

The general ‘let the Iraqis shoulder all the costs now’ attitude is regularly seen among American commentators especially those who have started to openly call for a dictator to return to rule Iraq and that it was a big mistake for the US to topple Saddam Hussein. Some of the titles of these articles begging for billions, sitting on billions and Iraq posting massive surplus thanks to US taxpayers are frankly insulting and hostile. Yes, the Iraqi governments so far have been corrupt, weak and ineffective, but that does not mean the Iraqi people owe the US any debt whatsoever, for whatever financial assistance they have provided.

The United States supported the Baath coup that brought Saddam to power. The US provided the billions for Saddam to build his army and to fight Iran and subsequently Kuwait. It allowed him to crush the rebellion of 91 and then imposed sanctions which destroyed the country. It was a major factor behind Iraq’s spiralling debt and even post-2003 it has been reluctant to remove the chapter 7 provisions sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. Why should America continue to pay for Iraq’s reconstruction? Because it is an accomplice in the crimes committed against the Iraqi people over the last four decades.

Below is a summary of what the GAO study found, which can be read in full at this link

What GAO Found

GAO analysis of Iraqi government data showed that Iraq generated an estimated cumulative budget surplus of $52.1 billion through the end of 2009. This estimate is consistent with the method that Iraq uses to calculate its fiscal position. Adjusting for $40.3 billion in estimated outstanding advances as of September 2009 reduces the amount of available surplus funds to $11.8 billion. In April 2010, a senior Ministry of Finance official stated that advances should be deducted from the budget surplus because they are committed for future expenditures or have been paid out. According to this official and Board of Supreme Audit reports on Iraq’s financial statements, advances include funds for letters of credit, advance payments on domestic contracts, and other advances. However, Iraq’s Board of Supreme Audit has raised concerns that weaknesses in accounting for advances could result in the misappropriation of government funds and inaccurate reporting of expenditures. Furthermore, the composition of some of these advances is unclear; about 40 percent of the outstanding advances through 2008 are defined as “other temporary advances.” Under the terms of a February 2010 International Monetary Fund (IMF) arrangement, Iraq agreed to prepare a report on its outstanding advances, which will identify those advances that are recoverable and could be used for future spending, and set a time schedule for their recovery. This Iraqi report is to be completed by September 30, 2010.

Another means of assessing Iraq’s fiscal position is to examine its financial deposit balances. Iraqi government data and an independent audit report show that, through the end of 2009, Iraq had accumulated between $15.3 billion and $32.2 billion in financial deposit balances held at the Central Bank of Iraq, the Development Fund for Iraq in New York, and state-owned banks in Iraq. This range reflects a discrepancy between the amount of government-sector deposits reported by the Central Bank of Iraq to the IMF and the amount that the Ministry of Finance asserts is available for government spending. In November 2009, the Ministry of Finance reclassified $16.9 billion in state-owned banks as belonging to state-owned enterprises and trusts, leaving $15.3 billion of $32.2 billion available to the Iraqi government for other spending. The IMF is seeking clarification on the amount of financial deposits that is available for government spending. Under the terms of Iraq’s 2010 arrangement with the IMF, the Ministry of Finance is required to complete a review of all central government accounts and return any idle balances received from the budget to the central Iraqi Treasury by March 31, 2010. As of August 2010, according to the IMF, this review was still under way.

Iraqi government data show that Iraq’s security ministries—the Ministries of Defense and Interior—increased their spending from 2005 through 2009 and set aside about $5.5 billion for purchases through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. However, over this 5-year period, these ministries did not use between $2.5 billion and $5.2 billion of their budgeted funds that could have been used to address security needs. The administration is requesting $2 billion in additional U.S. funding in its fiscal year 2011 budget request to support the training and equipping of Iraq’s military and police.

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Will any of the black gold wealth finally reach the Iraqi people?

The Rumaila oil fields. The contracts with CNPC and BP have been approved by Iraqi supreme court

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Up to 50 people living in a house in Iraq – no joke

The video above is a satirical piece by a comedian in Sadr City, Baghdad which does exaggerate things a bit, but is not that far off from the truth. I know because I have seen it, several families crowded into one small house, often sleeping in one large room. So this is my attempt at using comedy to highlight a serious issues; we need more affordable accommodation and government housing units, we can’t keep up with population increase using 1950s housing and have people still living in mud brick houses.

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Iraq is still there despite efforts to destroy it

Bloodied but still standing

It has been a long 7 and a half years since the fall of Saddam, but Iraq is still facing terror, although in different forms and with no one person to blame. Attacks on infrastructure, civilians, governmental institutions and individuals have continued almost unabated (I don’t think there is one single day where there was no terrorist-related violence in Iraq). The numbers of dead and injured are horrifying, the cost to the economy depressing, but I am compelled to say something angrily despite all this; Iraq is still alive.

For years now there has been a sustained attack on all aspects of Iraq, by both Iraqis and foreigners. The damage has been great, yet arguably we still have more freedoms than the rest of the Middle East, we have an infantile democracy and we are still there. No other country in the world has been subjected to as much violence as Iraq has these past few years. No other nation has been brutalized in absolutely shocking ways for such a long period. I do not discount terrorism in other countries, but if 11 September is a marker for such a spectre, then we have had 20 of those in Iraq so far.

I argue that no other country would have been able to withstand such a sustained attack, to limp along so far despite heavy wounds, to still try and stay upright despite the blows from all sides. The motives for the terrorism are wide and varied, some political, some religious, some just evil. Yet it is remarkable that the majority of Iraqis still get up in the morning and try to live normal lives, to do the best they can for themselves and their families, when their pain is so much. So a message to everyone who does not want a prosperous Iraq, you did your best but we’re still here and we aren’t going anywhere.

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Allah wyak Aboosi

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