Friday, August 15, 2014
Developments in Iraq 14 August 2014
Following mounting pressure on Nuri al-Maliki from various sources including Iran, U.S., Ayatollah Sistani and his own party, Hezb al-Dawa, he has today stepped down as Iraq's Prime Minister, making way for Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi to become the leader.
Al-Maliki had previously refused to step down after al-Abadi was nominated, saying in a televised address Wednesday that the appointment was a constitutional violation.
Nothing was said as to his terms.
Heitham al-Jabouri, the speaker of the Alliance for Legal Government, revealed that al-Maliki and al-Abadi had agreed on the transfer of power in Iraq. Ali al-Mousavi, Maliki’s advisor, also announced that Maliki has given up his legal case against Foaud Masoum, the President of Iraq, in the Iraq Federal Court. Ayatollah Sistani had very specifically asked for a new prime minister. Losing the backing of Iran, Sistani and the United States seems finally to have convinced Maliki that he had to give up his hold on power. And even Asa’ib Ahl Al Haq (de-facto Malaki’s militia) now back Abadi (though individual fighters may not do so in some instances). Al-Abadi has the support of Iran, U.S.A. and Saudi Arabia.
We live in hope that this is not just a milestone, but a pivotal moment in broader regional peace.
The situation on the ground:
Things remain as dangerous as ever in Iraq. Part of the problem is the flexibility of IS. When IS is attacked in a counter-insurgency move in one place, they fight back somewhere else.
We must correct an item in our last report. We implied that the government held Jurf Al-Sakhar fifty miles south of Baghdad in Babil Province. This is of course incorrect. IS still holds Jurf Al-Sakhar. We do not use press reports as sources but regrettably some of the sources we use are themselves influenced by reports that minimise the strength of IS and inflate the strength of the Iraq Army. Sometimes the Iraq Government itself does not know what is going on as spokespersons fall into the trap of believing their own PR.
Certainly Baghdad itself is quieter. Though there have been a lot of bombings, including one near Haider al Abadi’s home in Karada. People are angry at the Iraq Security Forces for their failure to keep things under control.
Another correction, some of the population figures we have given you, particularly for the Yezidis, may have been incorrect. This from one of our most reliable sources within Iraq:
“The numbers being thrown around are being questioned. Numbers from Kurdistan sources are too often highly exaggerated. While initial estimates may make some sense under the circumstances, later updated figures often do not lead to revisions in initial figures. A rule of thumb is to cut them in half and go down from there.
“For example, the number of Yazidis in Iraq is often said to be 500,000. Vian Dakhil, the Yezidi MP who made such an effective impassioned plea, said in an interview with Dutch media there are 300,000. There aren't many Yezidi population centers. 500,000 suggests 10 cities with 50,000 Yezidis each or 100 villages of 5,000 each. Neither makes sense."
The broader picture
For an interesting perspective on the wider picture see Patrick Cokburn’s article on this link
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Latest developments in Iraq
The following information has been provided largely through Kurdish sources. The situation is fluid and intense, to say the least.
One problem facing the Kurdistan Regional Government is a shortage of money to address its mounting responsibilities. There is a real concern being expressed in Arbil that -- despite the will -- available foreign exchange might soon dry up in the local banking centre if new infusions of cash are not received. This would affect the ability of the Kurdish Regional Government to pay the salaries of civil servants and even the vaunted Pershmerga militia fighters.
One reason for this problem is that a dispute over oil has caused the central government to stop all payments to the KRG. That Baghdad would devote time and money to preventing the KRG from independently recovering even a small fraction of what it is owed is inexplicable, especially as the federal government fights a massive insurgency by IS and struggles to maintain its own institutions.
Hopefully, the incoming administration of prime minister-designate, Haidar al-Abadi, will reverse this situation and seek to address Kurdish (as well as Sunni) grievances.
The NCF met al-Abadi a few weeks ago and was impressed. He takes a no-nonsense view of Kurdish efforts to extract money from the central government while seeking an independent source of income abroad. However, he is far more flexible than his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki, who continues to resist his replacement at the time of this writing, despite his rapidly diminishing support.
Peshmerga forces have been forced to retreat from Jalawla by IS having failed in their counter offensive. An indeterminate number of Peshmerga were killed in the fighting and the area is now under complete IS control
Refugees - those the UN disingenuously calls internally displaced persons (IDPs) - continue to flood into the Kurdistan Region, with estimates at well over one million people in need of critical humanitarian aid. This number will only rise as Yezidis from Sinjar continue to be rescued and brought to the Kurdistan Region for medical attention. Immediate humanitarian aid, in terms of food, water, housing, medical supplies, and funds, is desperately needed. Prior to the Islamic State's (IS) offensive in Sinjar (Singal) and theNinevah (Ninawa) Governorate, the Kurdistan Region hosted nearly one million refugees and IDPs.
Makhmour town and the surrounding villages are back under Peshmerga control after four days of fighting (Makhmour District is in the extreme South of Arbil Province and is technically part of the disputed territories)The town Gwer, also in Makhmour District, located about 25 miles southwest of Arbil, is also under Kurdish Peshmerga control again. These efforts have been aided by US airstrikes, although continuous air support is necessary in order to hold these towns.
Lufthansa have cancelled flights to Arbil leaving MEA, Turkish Airlines, and Royal Jordanian as the only three major carriers operating to Arbil. The US Consulate in Erbil remains open and operational, although some non-essential staff have been relocated.
Bashika district in the Ninevah Plane (Eastern Ninevah) is now partially under IS control
Fighting between Peshmerga and IS continues in the Al-Shallalat district to the North of Mosul
The town of Zummar, near the Syrian border, remains largely under IS control, though the Peshmerga forces are making headway
IS remains in control of Christian towns and villages including Qaraqosh. IS fighters still control Tel Afar, Tel Keyf, and other towns in Ninevah Governorate.
Sinjar district, still under IS control, is the scene of fierce clashes with Peshmerga. Limited airstrikes by the US military are taking place in and around Sinjar, in support of Kurdish Peshmerga operations to maintain a corridor to evacuate civilians, and a limited number have been escorted to safety. A massive air search and rescue is also underway to locate civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar. The Sinjar mountain range stretches almost 50 miles along the Iraq-Syrian border and is 3,000 foot high at its highest point, with extremely rugged terrain. Between 30,000 and 40,000 refugees (predominantly but by no means exclusively Yezidis) are estimated to still be on the mountain (some press estimates of numbers approaching 100,000 are not credible). Hospitals and clinics in the Duhok area have received thousands of rescued Yezidis, with over 100 doctors volunteering for the relief efforts. Unimaginable atrocities continue to be committed against Christian and Yezidi minority populations throughout Ninevah Governorate. In Sinjar, An indeterminate number of Sinjar women captured by IS have been relocated to Mosul and are being forcefully married off to IS militants. The US military has been conducting airdrops of food and supplies on Mount Sinjar since Thursday. It has been reported that these were dropped from a great height which would seem to negate or seriously reduce its actual effectiveness. France, Canada, Italy, Germany, and the UK have also pledged to support humanitarian relief efforts. On Sunday August 10, the United Kingdom began with an initial airdrop of food and supplies over Mount Sinjar from two British C130s. The UK has pledged to contribute a total of £13 million for refugees and IDPs in Iraq.
The most immediate direct threat facing the area is IS control over Mosul Dam, putting the group in control of the most substantial water and electricity asset in the region. The dam is poorly constructed and aging, and requires regular maintenance to prevent catastrophic failure; a 2006 assessment by the US Army Corps of Engineers called it "the most dangerous dam in the world". IS has claimed that they will destroy the dam if they lose control of the area. Such an event would send a wave 63 feet high through the city of Mosul, and cause widespread flooding along the Tigris, one of the most densely populated regions of Iraq.
Baghdad would also experience serious flooding. Analysts estimate over half a million people would be killed.
An IS attack on the town of Jurf Al-Sakhar fifty miles south of Baghdad has been repelled
In an exciting development, Haider al-Abadi, who is a senior member of the Islamic Dawa Party, has been asked to form a government by the Iraqpresident, Fouad Massoum. Mr. Abadi now has 30 days in which to form a government. During that time, Mr. Nouri Al-Maliki will remain as a caretaker leader, and as commander-in-chief of Iraq’s security forces.
There have been fears expressed that Maliki may attempt a coup d'état to retain power, but in the unlikely event that should happen, that seems impossible to succeed. Maliki sped up his demise by an ill thought through show of force last night, which galvanised many against him this morning, including much of his own bloc. Maliki tonight gave a speech assuring the security forces that he'll reverse this “error” calling it unconstitutional. The army twitter account, however, tweeted earlier that it's “Iraq's army not Maliki's...” There was a pro-Maliki demo in Baghdad today, with an embarrassingly small number of people who had all been bussed in from the provinces, paid and given free food. The situation in Baghdad is tense, with army troops on high alert.
The choice of the shrewd Dr Haider Al Abadi, is about the best thing that has happened to Iraq this year. He is chairman of the parliamentary finance committee. Dr Haider has strong views though. The NCF talked to him in Baghdad recently:
1. On Kirkuk: Al Abadi favoured giving special status to the province.
2. Electorally he favours the ‘top-up’ system promoted by the UN back in 2010 that strongly favoured the largest parties. Rather than the present system of PR that gives a distinct advantage to the mid-weight parties.
3. He regards corruption and bureaucracy as two of Iraq’s key problems.
His views are none the less considered and he is open to discussion. He is intelligent with a phenomenal memory for figures and statistics, affable and approachable. He is a remarkable man. He is not proud and there is indeed no element of hubris about him. It will be remarkably good news if he manages to form a government – and with a little good will on all sides there is no reason he should not. He is considered one of the “old leadership” of the Dawa Party in which he has had a leading role since the late 70s. He spent quite a lot of time in London in his exile years. He has good relationships with most of the political groups. He was Minister of Communications in Alawi’s government, the first government of post liberation Iraq. Amr al-Hakim’s ISCI party, the “conservative party” of ShiiteIraq, is supporting him strongly. One of their most senior men told NCF tonight, “We hope that the choice is right. It won’t be an easy job for him. He has made it clear that he is ready to make agreements with the other political forces.”
Meanwhile our sources indicate that Nouri Al-Maliki has agreed to step down as Prime Minister subject to certain conditions. Some of his terms are:
1. That he is made either Vice President or Minister of Interior.
2. Nouri Al-Maliki also asks for a personal guard of at least 2,500 soldiers under his direct command drawn from the Baghdad Brigade of the Iraq Army.
However, other members of the Shiite alliance say such demands “Can’t be taken seriously”. The new Premier has only one month in which to form a government. But members of the Shiite Alliance point out that 130 Shiite Alliance MPs agreed to the nomination of Haider Al Ibadi “without preconditions”.
President Barack Obama called to offer his support to Haider Al Abadi, and urged him to form an inclusive government, he said Monday afternoon.
"Today Iraq took a promising step forward" in the effort to create a new government "that can unite Iraq's different communities," Obama said from Martha's Vineyard, Mass.
On other developments – we have been reliably made aware of the fact that casualty claims from various parties with regard to air strikes made by US / Iraq Army forces in Northern Iraq have been grossly incorrect in most instances – we therefore advise all journalists associated with the NCF not to report casualty figures unless they have their own credible sources independent of any government. UN casualty figures for Iraq have also now been utterly discredited. They are far too low. Our own sources indicate almost 4,000 dead in the past week alone.
As regards the on the ground position – there is now fighting on so very many fronts that we can no longer list all the battlefronts – at least not at the moment. President Masoud Barzani of Kurdistan wrote an editorial in today’s Washington Post begging for more military aid to help the Kurds fight IS.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
The Kurdish politician, Faoud Massoum, was appointed to the Iraqi presidency by the Iraqi parliament on 24th July. The appointment of both speaker Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri, elected on July 15th, and president (see below for biographies of both men) shows that the Iraq parliament has begun taking important steps towards choosing a stable government and putting an end to the parliamentary deadlock. However, a deal has yet to be brokered for the appointment of the powerful position of prime minister. Under Iraq’s constitution the President now has to ask a premier to attempt to form a government (presumably not before 5th August when parliament reconvenes). However it seems increasingly difficult for caretaker premier Nouri al Maliki to retain power. Grand Ayatollah Sistani gave his clearest indication yet that he does not support a further term for Nouri al Maliki when he said in a sermon on Friday that politicians should not cling to power. Sistani said it is time for politicians to think of Iraq’s interests, not their own: “The sensitivity of this phase necessitates that all the parties concerned should have a spirit of national responsibility that requires the practice of the principle of sacrifice and self-denial and not to cling to positions and posts.”
Following the election of Faoud Massoum, two car bombs exploded in Baghdad’s central area Karradeh, killing 21 people and injuring many more.
Salah ad-Din Province
Many dead and injured following an Iraqi Army airstrike targeting insurgents in the region between Suleiman Beg and the Turkman village of Amerli.
Rebels still hold the Baiji oil refinery despite claims that 300 insurgents have been killed in the fighting.
A building in the Al-Qadisiya region of Tikrit functioning as an HQ for IS, was hit by an airstrike by the Iraq air force. However an offensive by the Iraq Army has thus far failed to retake the city.
Dozens were wounded and killed in an airstrike on insurgents in Al Dhuluiya.
Syrian fighter aircraft targeted IS fighters in Rawah.
Between Al-Karmah and Abu Ghraib, there have been clashes between insurgents and the army. A number were killed by an airstrike targeting insurgents in Al-Shorta.
A number were killed in clashes between insurgents and the Iraq security forces in Al-Saqlaqiya and Al-Karmah near Fallujah. Clashes were also reported west of Ramadi.
Clashes in the Tajneed district of Jalawla; Nofal village near al-Muqdadiya; East of Baquba; and West of Baquba in the Katoon district. A number killed (though Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, remains firmly in government hands, many of the surrounding Sunni villages change hands frequently).
Controversially, Iraq security forces shelled orchards adjacent to the Diyala River near Buhriz. Airstrikes in the area also targeted insurgents in an attempt to halt their advance further towards Baghdad.
An air strike of the Iraq Army on the airbases of Tal Afar and Qayyara.
On the outskirts of Sinjar dozens of Kurdish Yezidi families were forced to flee their homes following an insurgent attack. IS continues to target the Yazidi, Shabak and Christian communities of the Ninevah region.
Biographies of Faoud Massoum and Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri
Faoud Massoum, President of Iraq
Faoud Massoum (76 years old) is dignified, mature, well respected throughout Kurdistan, and is head of the Kurdistan bloc in the Iraqi parliament. Self-effacing and quietly mild mannered, he was born Muhammad Fouad Massoum Hawrami in Koye in the Erbil governorate in Northern Iraq in 1938. His parents came from the Hawraman area and his father was a notable cleric. He is a close confident of Jalal Talabani and the both of them are from prominent religious families and grew up in the same town. He and Talabani would go on to establish the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 1975.
Massoum studied at Kurdish religious schools and in 1958 he began studies at Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar University, where he earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Islamic studies, and later his PhD.
He was strongly opposed to Saddam Hussein and was involved in the drafting of the new Iraqi constitution following the invasion in 2003.
In 2004, he became the first speaker of the interim Iraqi parliament, and the year after he became an Iraqi MP.
Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri, Speaker of Parliament
On July 15th, Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri was elected speaker of the Iraq Parliament. The Sunni Arab is a professor of law at Nahrain University in Baghdad but was born and raised in Mugdadiya, Diyala province.
43 year old Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri is the youngest speaker in Iraq’s history. In 2010, al-Jubouri was nominated to parliament and headed the Human Rights Committee. He accused the government of Nouri al Maliki of torturing detainees. Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri is on record as saying he does not support a third term for Premier Nouri al Maliki.
Al-Jabouri has “serious crime cases” pending. In 2014, he was targeted by a roadside bomb, which killed two of his bodyguards.
In the general election of 2014, he was elected in the predominantly Sunni Arab list ‘Diyala Is Our Identity Coalition’ which is part of the wider Muttahidoon party. When al-Jabouri got elected speaker he expressed his belief in dialogue and mutual understanding, when stating in a press release, “that many political powers feel of the urgent need to this dialogue and hopes to reach a solution satisfactory to all parties to achieve the interest of Iraq at the end.”
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
In Iraq pressure remains high for the political authorities to form a unity government. General developments in Iraq indicate a stalemate with IS showing both its depth of resources and its limited ability to hold on to further military gains. The failed joint assault by the ISF and Shiite militias on Tikrit underscores their inability to defeat the insurgents.
Salah ad-Din Province
Renewed fighting erupted around the university buildings in Tikrit. IS insurgents were forced to withdraw from Contingency Operating Base Speicher by ISF.
In Al-Dhuluiya clashes continue between IS insurgents and ISF, which are being supported by local tribesmen and air support from the Iraqi Airforce.
The NGO ShiaRightsWatch published a report on the lack of access to water and food in Tuz Khormotu. For more information, click here.
In Anbar the ISF continues attacks on the northern outskirts of Fallujah. Clashes in Ramadi are ongoing.
IS insurgent attacks on Peshmerga positions at Tal Al-Warid and Mala Abdulla.
Following shelling and airstrikes targeting their positions, IS has withdrawn from the Al-Adhim area of northern Diyala. Clashes broke out between Peshmerga and insurgents south of Jalawla.
Fighting in Al-Hawuraniya, north of Al-Muqdadiya.
Mosul’s Christians are increasingly being targeted by IS who force them to convert and pay taxes as a condition for not being expelled from the city.
An airstrike took place.
The Turkish Consulate building is function as an HQ for IS.
IS withdrew some of its forces from East Mosul a week ago. IS’s main fighting strength was needed in areas south of Tikrit to fight the IA.
Naqshbandi tribes (loyal to the insurgency) are taking down IS flags and replacing them with their own.
The NCF's Religious Affairs Advisor has drawn our attention to a remarkable display of solidarity against the allure of ISIS (IS). UK based Imams (Shi'ite and Sunni) have made a public video warning young men not to become drawn into the fantasy of a puritan, Islamic utopia as advocated by ISIS (IS). They are clear that the 10 conditions for a Caliphate are not met by (IS) and therefore the proclamation of a Caliphate in Syria/Iraq is null and void.
Their message can be seen on the below link.
We have decided to issue a short report on each of the three major Shiite political parties in today’s Iraq, ISCI, Dawa, and the Sadrists. ISCI first:
The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), formerly known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and sometimes just called “Majlis” (meaning “The Council”) is headed by Sayyed Amr al-Hakim. Founded in 1982, it depends upon the support of the country’s Shia community. Despite a strong showing in Iraq’s earlier elections; ISCI did poorly in the 2010 parliamentary election at a time when Nouri Al-Maliki and his Dawa Party were in the ascendancy. ISCI bounced back however and the coalition of which ISCI forms the principal part, the Iraq National Alliance, fared well in the 2014 elections. Today, ISCI remains one of the three major Shiite political parties; the others being the State of Law coalition (of which the Premier’s Dawa Party is the main element), and the Sadrist group. ISCI are paternalist in nature and are the conservative (or if you prefer Republican) party of Iraq Shiite politics. Their preferred candidate for Premier has been Bayan Jabr but he is unlikely to gain cross Shiite political support so they are currently promoting Adel Abdul Mahdi.
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Maliki does not have ISCI’s backing as the man to deal with the ISIS threat. Spokesman for the Sadrist bloc (currently allied with ISCI), Jawad Al-Jubouri, declared Adel Abdul Mahdi, ISCI member and former Iraq Vice-President, was among the favourites to represent the Shia alliance instead of Maliki, the other name in the frame being Ahmed Chalabi (though no Sadrist himself Chalabi has long been the darling of the Sadrist movement).
Amr al-Hakim says that finding a new Prime Minister “acceptable to the other partners” and “representing the majority” is essential as this is “how we create the rhythm”.
One very senior member of ISCI told the NCF, “Our problem is that Premier Maliki issues statements without consulting any of us. To be honest this actually weakens his position in the Shiite alliance. Though thus far only ISCI and the Sadrists have stood up to Maliki. And time is sensitive. Those close to Maliki are suggesting we can take a couple of months to decide on the premiership but that we should decide who is to be President and Speaker immediately. We don’t want any such postponement because that would be the road to dictatorship.”
ISCI does not support Iranian intervention in Iraq. Senior member of ISCI, Ali Al-Moayyed, has declared that Iraq’s citizens are still capable of dealing with the current crisis without outside help. He stated that "given the fatwa issued by the religious authority [Ayatollah Ali Sistani] and presence of millions of Iraqi people on the scene, I don't think there will be any need to the presence of noble Iranians in Iraq's war fronts."
On the ISIS issue, ISCI President Amr al-Hakim said there was a “need to face the severe terrorist attack through unity”, stressing the importance of harmonising domestic, regional and international efforts to fight terrorism so as to deliver a coherent and coordinated response to current threats to the country, the region and the world.
Political Unity and Terrorism
Amr al-Hakim reiterated his belief that Iraq has the “ability to overcome all problems and crises” through the establishment of “partnerships among the key political actors of the country”. He stressed how urgent it was to avoid “mutual accusation of disloyalty” and accused Iraq’s television channels of strengthening sectarian divisions and called on his followers to respect the call for reconciliation delivered by the Iraq’s religious leaders.
He further announced that Iraqis must be ready to make sacrifices if they wish to achieve democracy; “everything has a price that everyone must pay”. He went on to say that those “igniting the flame of terrorism” would eventually be consumed by its fire. He further added that the “impure, intellectually trivial and criminal Takfiri Daesh terrorists (i.e. ISIS)” will soon be forced to retreat.
“Iraqis believe it is their destiny to defend the country, the region, and the world” he continued. He declared that “the conflict today is a conflict of wills, not of politics” and that victory would go to those who were in the right. He further added that those who remain silent about current injustices committed by the terrorists are just as guilty as they are.
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
The Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN), which is rendered in English as the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, is a large and prominent Sunni insurgent group in Iraq. JRTN endorses violent strategies and is a nationalist/Ba’athist group rather than a quasi-religious group.
JRTN was established in December 2006 following the execution of Saddam Hussein ostensibly as a reactionary force to protect Naqshbandis from extremists such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (the predecessor to ISIS from which ISIS evolved). It works closely with and is part of the Baathist “Majlis al Askeri” or General Military Council which meets in Mosul. JRTN is the lead Baathist command and is the second largest military force in the uprising after ISIS (indeed it almost certainly is actually numerically superior to ISIS but ISIS is far better equipped and has far greater financial resources).
The Naqshbandia (i.e. the religious movement rather than the JRTN military force) is a major spiritual order of Sunni Sufism which traces its spiritual lineage to the prophet Muhammad through Abu Bakr, the first Caliph and Muhammad’s companion. There are other Naqshbandia orders that trace their lineage through Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law and the fourth Caliph. Izzat al-Douri has been a Naqshbandi sheikh since the late 70s.
The JRTN military force has Ba’athist colouring and is also led by Saddam’s former deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the last surviving plotter of those who brought the Ba’ath party to power in the 1968 Iraq coup (and the man elected to the leadership of the Iraqi Ba’ath after the execution of Saddam). It is unclear as to what extent al-Douri has a role in the day-to-day running of the group. He has rarely been seen since the 2003 invasion though a video surfaced in 2012 showing him to be alive. There are reports that he requires regular dialysis and if these reports are true, as is likely, al-Douri is more of an insurgent figurehead than an operational leader.
Al-Douri’s authority and history as a member of the Ba’ath party leadership has been important in driving up recruitment numbers among Sunnis. He is a regarded as a veteran networker and coalition builder, with extensive contacts. Izzat al-Douri has up till recently been outside Iraq fundraising for the insurgency and for its monthly magazine publicising the group’s operations and promoting its ideology through which it solicits donations. He is
The group operates in Baghdad, al-Anbar, Ninaweh, Diyala and Salah al-Din provinces. JRTN utilises guerrilla tactics that include attacking soft targets first to minimise its own casualties. The group uses a two-pronged strategy which has a so called “defensive phase” which involves attacks from a distance, typically with missiles, followed by an assault phase.
The JRTN played a significant role in the capture of Mosul earlier this month. The JRTN took responsibility for “liberating” the five bridges that connect the western and eastern parts of Mosul. They have assumed an increasingly commanding role in the administration of the insurgent occupied cities. Some of their generals have been proclaimed “governors” of captured cities. For instance Ahmed Abdul Rashid has been appointed the governor to Tikrit.
JRTN has been increasingly prominent in this anti-government insurgency taking an active part in what are known as the Tribal Military Councils since the commencement of the Anbar crisis in January 2014.
There are three or four strands to the insurgency:
1. The smaller Islamist groups like Jaish Ansar al Sunnah
2. The neo-Baathists of the General Military Council, foremost among which are the JRTN. Sunnis who want to restore a Saddam-style dictatorship but don’t share ISIS’s hard-line interpretation of Islam.
3. The tribal groups.
4. ISIS, the strike force spearheading much of the combat.
JRTN is very well organised, but they’re not as large as ISIS and they don’t have the financial resources that ISIS do.
Furthermore, JRTN was opposed to AQI (led by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi who leads ISIS today) when the group was first founded in 2006. This past conflict between JRTN and AQI suggests that there would be tensions between the JRTN and ISIS leadership. In May 31, there were clashes between the JRTN and ISIS, which took place in Salah ad-Din (admittedly between local militia men over who would take home captured oil tankers) and recently there have been clashes in Hawija, near Kirkuk, between the two groups. Other clashes have taken place, including in Mosul itself, which are often reported as having been over ideology, but the sordid truth is that these are invariably squabbles over money at a local level.
Monday, June 30, 2014
In this second report on current developments in Iraq, we look at the aspiration for “confederalism” rather than mere federalism that various members of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have been giving voice to since the outbreak of the present troubles. One KRG representative spoke directly to the NCF during an MESC meeting a couple of days ago and stated, “Kurds participated in the writing of the Iraqi constitution. Federalism was the chosen political structure, as stated in the constitution, but it was never implemented. We cannot go back to the pre-ISIS situation. There must now be a move from federalism to confederalism.” However there is clear blue water between the concept of a “federal” Iraq and that of a “confederal” Iraq and the difference represented by the new Kurdish position should be understood. There are few truly confederal nations in the world today. Switzerland is a “soft” confederation as is Belgium. There is a sense in which the Gulf Cooperation Council states or the European Union are “confederations”. The following short report by NCF interns is an attempt to clarify the implications of the new position being advocated by the KRG.
The feasibility of a confederal Iraq
“The only hope to keep the country together is probably through three different regions with a confederation” Kirkuk provincial governor Najm al-Din Karim speaking on 25 June 2014
A confederation is an association of states and groups that are loosely bound by a treaty. Most importantly these constituent states retain their national sovereignty and consequently their right to secession.
In some models a constituent state in a confederation will be able to pursue an independent foreign policy (eg. negotiating treaties with other countries); whereas under a federal system the central government would have laws and regulations that supersede those of a constituent state.
In multi-ethnic Iraq, a confederal Iraq could be divided into three large states, reminiscent of the way there were once three distinct Ottoman provinces (Mosul, Baghdad and Basra Vilayets). The new confederal states envisioned would each have one of the three main ethnic groups of Iraq as its majority population: A Kurdish majority state with borders similar to the present borders of Iraqi Kurdistan, a Sunni majority state and a Shia majority state.
One way of interpreting Iraq’s move to a “confederal” system would be a transition to the “new” type of confederation pioneered by the European Union. An EU-style confederation would result in a stark transfer of powers to the different member states. Regional parliaments would have almost complete control over their own state and could pursue an independent foreign policy. There would still be a “national” parliament for the whole of Iraq, which could direct common economic policies with numerous common laws facilitating a single economic market within Iraq with open internal borders, and a common currency along with other key aspects found within the EU confederal system. However, this national parliament would be largely toothless in dictating the budget and public finances of the sovereign regions.
The least radical approach would be the Belgian form of quasi-confederalism. An Iraqi state modelled on Belgium would not include the right of secession for the various regional groups but would ensure significant powers were transferred from Baghdad to the regional capitals. This would be similar to the Iraq that US Senator Joe Biden called for in 2006, an Iraq where “the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security, the central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues.”
Whilst some would welcome a looser Iraq under a confederal system in the hopes of de-escalating sectarian tensions, others have warned against it. Iraqi scholar, Sami Ramadani, stated that
Monday, June 16, 2014
Below is the article for The Guardian, 13th June 2014 by Ranj Alaaldin
Why Iraq should consider separate Sunni and Shia regions
The seizing of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, by jihadists has sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world. TheIslamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), now controls or operates with impunity in territory stretching between Syria and Iraq, and will attempt to push to the south, take control of Baghdad and effectively put an end to Iraq as we know it.
But Iraq can still be saved. In the short-term the country, with the support of either regional powers such as Iran and Turkey or the broader international community, must hit back fast and hard at the Sunni north.
The Iraqis have already asked the US for air strikes. That could go a long way. It is imperative the government reassures the Iraqi people that Isis is no match for it; that Isis is not a force for the future, lest it swells its ranks with more Iraqis and expands its support bases. It must be given a bloody nose.
The military option in the short-term might empower and give moderate Sunni Arab forces a chance in the longer run, but for this to happen – and for Iraq to sustain itself – the country must accept that the notion of a centralised and unified Iraq has been a failed exercise.
The problem is essentially one of authority. The Iraqi state and its armed forces are seen as being Shia controlled, and therefore lack respect and recognition in the Sunni north. It is no coincidence that Iraq's most stable areas are those that are most homogeneous, where security and governance is in the hands of local actors seen as legitimate by a supportive local population, as in the case of the Kurdish north and the Shia south.
As the Americans did, the government has tried to rely on local tribes to stabilise Sunni Arab areas. However, they are seen as government proxies. During the course of conflict in the north, particularly in Anbar, most switched sides to fight against the state.
This week in Mosul, Iraq's Arab Sunnis effectively welcome Isis with open arms because of a sense of fear as well as widespread agitations toward the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. The continued rejection of the post-2003 Iraq by Arab Sunnis has given Isis the chance to capitalise, with maximum effect, on feelings of marginalisation among the Sunni Arab community.
Giving moderate Sunni Arab leaders the chance to self-govern within an autonomous region, if and when extremists elements such as Isis have been contained, constitutes a realistic way forward that accepts the Shia-dominated Baghdad government lacks the legitimacy and support to challenge militants for the hearts and minds of Sunni Arabs.
Regionalising Iraq into different ethno-sectarian regions has been proposed in the past. It can no longer be dismissed. Sectarian conflict is no longer identified simply as a problem that came and left with the Americans, but as an Iraqi problem that will dominate Iraq for decades to come.
Further, moderate Sunni Arab actors now welcome the idea of an autonomous region, accepting that they miscalculated when mobilising their communities to reject the new Iraq in 2003. They now hold prestigious government posts, accept the new Iraq is here to stay, and regret that it was their mobilisation of Sunnis that allowed extremists to rise.
The Kurds have proved that autonomy is not synonymous with partition. It is ironic that the Kurds, long derided by their Arab partners for making the most of their autonomy and weakening Iraq, are now its most unifying force.
The Kurdish peshmerga forces are Iraq's most organised, effective and disciplined military force and have deployed heavily in areas that separate Iraqi Kurdistan from Arab Iraqi areas currently controlled by Isis. In Syria's north-east, the Kurds have fought Isis and other Islamists with great effect and have proved they have the capacity to contain and eliminate them.
If Isis becomes too much of a threat, then the Kurds will act to protect their own population and territory. But the Kurds will not save Iraq at the expense of Kurdish interests. They suffered heavily in the past in the hands of either dictatorial or Sunni Islamist entities, and will look to avoid being dragged into a conflict that is not yet theirs to fight.
Therefore, unless Kurdistan's interests are threatened, a Kurdish intervention can take place only if the Kurds' Arab partners guarantee Kurdistan's interests in Iraq. That means giving the Kurds increased autonomy, energy rights and control over oil-rich disputed territories like Kirkuk. But the Kurds may now get all that anyway.
Control of Kirkuk takes the Kurds all the more closer to independence. The Kurds have also proved their worth by taking in more than 700,000 displaced Iraqis from Mosul. The question and litmus test for them is whether their Arab partners are ready to reciprocate.
Below is the text from Samuel's article for RUDAW, 14th June 2014.
The Price of Failure
The situation in Iraq is currently in a constant state of flux. Mosul has fallen into the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and large parts of the country are out of government control. With Iraq’s second city lost and the spread continuing, the coming days and weeks will define the country’s future. ISIS have made staggering gains, defeating an army that is many times its size. While predictions may be difficult,it is not hard to predict that this will be a difficult period for not only Iraq, but the region as a whole.The questions to be raised now are: Can Iraq be brought back from the brink? And how did it get this bad?
It can be argued that the Sunni insurgency never really left Iraq,The Government of Iraq has never managed to deal effectively with the Sunni Arab sense of disempowerment and consequent discontent following the fall of Saddam. However real blame for the empowerment of Sunni extremists has to be laid at the door of Premier Al Maliki.
Al Maliki’s decision, in December 2013, to tear down protest camps in Anbar while targeting ISIS camps in Wadi Horan, near the Iraqi-Syria border, really started the ball rolling. A power vacuum was created in Anbar against a backdrop of growing discontent in the general population and a feeling of marginalisation and disenfranchisement. ISIS capitalized. They fought hard for the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
In the run up to the elections Maliki managed to use the situation in Anbar to his advantage. War-time presidents do well and Maliki did better than many expected. Had people known what the situation would be like just a few months later things would not have been the same. With vast areas of Iraq in the hands of ISIS, Maliki has lost control.
To let Iraq’s second city fall was a major military failure.A huge underestimation of ISIS. This was combined by the lack of awareness of the low morale in the army. Many soldiers have been fighting in Anbar for the last year, watching their brothers in arms die around them.Whilst soldiers in provinces like Mosul may be drawn from all communities, including some who are Sunni Arab, senior officers tend to be predominantly Shiite, with a few from key loyal minority groups. The consequence in Mosul was that the officers were those that felt most vulnerable and decided to run first. After only a few days of fighting Mosul was lost, getting it back will be hugely difficult if not impossible, if left to Maliki.
Getting closer and closer through the areas of Salahaddin, Anbar and Diyala, Baghdad will be partially surrounded. Maliki has lost the support of his army. The country is out of control and currentlyMaliki has no ability to fight back.
Strengthened by their success in Syria and Anbar, ISIS have made a clear decision to push in Iraq in an attempt to bring the country to its knees. ISIS managed to consolidate its strength in Syria. Carving out areas of influence and control, fighting more with other opposition groups than with the government.ISIS have a core aim, the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. The organisation has been merciless in this regard.
Fighting with other groups in Syria for power. Power, influence and access to resources is of huge importance to ISIS. Claiming Al-Raqqa as its capital in 2013, many ISIS supporters believe that the dream of establishing an Islamic caliphate across the borders of Iraq and Syria may be near.If the situation continues as it is,it will.
There has been a clear strategy by ISIS.Stepping up operations over the last 6 months.Now at its crescendo, ISIS appears to be surging south to Baghdad. Capitalising on Maliki’s weak position, the low morale in the Iraqi Army, and their own brutal reputation, ISIS have been ruthlessly effective. Bolstered by support, the prominence of the uprising in Syria both regionally and internationally has encouraged elements of the Sunni minority in Iraq to fight against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Fuelled by their successes and gains, geographically, militarily and economically, ISIS will be strengthened by its advances. Rising out of the ashes of the Islamic State of Iraq, ISIS may change the dynamics in the Middle East.
Both the United Kingdom and the United States have had a policy of disengagement with Iraq since they have pulled out. Their focus put on other foreign policy issues and their own internal problems. The support for an active policy in Iraq has not been there.
This has been a major failure. Iraq was and remains of huge strategic importance to Western nations and its complete implosion will prove negative for all involved, except for those waving the black flags of extreme Islamist groups. International engagement was hugely important for Iraq to maintain its borders and security with a brutal civil war taking place next door in Syria.
Iraq never stopped being an important strategic partner for the West. Not only economically but also, now ironically, from a counter-extremism and radicalisation perspective. The impact of radicalisation in Syria has become the key security issue for Western states, however the West’s lack of foresight will now see Iraq join Syria as a hotbed for radicalisation. As the situation in the region degraded, Western governments should have recognised the importance of Iraq however unpalatable this may have been to western politicians. Now without significant foreign intervention Iraq may be lost.
The US government should act now. Support should be given to both Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. The flow of ISIS through Iraq has been fast. To stem the tide the West should act. Boots on the ground is impossible. Strategic targets should be identified and the flow weapons and military vehicles into Syrianeeds to be stopped. This combined with direct military support may be the only options left if Iraq if is to survive.
Maliki has few options. Either, surge forward, attempting to gain lost ground, in what will be a bloody venture and a hard fight to get parts of Mosul under control. An option that may be impossible. This is not Saulat Al-Fursan. The other option is to consolidate his forces and defend Baghdad and the south. The second, will be effectively conceding half of the country. Iraq will, de-facto, be split. A situation of a long term war of attrition as we are witnessing in Syria is possible.
What comes next will be important but what is clear now, is that Maliki has failed. Through neglecting the situation in Anbar, with failed attempts to bring an end to a situation he created, Maliki has underestimated the force and desire of ISIS. As Iraq Army losses continue, it becomes apparent that many are unwilling to fight under his command.
What has become clear is that 2014 is an important year in the long history of Iraq.