Weekly Iraq Update #48
November 21, 2012-November 29, 2012
Tentative agreement reached on disputed territories standoff
The ten-day standoff between Iraqi security forces and units of the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) Peshmerga forces began to abate on November 26 as spokesmen for both sides announced that progress had been made towards a reduction in tensions. The announcement came after meetings between officials from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the Kurdish Peshmerga Ministry. Iraqi national security adviser Falah al-Fayadh and Farouk al-Araji, the chief of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s military staff, chaired the meetings, which were also attended by OSC-I head Lieutenant General Robert Caslen. Iraqi military spokesman Colonel Dhia al-Wakil said in a statement that the “higher coordinating committees” established in 2009 had been activated to ease the tension by exploring the withdrawal of mobilized units to their former locations. Peshmerga Ministry Secretary-General Jabar Yawar confirmed that an agreement had been reached to return to the status quo ante and that “we are working on the success of the agreement.” On November 27, Yawar declared that a 14-point agreement had been reached that would involve the withdrawal of all units that had deployed towards Kirkuk since November 16. He added that the agreement, to be finalized on November 28, would require regular monthly meetings between Iraqi and Kurdish security officials. Wakil confirmed on November 28 that a final draft had been agreed, to be announced later.
The announcements came the day after worrying signs of a deepening crisis. On 25 November, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was reported to have banned Kurdish officials, including KRG President Masoud Barzani, from traveling internationally without the consent of the federal government. The same day, Peshmerga Ministry deputy minister Anwar Haji Osman said that the Kurds had mobilized reinforcements over the weekend and send them to the disputed territories, adding that “if [the Iraqi security forces] overstep the line, we will strike them.” Fazil Basharati, a member of the Peshmerga committee in the KRG Parliament, echoed this belligerent note, declaring that “the sooner we go to war, the better.” Meanwhile, members of Kurdish political parties – including those with no armed wing – expressed their willingness to fight “if a war breaks out.” In Hawija, Kirkuk province, dozens of Arabs demonstrated in support of the federal government and the Tigris Operations Command under the leadership of district council head Hussein Ali Saleh. As of November 28, however, President Barzani insisted that while he remained concerned at the possibility that Maliki might use the Iraqi armed forces to resolve political differences, the Peshmerga would not “fire the first bullet of the war.”
While security officials worked on a military-technical agreement, Iraqi parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi launched his own initiative to defuse the crisis on November 21. Nujaifi began by meeting with Maliki before traveling to the Kurdistan region to meet with President Barzani, following these meetings with further telephone discussions. He subsequently received U.S. Ambassador Robert Stephen Beecroft, UN Deputy Ambassador to Iraq Gyorgy Busztin and Deputy Army Chief of Staff Abboud Qanbar. Nujaifi’s initiative, like his recent visit to Gaza, signals his intention to establish himself as a leading statesman ahead of the 2013 provincial elections.
Maliki’s son, government spokesman implicated in Russian arms deal
On November 25, Sadrist MP Mohammad Reza al-Khafaji named Ahmed al-Maliki, son of Prime Minister Maliki, as one of the figures suspected of involvement in corruption surrounding the stalled arms deal signed with Russia last month. Khafaji is one of a number of Sadrist MPs who have led the charge against the Maliki government over the deal. He also identified government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh and MP Izzat Shabandar of Maliki’s State of Law Coalition as suspects. Acting Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi, adviser Abdul Aziz al-Badri and a Lebanese ‘broker’ called Hassan Fayyad have also been linked to the deal. Dabbagh, Dulaimi and Badri were reported on November 20 to have been referred to the Integrity Commission.
Ahmed al-Maliki was appointed as assistant to the director of the prime minister’s office in 2011 after being promoted from his position as the government’s procurement chief, during which time he was alleged to have established a large personal fortune that he subsequently invested outside Iraq. He was subsequently rumored to have marginalized or even replaced Hamid al-Mussawi, the director of the prime minister’s office, expelling employees and effectively taking control of a number of state institutions. He was also alleged to have received significant commissions for government contracts with foreign companies.
Saadoun al-Dulaimi, a Sunni Arab, was appointed as Minister of Culture in December 2010 before being named Acting Defense Minister by Maliki in August 2011 over opposition from Iraqiyya, who insisted that they were entitled to appoint the Defense Minister. Lacking a strong political constituency of his own Dulaimi has faced strong resistance to his confirmation by Iraqiyya, the Sadrists and Kurdish parties and is thought to rely on Maliki’s patronage. Izzat Shabandar is a leading State of Law MP seen as a close Maliki ally. Little is known about Abdul Aziz al-Badri beyond his status as an adviser working in the office of the presidency. Hassan Fayyad, meanwhile, is a Lebanese arms dealer rumored to be close to Lebanese Hezbollah and thought to have had links to Russian arms deals since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Dabbagh was elected on Maliki’s State of Law Coalition list but is not a member of Maliki’s Da’awa party. He was first named as one of the officials suspected of corruption early in November. Dabbagh insisted that he was the first to alert Maliki to the possibility of corruption, and subsequently calling for a parliamentary committee to investigate the claims. Maliki was quick to deny that Dabbagh had informed him of any suspicions about the deal. One source claims that Maliki has refused to meet with Dabbagh since his return from Russia, suggesting that Dabbagh has already been sidelined, although he continues to make government announcements on his website. He has reportedly been offered his choice of ambassadorship or to leave Iraq: as an elected MP appointed to his post by parliament, his departure would have to be approved by vote. However, it is unlikely that he will remain indefinitely in the position against Maliki’s wishes.