Weekly Iraq Update #37
September 6, 2012-September 12, 2012
Vice President Hashemi sentenced to death
Iraq’s Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi was sentenced on Sunday to death by hanging after he and his son-in-law were convicted of organizing the murders of a security official and a lawyer. Hashemi is subject to more than 150 charges of terrorism based upon allegations that he used death squads to target his political opponents. Hashemi was quick to denounce the “kangaroo court” conducted by a “politicized judiciary,” insisting that the verdict itself confirmed his innocence. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey, where Hashemi is currently based, will not hand over the Vice President.
For a more in-depth analysis of the Hashemi verdict and its implications for Iraq, see Stephen Wicken’s Political Update, “The Hashemi Verdict and the Health of Democracy in Iraq.”
Al-Qaeda in Iraq claims attacks
Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) front group, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), claimed responsibility for a massive wave of attacks across Iraq on Sunday. On one of the bloodiest days since the withdrawal of U.S. forces last year, nearly 100 people were killed in over 30 attacks that spanned the length of the country. In a seemingly coordinated string of car bomb and IED detonations, at least 18 separate locations were struck from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south with a strong concentration around the Baghdad belts. While coinciding with the verdict on the Hashemi trial, the attacks, which targeted Iraqi security forces, civilian markets, and Shi’ite neighborhoods and shrines, were, according to ISI’s statement, a “response to the campaign of torture and execution” against Sunni prisoners, a likely referral to the execution of 21 prisoners by the government of Iraq last month.
As noted, violence in Iraq has risen in recent months as the ISI has been able effectively to orchestrate high-profile assassinations and widespread bombing campaigns. Previous concentrations of attacks also occurred on July 23 and August 16, though the attacks on Sunday outmatched them both in terms of the geographic range of the attacks. This points to a steady increase in ISI’s ability not only to coordinate multi-city bombings but also to penetrate and execute attacks in the Shi’a-dominated regions of southern Iraq.
Sunday’s attacks suggest the resurgence of ISI. As the Syrian crisis continues to worsen and tension on the Iraq-Syria border steadily increases, spillover has become a growing concern for Iraqi security. As foreign fighters pour into Syria, ISI may be benefiting from the increased freedom of movement across the region generated by the conflict. Furthermore, combined with the inherent difficulties experienced by Iraqi security forces in controlling historic support zones for ISI, the increase in the flow of weapons and funding have likely contributed to an rise in ISI coordination, planning, and growth in recent months.
Spillover from Syria continues
Meanwhile, tensions at the Syrian border continue to rise. On September 8, a four-year-old girl was killed after four rockets fired from Syria hit a residential area in the Iraqi border town of al-Qaim in what the Iraqi Interior Ministry called a “criminal operation.” This is the second time rockets fired from Syrian territory have landed in Iraq. In late August, regime rockets and artillery fire landed near Iraqi security forces stationed at the border but caused no casualties. Syrian opposition fighters have been in control of the Abu Kamal / al-Qaim crossing since late July, which prompted the deployment of two Iraqi army brigades and a helicopter unit to the area.
While the source of the rockets is unclear, they likely landed in Iraq by accident as a result of increased military clashes between opposition forces and the Syrian army in the town of Abu Kamal, which sits across the border from al-Qaim. On September 5, opposition forces captured the Hamdan Military Airport from the Syrian army after three days of steady fighting. Since then, the regime has pulled back and has been bombarding rebel positions within Abu Kamal from the city’s outskirts with surface-to-surface rockets, artillery, and fixed-wing aircraft. The Iraq-bound rockets could easily have been misfired Syrian munitions. Nevertheless, the incident prompted a public response from the Iraqi Interior Ministry which stated that “despite the fact that Iraq is committed to adopting a neutral stance towards the crisis in Syria, our brave forces are ready to confront and respond in case of repetition of such aggression.”
This latest confrontation comes after last week’s report accusing Iraq of facilitating Iranian arms shipments to Syria. Furthermore, the latest UN report indicates that over 22,000 Syrian refugees have entered Iraq since the beginning of the conflict. As the Syrian crisis continues to evolve, the spillover effect on the Iraq-Syria border will likely increase, which would exacerbate Iraq’s already rampant security issues.
White House nominates new ambassador to Iraq
On Monday, President Obama nominated Robert Stephen Beecroft as the new ambassador of Iraq after the Administration’s previous choice, Brett McGurk, withdrew his nomination in light of an alleged scandal involving his now-wife Gina Chon, a Wall Street Journal reporter. Prior to serving as the ambassador to Jordan from 2008-2011, Beecroft has also held embassy positions in Saudi Arabia and Syria. He has been working at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad since July 2011, most recently as chargé d’affaires.
Kurdistan increases oil trade with Turkey
In the most recent episode of the ongoing energy feud between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Turkey has agreed to increase its trade agreement with the KRG despite complaints from Baghdad. The Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz expects Kurdish exports to Turkey to increase to 200 trucks per day, or about 40,000 barrels of crude oil, which is up from the current 15 trucks per day. In return for Kurdish oil, Turkey has been supplying the KRG with diesel fuel and kerosene for its power plants.
The Iraqi central government has publicly denounced the KRG’s independent export of oil to Turkey, claiming that Kurdistan does not have the right to export any Iraqi produced energy without the central government’s prior approval. Despite this, Kurdish-Turkish trade cooperation seems unaffected. In fact, through its trade agreement, Turkey has helped the KRG obtain products purposely withheld from the Kurdistan region by the Iraqi central government. In an attempted punishment for the ongoing energy row, Kurdistan is currently receiving only 15,000 barrels per day of the guaranteed 140,000 bpd of oil from southern Iraq. Such a move is unlikely to stifle the KRG’s movement toward energy export independence.