Weekly Iraq Update #40
September 26, 2012-October 3, 2012
Iraqi leaders gather in Ankara
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was notable in his absence from the Turkish ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) congress in Ankara on Sunday. Last week, Maliki turned down an invitation to attend the congress, citing a full schedule. In contrast, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani attended the congress as a ‘guest of honor’, prompting the Turkish opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is hostile to the existence of the KRG, to break with tradition and refuse to send a representative.
Alongside Barzani, one of few foreign guests to speak at the congress, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi praised Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “support to Arab nations who try to get rid of dictators.” Hashemi’s statement can be read as simple praise for Erdogan’s embrace of regime change in Egypt (as Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was also present) and support for Erdogan’s opposition to the Syrian regime. In this context, the statement also undermines Maliki’s public neutrality with regard to Syria. Given the cast of high-profile Maliki opponents among his audience, however, Hashemi’s statement may also be interpreted as a veiled criticism of Maliki himself.
Among this host of Iraqi Sunni and Kurdish leaders, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with Parliamentary Speaker Usama al-Nujaifi, Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, Iraqi Islamic Party Secretary-General Ayad al-Samarrai, and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan deputy leader Barham Saleh. The presence of some of Maliki’s highest-profile domestic opponents at a congress celebrating the party of one of his leading foreign critics, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, will not have gone unnoticed in Baghdad.
Bagdad announces oil payment to Erbil
The Iraqi Finance Ministry announced on Tuesday that it had begun paying an initial $650 million to the Kurdistan Regional Government to pay oil companies working in the Kurdistan region. The announcement, made by Deputy Prime Minister Ruz Nuri Shawiz, suggests that the payments were made on schedule and met the expectations laid out by KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami on September 24, although no corroboration of receipt of payment was offered by Kurdish officials. While Baghdad’s apparent adherence to the first stage of the agreement is encouraging, the fact that no timeframe has been given for payment of the full balance of the agreement means that significant scope exists for resumed disputes; as noted in past updates, similar agreements in 2009 and 2011 fell apart when both sides failed to fulfill their responsibilities.
Former Basra governor assassinated
The past week saw a variety of deadly attacks throughout Iraq, raising concern over their growing sophistication and the steadily deteriorating security situation in the country. On September 28, the former governor of Basra Mohammad Misbah al-Waeli was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen with silenced weapons outside the Hamid Suwaji mosque in downtown Basra. While Waeli’s killers have not been identified, rumors backed by his brother Ismail Waeli claim that Waeli was on a number of undefined Iranian-backed Shi’a militant hit-lists. Despite this, Maliki reportedly pulled Waeli’s security detail a few months ago. As a member of the Fadhila political party in Basra, Waeli often conflicted with Maliki, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sadrist Trend, leading to an attempt by Maliki to remove Waeli in July 2007. Waeli eventually stepped down from his position in 2008 amid accusations of oil smuggling and corruption. In addition to refusing to join any Shi’ite electoral coalition, Waeli had also openly criticized the past presence of Mahdi Army security forces in Basra, Sadr’s refusal to support an autonomous Basra region, and ISCI’s connection to Iran. Deputy Prime Minister Mutlaq openly blamed the state security forces for failing to protect national political figures and urged a rapid investigation of the murder. Fadhila has also called for a full investigation. While a range of groups were actively hostile towards Waeli, it is as yet unclear who was ultimately responsible for his death.
Prison attack leaves unanswered questions
Also on September 28, militants attacked the Tasfirat prison complex in Tikrit, leading to the escape of over 100 inmates, half of whom are linked to al-Qaeda and were on death row. The attack began with a car bomb detonation that allowed the militants to storm and overrun the prison compound. In all, at least 20 people were killed, including four inmates and 16 security guards. In the aftermath of the attack, Maliki deployed security forces from Samarra Operations Command in order to retake control of the prison and attempt to recapture the escaped convicts. Furthermore, the Interior Minister stated that there was “clear collusion” between some security guards at the prison and inmates prior to the attack, claiming that weapons were allowed into the facility during family visits and that guards intentionally left cells unlocked. In response, the Iraqi government announced plans to isolate prisoners held on charges of terrorism and have them guarded by federal police. While thus far unclaimed, this attack fits the objectives and methods of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which has stated its desire to free Sunni prisoners in Iraq as the principal objective of this summer’s “Destroying the Walls” campaign. The prison attack also has led many to question the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces in combating the persistent threat of ISI.
 Despite reports that the Sadrist Trend would not send representatives to the congress, senior Sadrist aide Mustafa al-Yaqoubi was also reported to have met with Davutoglu. The Sadrists were originally said to be boycotting the congress over the presence of Hashemi.