Weekly Iraq Update #46
November 7, 2012-November 15, 2012
Rumors surround Daqduq release
It was reported on Sunday that a senior Iraqi official had told the Obama administration that the Iraqi government would soon have to release from custody Lebanese Hezbollah commander Ali Mussa Daqduq, who is accused of having worked with the Iranian Quds Force and masterminded the January 2007 raid that killed five American soldiers in Karbala. On Tuesday, Iraqi and Lebanese news sources began citing an “informed diplomat” who claimed that Daqduq had already been released and had fled to Iran. The Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, however, claimed on Wednesday that Daqduq had been at large in Lebanon for nearly a month. The reports prompted Iraqi Justice Minister Hassan al-Shammari later on Wednesday to deny that Daqduq had been released, insisting that Daqduq is still under investigation by the Iraqi judiciary. While Daqduq’s current status is unknown, it is likely that his release is imminent; while he is likely to return to Iran in the short term, a future return to Iraq could be facilitated by the Iranian-backed Shi’a militant group Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), whose leader Qais al-Khazili was arrested alongside Daqduq in 2007 following the Karbala raid. Khazili is now expanding the organization at a rapid pace throughout Iraq.
Tensions heighten around Kirkuk
Tension continues to escalate over the establishment of the Tigris Operations Command (TOC). On November 8, Azad Abu Baker, a parliamentarian from the Kurdish Alliance, reiterated the claim that the formation of the TOC violates the Iraqi constitution. In particular, opponents of the TOC often cite a violation of Article 61, which states that parliament shall be involved in approving the “army chief of staff, his assistants, those of the rank of division commander and above.” Theoretically, the leader of any provincial or regional operations command would fit this categorization. As noted previously, General Abdul Amir al-Zaydi, the controversial head of the TOC, was appointed without any parliamentary oversight. The operations commands system was developed in 2007 during the peak of the Iraqi Civil War as a way to consolidate control over the various aspects of the Iraqi Security Forces, including army divisions, emergency teams, and local and federal police. Since the end of the war and the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Maliki has begun to merge provincial commands into larger, regionally based commands.
On Monday, growing frustration in the north over the formation of the Tigris Operations Command sparked a public demonstration in Kirkuk in which protesters denounced the existence of the command and called for its removal. Two days later, rumors began to circulate that the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) were planning on forming the so-called Hamreen Operations Command in Kirkuk as a counterforce to the TOC. Such a move would consolidate control over the Peshmerga as well as Kurdish police and security forces in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. Plans for the formation of the Hamreen Operations Command have, however, been adamantly denied by Kurdish officials including Jabbar Yawar, the General Secretary of the Ministry of the Peshmerga, who has stated that the Peshmerga plans to consolidate into two operations commands in Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk, but are not moving to counteract the TOC in Kirkuk. Nevertheless, rumors of the Hamreen Operations Command prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki directly to warn Peshmerga forces on November 15to “keep away from government forces and avoid provoking them.” As tension over the Tigris Operations Command continues to grow, decisions regarding the deployment of Iraqi and Kurdish troops around Kirkuk will be the focal point of a potentially combustible conflict.
Baghdad-Erbil oil agreement falls at first hurdle
Meanwhile, in another sign of failing cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil, the dispute over Kurdish oil contracts and payments lurched onwards after Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs Hussein al-Shahristani insisted that Iraq would not make a second payment to oil companies working in the Kurdistan region. KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami announced in September an agreement under which the federal government would make payments of 1 trillion dinars, the first installment of which (650 billion dinars) would be made in early October, with the remainder to be paid upon Cabinet approval. On Wednesday, however, Reuters reported that Shahristani had insisted that there would be no second payment, since the KRG had failed to pump the required 200,000 barrels per day stipulated in the agreement. This development suggests that the agreement therefore will go the way of previous arrangements that have faltered for operational rather than diplomatic reasons, although it is unclear whether other aspects of the September agreement will endure.
Russian arms deal confusion
On Saturday, a statement from Ali al-Mussawi, media adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, indicated that Iraq had canceled the $4.2 billion arms deal recently signed with Russia. The statement followed weeks of pressure, primarily from the Sadrists, over perceived corruption surrounding the deal. This pressure included repeated calls for an investigation from Hakim al-Zamili, a Sadrist member of the parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, and Baha al-Araji, a leading Sadrist MP and member of the parliamentary Integrity Committee, who claimed that the committee had revealed “significant” corruption regarding the negotiations. Acting Defense Minister Saddoun al-Dulaimi immediately denied that the deal had been cancelled, insisting that the deal was still under negotiation. Russia was rumored also to have asked Iraq to renegotiate through a new committee created by Maliki. As previously noted, the recent arms deals would make Russia the second largest arms provider to Iraq behind the United States, which has left some U.S. officials worried about the United States’ waning influence in Iraq.
Interestingly, on November 15, a delegation from the U.S. Department of Defense met with Maliki in Baghdad to discuss the U.S. commitment to military cooperation and armament contracts. The delegation, which included General James Mattis, the commander of U.S. Central Command, stressed Iraq’s need for defensive weaponry in order to protect its independence and sovereignty. In response, Maliki reaffirmed his commitment to the Strategic Forces Agreement with the United States. This meeting followed a phone call to Maliki by Vice President Joe Biden in which he emphasized the Obama administration’s support for strategic military cooperation between the two countries. While unconfirmed, some reports have linked the United States to the stalling of the Russian arms deals. As a major opportunity for an economic partnership as well as a possible avenue of influence, the United States wants to remain the dominant provider of armaments to Iraq. Whether or not the U.S. was involved in the breakdown of the Russian arms deals, their collapse has nonetheless provided the U.S. with an opportunity to expedite or expand its current contracts in order to maintain some level of negotiating power with Iraq.
Campaign to limit Maliki’s premiership unlikely to bear fruit
A draft law proposing to limit the tenure of Iraq’s “three presidencies” – the roles of prime minister, president and speaker of parliament -- has been presented to parliament after being approved by the parliamentary legal committee. The law has widely been interpreted as a move to limit Maliki to two terms as prime minister following the failed push for a no-confidence vote earlier this year. As in the earlier campaign, the move appears to be led by the Sadrists, who originally proposed the law, with support from Kurdish politicians and elements of the secular-Sunni Iraqiyya coalition. Sadrist member of the legal committee Amir al-Kinani announcedrecently that the proposal had been signed by more than 130 MPs, with a simple majority of parliament’s 325 members need to pass the law. On Wednesday, Nada al-Jubouri, of Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq’s Hiwar party within Iraqiyya, argued that the general consensus within parliament was to pass a law, echoing the sentiments of Kurdistan Alliance MP Sherif Suleiman, who stated that the Kurds would support the law. Shakr Darraji, of Maliki’s State of Law coalition, claimed on Wednesday that limiting the prime minister’s term would require a referendum on amending the constitution, which includes no specification on the duration of the premiership. Maliki, meanwhile, has threatened to refer the law to Iraq’s judiciary, which has in recent years tended strongly to side with the prime minister in its interpretation of the constitution.