Weekly Iraq Update #49
Jordanian Terror Plot Reveals AQI Regional Network
On December 2, new details were revealed about a foiled terror plot in Amman, Jordan linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Last October, 11 Jordanians were arrested by Jordanian intelligence for plotting a multi-wave attack in Amman, targeting shopping centers, hotels, and the U.S. Embassy. The men, captured after crossing into Jordanian territory from Syria, were charged with conspiracy to carry out a terrorist attack and possession of explosives. According to the criminal investigation AQI played a crucial role in facilitating weapons training and smuggling and provided direction on the creation of deadly explosives. Throughout the past year, AQI has been known to operate inside Syria and actively fighting against the Assad regime. Due to the ongoing crisis in Syria, AQI has been able to utilize historical supply lines between Syria and Iraq. Reenergized by increased freedom of movement and a spike in access to weapons, AQI has expanded its operations in Iraq and Syria over the last year. Thus, the recent Jordan plot reveals AQI’s attempts at reestablishing their regional networks that were last used to coordinate the 2005 attacks in Amman that killed 56 people. As the Syrian conflict persists, AQI will likely continue to use territory in eastern Syria to attempt to organize, facilitate, and carryout regional attacks.
Tensions Remain High Between Baghdad and Erbil
The conclusion of last week’s peace negotiations dimmed what was initially seen as a positive development in the heated conflict between Baghdad and Erbil. On November 29, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rejected 11 of the 14 points of a peace plan proposed by the Kurdish Regional Government. Maliki reiterated his refusal to dissolve the Tigris Operations Command and called for the immediate removal of Peshmerga forces in the disputed areas of Ninawa, Salah ad-Din, Kirkuk, and Diyala. According to the media director of the Ministry of the Peshmerga, Halgurd Hikmat, Maliki demanded that all Kirkuk security forces fall under the control of the Tigris Operations Command, an unacceptable stipulation for the Kurds. In an interview with Az-Zaman News, President of the KRG Massoud Barzani blamed the prime minister’s office of sparking the recent escalation, calling the Iraqi Army the “army of one person” with an unconstitutional command structure. Kurdish officials also vowed to oppose the “militarism” of the central government.
On December 3, following the failed peace negotiations, the Ministry of the Peshmerga redeployed its forces outside Kirkuk, the disputed city at the center of the Baghdad-Erbil crisis. The central government quickly denounced the move. Furthermore, the secretary general of the Ministry of the Peshmerga, Jabbar Yawar, accused the central government of continuing to build up its military forces around Kirkuk and of arming tribes in the area. While no further armed confrontations have ensued between Peshmerga and Iraqi forces, tensions remain dangerously high. Current discussions have focused on the creation of joint-force checkpoints.
Previously on December 2, Maliki agreed to a preliminary arrangement proposed by Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, which called for the withdrawal of Iraqi and Peshmerga forces from the disputed areas. The proposal also stated that local police forces would be fully in charge of security. Until an agreement is finalized and fully implemented by both sides, however, tensions will remain dangerously high.
Baghdad Turns Away Turkish Energy Minister Amid Continuing Oil Dispute
The KRG stated on December 5 that it would reduce oil exports by 50 percent to the rest of Iraq. This statement follows Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs Hussein al-Shahristani’s November announcement that Baghdad would not make a second payment to oil companies working in the Kurdistan region. An advisor to the KRG’s Ministry for Natural Resources attributed the export cut directly to Baghdad’s refusal to pay. The announcement came on the final day of the Kurdistan Oil and Gas Conference, at which KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami spoke alongside Turkish Deputy Energy Minister Selahattin Cimen. Absent from the conference was Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, whose plane was prevented from landing at Erbil airport by the Iraqi Transport Ministry when Baghdad reportedly “banned all VIP flights to northern Iraq.” The move highlights the deterioration in relations between Baghdad and Ankara, due in large part to Turkey’s increasingly strong economic ties with the KRG.
Iranian Flyovers Continue to Draw Criticism
On December 1, the New York Times published an article shedding new light on Iranian weapons shipments over Iraq to Syria. Iraqi officials have claimed a commitment to inspecting Syria-bound flights, though recent actions by Baghdad suggest otherwise. In total, Iraq has inspected only two Iranian flights to Syria, one of which was inspected while returning from Damascus. According to the New York Times, Iraqi officials, including Hadi al-Amiri, the Iraqi Minister of Transportation and the head of the Iranian-aligned Badr Organization, are informing their Iranian counterparts as to when inspections would be conducted. In at least one instance, an Iranian pilot ignored an inspection request by Baghdad. According to the article, Iraq is coordinating inspections with Iranian planes that intentionally contain only humanitarian aid in order to satisfy increased inspection demands from the U.S. In response to the accusations, Maliki’s media advisor, Ali al-Moussawi, denied any collusion by Iraqi officials and reiterated Baghdad’s commitment to halting arms shipments. Whether or not Baghdad is complicit in the flyovers, Iraq is unable to force any Iranian cargo plane to land for inspection, and thus Iranian shipments will continue.