The Iraqi province of Diyala lies to the north of Baghdad. Its shares its eastern border with Iran, its northern border with Kurdistan, and its western border is shaped by the flow of the Tigris River. The Diyala River, a tributary of the Tigris, flows south through Diyala before meeting with the Tigris just south of Baghdad. Diyala's main cities include Baqubah (its capital), Muqdadiyah, Balad Ruz, Khalis, and Khanaqin. The province has a mix of Sunni Arab, Shi'a, and Kurdish residents.
Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was the most destabilizing threat to Diyala in 2006. The province had special significance for al Qaeda. Abu Musab Zarqawi designated Diyala the capital of the caliphate that he aimed to establish in Iraq when he was head of al Qaeda in the country. In April 2006, Zarqawi located his headquarters at Hebheb, a village northwest of Baqubah along the Baghdad-Kirkuk road.
Al Qaeda terrorists lived in rural areas, but concentrated in safe houses inside Baqubah. They discredited the Iraqi security forces through numerous attacks, and they discredited the Iraqi government by threatening employees with death if they showed up for work. The organization used the canalized terrain east and southeast of that city, the former hunting grounds of Saddam Hussein stretching from Balad Ruz to
In addition to al Qaeda, Shia militias, sectarian leaders in the province's security forces, and Iranian-funded Special Groups aggrevated sectarian differences and challenged Coalition forces throughout 2007. Diyala acted as a conduit for Iranian weapons and advisors moving into Iraq, both into and from Baghdad.
Security for Diyala province is the responsibility of Multinational-Division North (MND-N) and the 5th Iraqi Army Division. Operations Arrowhead Ripper, Lightning Hammer I and Lighting Hammer II, and Iron Hammer, which were carried out between the summer of 2007 and the summer of 2008, aimed to clear extremist elements from Diyala. By standing up Iraqi army brigades to hold areas that had been cleared by Coalition forces, the Coalition was able to focus on pushing extremist groups out of the cities and into rural areas, and on attacking weapons networks throughout the province, including some which originated in Iran.
Politics in Diyala
Because Diyala has a large Sunni population, and significant Shia and Kurds populations as well, politics in the province are extremely contentious. Often, they are woven into issues surrounding the security of the province. While the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) dominated Sunni politics in Iraq, it was threatened by the fragmentation of the Sunni insurgency in 2007 and by the spread of the Anbar Awakening movement model.1 The IIP understood that if it could enable the creation of tribal and former insurgent groups in Diyala, they could enhance their position nationally by counteracting the new Awakening
movement in al Anbar Province and gain a powerful constituency in Diyala. The province thus became a critical political battleground in which the IIP would seek to establish themselves through the subornment of these grassroots, anti-AQI movements.2
In the 2009 Provincial Elections, the IIP (running in the National Accordance Front coalition) garnered the most seats (nine) in the province, followed by the Iraqi National Project List (INPL), a Sunni nationalist coalition (six seats), and the Kurdish Alliance (six seats). A variety of Shi'a parties, including Prime Minister Maliki's State of Law Coalition (two seats), fill the rest of the 29 seats in the council.3 The results indicate a strong showing among Sunni and Kurd voters in Diyala province. A coalition also formed between the IIP, Kurdish Alliance, and Diyala Coalition (a Shi'a coalition with links to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq).4
IIP and Popular Committees
In February of 2007 Dr. Hussein al-Zubaydi, the head of the Security Committee in the
Diyala Provincial Council and a high ranking member of the IIP, volunteered his services to Coalition Forces in Diyala. Coalition Forces used Zubaydi to help coordinate the organization, registration and management of the Sunni groups forming to fight AQI.5 This allowed the IIP to control the membership of these groups as well as their eventual transition to political parties. In mid to late 2007, in an attempt to extend the appeal of the groups to the Sunni Nationalistic identity the IIP began calling the groups Popular
Committees rather than using one of the pre-existing names – The Awakening, Concerned Local Citizens or Sons of Iraq (SoI).
The use of the name “Popular Committee” was politically astute. The name is significant to Sunni Arab history, relatingdirectly to the founding of localized security forces in the early twentieth century when the British government announced its withdrawal from Syria. The withdrawal began in 1919 and caused an immediate economic downturn and power vacuum resulting in the instability of Syrian Arab society. Syrians fled their homes in rural areas to seek refuge in cities as armed gangs formed and began terrorizing local populations.6 In response, Yasin al-Hashemi, an Iraqi serving as the president of the Syrian Government’s War Council, called on tribal leadership and “local notables” to recruit volunteers.7 Hashemi named these groups Popular Committees charging them with providing security for the towns in which they lived.8 The founding of these groups signified Sunni Arabs reclaiming ownership and responsibility for their population and state.9 The IIP’s use of the name Popular Committees is clearly an attempt to use elements of Sunni Arab history important to the traditional Sunni identity in order to increase grass roots support for the party.
The IIP also exploited the Sunni groups’ relationship with the Coalition Forces to conduct political campaigns throughout the province.10 When Coalition Forces began
funneling humanitarian aid through the anti-AQI Sunni groups to engender local support, the IIP provided trucks to the fighters to distribute the supplies.11 In order to gain an association with the humanitarian efforts, the IIP painted “courtesy of the IIP” on the side of the trucks.12 The political success of the IIP in creating the Popular Committees to destroy AQI and the co-opting of Coalition aid greatly increased local support and political power for the IIP.13
ISF Arrests of SoI
Shi'a have also been implicated in sectarian activity. In July 2008, the Coalition began Operation Iron Pursuit to clear Diyala province of insurgents. As a counterpart to this operation, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) carried out Operation Glad Tidings of Benevolence (also translated Omens of Prosperity). However, during the operation, hundreds of arrests took place based on a list of 5,000 wanted individuals which included several hundred SoI members.14 By the end of August, at least five senior SoI leaders were detained along with hundreds of SoI foot soldiers; others were reportedly in hiding.15 The ISF forcibly removed SoI groups from their local offices throughout the province, and declared a weapons ban in all of Diyala.16 This ban includes AK‐47s, one of which each Iraqi household is entitled to own under Iraqi law.
Hence, the ban violated the basic rights of Iraqi citizens, while giving the ISF legal grounds to arrest any member of the SoI.17 The operation sought to intimidate the SoI in Diyala in order to begin the process of disbanding the groups. All of this occurred amidst calls in Baghdad and efforts in Abu Ghraib to dismantle other SoI groups.18 The arrests raised Prime Minister Maliki's standing among Shi'a in Iraq, and pushed more radical Sunni elements in Diyala to reconcile with the Government of Iraq (GoI). However, the fact that many of the Sunni arrested were Sunni Sons of Iraq bred fear among Sunnis of a power grab.
Arab Kurd Tensions in Khanaqeen
Khanaqin, like Kirkuk, is a disputed oil‐rich region, and was the target of "Arabization" efforts by Saddam Hussein's regime.19 The district makes up the northeastern part of Diyala province and is home to oil refineries and the only legal border crossing between Iraq and Iran in the northern half of Diyala. This region has diverse population made up of Sunni, Kurds, and Shia. Since as early as 2003, Kurdish Peshmerga Forces have operated in and occupied the Khanaqin region, first at the request of the Coalition Forces and later, in 2005, at the request of the Government of Iraq (GoI).20 The KRG wants to annex the Khanaqin District, along with the Tameem Province and several other districts claiming the areas consist of a population that is predominantly Kurdish in a traditionally Kurdish territory. The GoI refuses to cede control of these districts of mixed ethnicity claiming many of them have large Arab and Turkmen populations. While the Stephan de Mistura of the United Nations, is addressing this conflict district by district, the dispute caused GoI President Talabani to veto the election law passed in the
Parliament in late July 2008. Below is description of the events that have unfolded in this region over the past several weeks.
In mid‐August (roughly August 11 2008), forces from the Iraqi Army’s 1st Division entered the towns of Qara Tapa, Jalawla, and Sadiyah in the southwestern portion of the Khanaqin District. This move was part of the broader ISF operation, Omens of Prosperity.21 When Iraqi Forces entered the southern towns of the Khanaqin District, there was no coordination with the Peshmerga forces that occupied those areas. Furthermore, a delegation made up of provincial ISF leaders issued orders from Prime Minister Maliki demanding that the Peshmerga withdraw within twenty‐four hours and turn over all government buildings in the Khanaqin District to ISF and GoI control.22 Though the delegation included a spokesman from the Ministry of Defense, the Iraqi Army Chief of Staff in Baghdad, General Babakir Zebari (a Kurd), claims he had no knowledge of the ISF move into the Khanaqin District.23 This suggests coordination with specific elements of the ISF and MoD and intentional exclusion of others.
The Commander of the 34th Peshmerga Brigade, Gen. Nazim Kirkuki refused to withdraw stating he had orders from his chain of command in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to remain in place. The situation resulted in a stand‐off between Iraqi and Kurdish forces. On the 15th of August, the KRG Deputy President Kosrat Rasul headed a delegation in Baghdad to negotiate a solution with PM Maliki. 24 During the meeting an agreement was reached between Kurdish authorities and Maliki that the
Peshmerga forces would withdraw from the districts of Qara Tapa and Jalawla, leaving Coalition forces and ISF in control of the area.25 The KRG appeared to have ceded Qara Tapa and Jalawla to maintain control over the city of Khanaqin.
Despite the agreement of the previous week, ISF entered the city of Khanaqin early in the week of August 24th. They set up checkpoints and issued an ultimatum from Maliki that required all Kurdish forces to vacate government buildings and cede control of Khanaqin to ISF.26 Immediately following the ISF entry into Khanaqin, large scale demonstrations protesting ISF presence took place and the local Kurdish Government refused to withdraw from government buildings.27 In yet another escalation of this ethnic conflict, only days after ISF entered Khanaqin, Maliki made a public statement warning that any Kurdish forces deployed outside the borders of Kurdistan would face legal consequences.28 On August 30th, KRG President Barzani, made a rare trip to Baghdad to meet privately with PM Maliki, making clear the severity of the situation.29
There ensued a week of negotiations involving the following individuals: on the Kurdish side, the KRG Cabinet Secretary, Muhammad Qora Daghi ,the Deputy Secretary General of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Burham Saleh, a member of the PUK politburo, Fouad Maasoum, and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) members Hoshyar Zebari and Roznouri Shawis;30 and on the GoI side PM Maliki, the head of the center for the regional protection forces, Mustafa Jawersh, members of the Diyala provincial council, and representatives from the MoI and MoD. The negotiations resulted in a tenuous solution.31 The ISF and the Peshmerga will withdraw from the city of Khanaqin leaving the local security forces and Iraqi Police in control. Neither side will be permitted to enter without the invitation from those local security forces. It is unclear whether the Peshmerga will completely withdraw from the Khanaqin or what if any ISF presence will remain in the city.32
Excerpted from: Claire Russo, "Backgrounder 34: Maliki Government Confronts Diyala," Institute for the Study of War, September 24, 2008; Claire Russo, "Iraq Report 13: Diyala's Provincial Election," Institute for the Study of War, Janaury 30, 2009.
1. "Abu Risha: We Will Win 2/3 of the Anbar Provincial Council Seats." al-Malaf, January 27, 2009. http://almalafpress.net/index.php?d=143&id=79767.
2. Colonel David Sutherland, interview by Claire Russo, Institute for the Study of War, Washington, DC, December 18, 2008.
3. "Iraq Provincial Election Results," Associated Press, February 19, 2009.
4. Ammar Mohammed, "Tight Security, Terrorism, and Accusations of Manipulation of Public Funds and Divisions: Diyala Provincial Council meets today in Baquba." Al-Malaf Press, April 5, 2009 (translated from Arabic).
5. Colonel David Sutherland, interview by Claire Russo, Institute for the Study of War, Washington, DC, December 18, 2008.
6. James Gelvin, “Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire,” (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), Chapter 2.
7. James Gelvin, “Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire,” (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), Chapter 2.
8. James Gelvin, “Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire,” (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), Chapter 2.
9. James Gelvin, “Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire,” (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), Chapter 2.
10. Colonel David Sutherland, interview by Claire Russo, Institute for the Study of War, December 18, 2008, Washington, DC.
11. Colonel David Sutherland, interview by Claire Russo, Institute for the Study of War, December 18, 2008, Washington, DC.
12. Colonel David Sutherland, interview by Claire Russo, Institute for the Study of War, December 18, 2008, Washington, DC.
13. Colonel David Sutherland, interview by Claire Russo, Institute for the Study of War, December 18, 2008, Washington, DC.
14. Richard A. Oppel Jr., “Iraq Takes Aim at US-tied Sunni Groups’ Leaders,” New York Times, August 22, 2008. Alexandra Zavis, “Iraqi Army Flexes Its Muscles in Diyala,” Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2008; Yochi J. Dreazen, “Iraqi Insurgents Prove Elusive in Diyala Stronghold,” Wall Street Journal, July 30 2008; Al-Jazeera TV, “Iraq Diyala Operation to Last up to 30 Days, "Dozens" Arrested,” Translated from Arabic by BBC Monitoring Middle East, July 31, 2008; Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail, “US-Backed Military Operation Stokes Sectarian Violence,” Inter Press Service, August 26, 2008.
15. Richard A. Oppel Jr., “Iraq Takes Aim at US-tied Sunni Groups’ Leaders,” New York Times, August 22, 2008.
16. Hamza Hendawi, “Iraq Moves Against Some US-backed Sunni Fighters,” Associated Press, August 18, 2008.
17. Sean Kimmons, “Police Ban All Firearms in Diyala,” Stars and Stripes, August 27, 2008.
18. Leila Fadel, “Key US Iraq Strategy in Danger of Collapse,” McClatchy Newspapers, August 20, 2008; Ned Parker, “Iraq Seeks Breakup of US-funded Sunni Fighters,” Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2008; “Maliki Hints at Fresh Crackdown on Sunni Militia Groups,” Associated Press, August 24, 2008.
19. Katulis, Brian. “Standoff in Khanaqin”. The Center for American Progress. 29 August, 2008.
20. “Iraqi forces have right to conduct operation in Khanaqin”. Aswat al-Iraq. 22 September, 2008; “Maliki the Nationalist”. Abu Muqawama Blog. 23 September, 2008.
21. Report by Ali Hama Salih in Khanaqin: "Kurdish official: "Withdrawal of Kurdish forces is a setback for the Kurds'"; published by privately-owned Kurdish weekly newspaper Rudaw on 19 August. BBC Monitoring Middle
23. Peyamner news agency website, Arbil, in Sorani Kurdish 1 Sep 08. BBC Monitoring Middle East.
24. Report by Ali Hama Salih in Khanaqin: "Kurdish official: "Withdrawal of Kurdish forces is a setback for the Kurds'"; published by privately-owned Kurdish weekly newspaper Rudaw on 19 August. BBC Monitoring Middle East; Muhammed, Ako, “Local Police to Protect Khanaqin”, The Kurdish Globe, 6 September, 2008.
25. “Peshmerga forces withdraw from Khanaqeen”, Voices of Iraq. 18 August, 2008; “Iraqi Forces have right to conduct operation in Khanaqin”. Aswat al-Iraq. 22 September, 2008; Report by Ali Hama Salih in Khanaqin: "Kurdish official: "Withdrawal of Kurdish forces is a setback for the Kurds'"; published by privately-owned Kurdish weekly newspaper Rudaw on 19 August. BBC Monitoring Middle East.
26. “Demo against Iraqi forces in Khanaqeen”. Aswat al-Iraq. 24 September, 2008.
Report by Ali Hama Salih in Khanaqin: "Kurdish official: "Withdrawal of Kurdish forces is a setback for the Kurds'"; published by privately-owned Kurdish weekly newspaper Rudaw on 19 August. BBC Monitoring Middle East; “Kurds, Baghdad in dispute over government buildings”, Agence France-Presse, 30 August, 2008.
27. “Khanaqin residents protest military presence”. Aswat al-Iraq. 24 September, 2008.
28. “PM al-Maliki will punish Peshmerga deployed outside Kurdish enclave”. Aswat al-Iraq. 24 September, 2008.
29. Barzani, Masoud, “Interview with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani”. Kurdish Regional Government. 2 September, 2008.
30. “Khanaqin agreement has come in place”. Aswat al-Iraq. 22 September, 2008.
31. “Security forces to leave Khanaqin, Peshmerga to return”. Aswat al-Iraq. 24 September, 2008; “Kurds, Baghdad in dispute over government buildings”. Agence France-Presse. 30 August, 2008; “PM calls for meeting Sat. to ponder Khanaqin crisis”. Aswat al-Iraq. 24 September, 2008.
32. “Controversial issues between central gov’t, Kurds in need of radical solutions”. Aswat al-Iraq. 22 September,