2013 Iraq Weekly Update #4c: Iraq Moves Toward Civil War

2013 Iraq Weekly Update #4c:  Iraq Moves Toward Civil War

January 26, 2013

By Marisa Sullivan

Thousands of Iraqis gathered in Fallujah on Saturday, 26 January, to bury the protesters killed the day before by Iraqi Army fire. At a protest following the funerals, demonstrators denounced the government in language reminiscent of the early stages of the uprising in Syria, chanting "Listen Maliki, we are free people" and "Take your lesson from Bashar.” Many protesters displayed Saddam-era flags, signaling their sympathy with the former Ba’ath regime.  Photos from the funeral also show demonstrators waving the black flag of al-Qaeda.

In a televised interview broadcast on Saturday, prominent Anbari tribal leader Ahmed Abu Risha issued an ultimatum giving the government seven days to turn over those responsible for killing the protesters or face "losses among their ranks." Abu Risha’s statements echoed threats that other prominent tribal sheikhs, including Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, had issued on Friday.  Tribal leaders, rather than local or national Sunni politicians, are likely guiding the crowds’ responses to the crisis, for now.  But it is difficult to see how Maliki can meet the sheikhs’ ultimatum.

Also on Saturday, militants continued their attacks against Iraqi army positions in and around Fallujah. Iraqi media reported clashes between gunmen and security forces in the Moheet and Julan neighborhoods of eastern Fallujah. Militants also overran a military post in northern Fallujah after attacking it with mortars and RPGs. In a separate incident, the Iraqi Security Forces, via the Anbar Operations Command, reported that protesters overran and set fire to an army checkpoint, but that no one was hurt in the incident. Three off-duty soldiers en route to Baghdad were also kidnapped south of the city that day.

The al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks against government forces, is likely linked to Saturday’s incidents.  The group has tried to escalate current crisis through provocative attacks, and it is possible that it could draw increased support from disaffected Sunnis as the standoff with the government turns violent.  It is also possible that the group’s actions are being tolerated right now by Anbari tribal leaders who have sought to maintain control of their constituents while satisfying demands for revenge.

The Iraqi Army seems to be attempting to exercise restraint rather than escalating the confrontation.  The Iraqi government announced it had pulled army forces from the Fallujah following the deaths of six soldiers and police were killed in incidents on Saturday and another early Sunday.  Other anti-government demonstrations took place in Mosul, but the federal police forces withdrew from the protest area fearing a violent confrontation. 

As the events unfolded in Fallujah, the Iraqi parliament passed legislation barring the prime minister from seeking a third term in office—a move prompted by the violent events, as well as longstanding fears over his consolidation of power and authoritarian tendencies. The bill drew support from 170 parliamentarians, including those from Iraqiyya, the Kurdish parties, and the Sadrist Trend. The move was significant for opponents of Maliki, who have previously struggled to gain a 163-vote majority required for a no-confidence vote in the prime minister.  Political parties do seem to be rallying against the Prime Minister in the wake of the shootings.

Yet the term limit initiative is unlikely to result in real limitations on the prime minister. In 2010, the judiciary ruled that only the cabinet could draft new legislation, effectively limiting the legislative power of the parliament. Members of Maliki’s State of Law coalition have already indicated they will challenge the bill and will likely receive judicial support for their appeal. The Federal Supreme Court might also strike down the term limits on grounds that it attempts to alter constitutional provisions while bypassing the prescribed amendment process.  The Parliament has in fact demanded that Maliki show his hand and his intent to retain or relinquish power through electoral means.  Maliki has refused.

Maliki had previously tried to contain the protests through non-violent means. Maliki had offered notional concessions by standing up a committee led by Maliki ally Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani to investigate protest demands and releasing some detainees.  He had also closed the Jordanian border, a critical commercial node in Anbar’s economy, in order to strangle off the protests and logistics supporting them. Yet Maliki had also warned that he would not allow the demonstrations to continue indefinitely.

The recent violence leaves Maliki with few good options to prevent the conflict’s escalation while retaining power. He is not likely to be able to meet the sheikhs’ demands to turn over the Iraqi soldiers responsible for the violence, because to do so would enervate his entire army.  He might offer promptly to pay compensation or involve tribal leaders in a joint investigation, but such concessions will not likely suffice even if made rapidly.

Friday’s escalation and the subsequent attacks against Iraqi Security Forces may ultimately require Maliki to respond with force, even though he may not wish to do so as of today.  The violent confrontation will likely persist as both sides take retaliatory measures.  Anbari tribal sheikhs’ restraint is not likely to last more than the seven days that they have given Maliki to act.  Increasing sectarian polarization has deterred meaningful negotiation and compromise, and reduces the likelihood of a political solution to the crisis.  Iraq may be tipping toward a destructive civil war.

2013 Iraq Weekly Update #4b:  Fallujah Protests Turn Violent

January 25, 2013

By Marisa Sullivan, Stephen Wicken, and Sam Wyer

Anti-government demonstrations turned violent today as Iraqi security forces fired on protesters in Fallujah. The confrontation began when protesters in eastern Fallujah attempted to join Friday’s demonstration and were blocked by security forces deployed from Baghdad. The demonstrators began to throw rocks and water bottles at the security forces at the checkpoint.  In videos from the scene, the protesters appear to be unarmed, though Prime Minister Maliki later accused the demonstrators of firing on security forces. Iraqi army forces escalated by firing warning shots into the air, but soon they began to fire directly at the crowd. Protesters also escalated by torching several army vehicles and two cars, including one belonging to an Iraqiyya politician and another to a local politician. Initial reports indicate as many as seven protesters were killed and more than 60 were wounded in the incident.

Protests in Iraq January 25, 2013: Friday of No Return

Click map to enlarge (PDF)

The Iraqi government responded by instituting a vehicle ban and curfew in Fallujah. The Ministry of Defense also announced it would launch an investigation into the incident and that federal police would replace Iraqi army units in Fallujah within 24 hours. The Iraqi Army unit involved in the confrontation is not known. Soldiers from the 1st Division (also known as the 1st Rapid Intervention Force) are present in Fallujah, but the force may have been from the 6th or 9th Iraqi Army Divisions, which are stationed in and north of Baghdad. The 6th Iraqi Army Division has a brigade stationed in Abu Ghraib, not far from Fallujah.

Several hours later, clashes between gunmen and security forces occurred in the al-Askari neighborhood in eastern Fallujah and the al-Shuhada neighborhood in southern Fallujah. In the latter incident, unknown gunmen attacked an army checkpoint in southern Fallujah, killing three soldiers. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a group linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq, is claiming responsibility for the attacks and calling for people to join the "jihad" in Fallujah on Twitter. On Friday evening, they declared that "gunmen [were] deployed in the streets of Fallujah to protect the protesters."

That evening, tribal leaders in Ramadi attempted to calm demonstrators after the Fallujah events. Angry crowds in Ramadi chanted “the people want to declare jihad against the government,” rebuffing tribal figures. However, the tribal sheikhs responded by condemning members of the Anbar Provincial Council for being corrupted by association with the central government.

Prominent Anbari tribal sheikh Ali Hatem al-Suleiman called for an immediate investigation to name those responsible for killing the protesters. He insisted that the protesters were unarmed and had committed no crime. He threatened to take his armed men to Fallujah to confront the army the next day if the perpetrators of the violence were not named.

Maliki initially accused “a group of misguided people” of attacking an army checkpoint in a “deliberate act”. However, he also warned of attempts by intelligence services of regional actors, “remnants of the former regime,” and al-Qaeda “to drag the armed forces into a confrontation with the demonstrators.” The premier called on tribal figures from Anbar to “move to extinguish the fire of sedition,” and asked demonstrators to abstain from provoking the army.

After a meeting of Iraqiyya leaders at the residence of Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi on Friday evening, Iraqiyya called for the Shi’a Iraqi National Alliance and the religious authority in Najaf to replace Maliki. Nujaifi stated that the coalition held the National Alliance responsible for Maliki’s actions, and demanded that the bloc provide an alternative candidate who “respects Iraqi blood and preserves the unity, stability, and security of Iraq.” Nujaifi added that political dialogue was unfeasible with Maliki in place. Saleh al-Mutlak, a founding Iraqiyya leader who has become estranged from the rest of the bloc’s leadership in recent weeks, announced the withdrawal of his National Dialogue Front (Hiwar) from the upcoming provincial elections in protest at the “crimes” against the demonstrators. This is not the first time Mutlak has threatened an electoral boycott: he made similar statements during the de-Ba’athification crisis ahead of the 2010 parliamentary elections, although he later retracted his threats. Mutlak was attacked by protesters in Anbar in late December, suggesting that his support among Sunni Arabs has declined recently.

Muqtada al-Sadr denounced the “assault” on the demonstrators and called on the security forces to “exercise the highest degree of restraint”, stressing the need to “provide security and protection for the demonstrators and maintain their safety.”

Today’s events suggest a significant escalation in Iraq’s ongoing crisis after weeks of anti-government protests. Sunni protesters and tribal leaders in Anbar are now threatening to abandon politics and return to violence as the primary means for addressing their grievances. A violent response by Sunni groups or security forces could prompt security and stability in Iraq to unravel.


2013 Iraq Weekly Update #4:  The Islamic State of Iraq Increases Spectacular Attacks

January 24th, 2013

By Sam Wyer

Iraq SIGACTs January 1-23, 2013

The heat map displays attacks in Iraq from January 1-23, 2013. Data was compiled from open-source reporting from Western and Iraqi sources. This map does not provide an exhaustive account of security incidents in Iraq during the period in question; rather, it represents geographic concentrations of violence.

The volume and lethality of terrorist attacks in Iraq has risen in January 2013 compared to the final three months of 2012. In the context of Iraq’s current political crises, these attacks threatened to ignite growing sectarian, ethnic, and political tensions and suggest a concerted effort by radical Sunni elements to undermine the peaceful anti-government movement and eliminate its tribal leadership.

So far, there have been more deaths in January 2013 than in December, November, or October of 2012. According to the AFP count, at least 218 people have been killed since the New Year, up from 144 in December, 160 in November, and 136 in October of last year. The British NGO Iraq Body Count marks January’s death toll at over 300. According to the Olive Group, the week of January 14 – 20, 2013 saw the highest number of reported security incidents in Iraq in the last 12 months, with the number of incidents in the North Central Region (Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, and Diyala) nearly double the weekly average. The rise in this month’s volume of attacks and number of causalities demonstrates the enduring capacity of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the umbrella organization of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the group likely responsible for the majority of the attacks.

In the summer of 2012, ISI launched the so-called “Destroying the Walls” campaign in an attempt to free Sunni prisoners and regain lost territory in Iraq. In particular, the campaign featured three attack waves in July, August, and September, each hitting a wide range of targets in a single day, in some cases from Basra to Mosul. This month’s attacks, however, have not occurred as a single attack wave, but have come in the form of weekly spectacular attacks that have included suicide bombings, shootings, and political assassinations.

ISI likely launched high-profile, targeted attacks in order to thwart the political and tribal leadership of the current anti-government movement in northern and western Iraq and take revenge against former Sahwa members. In the past week, suspected al-Qaeda gunmen assassinated two Sunni tribal leaders, Saber Ahmed al-Abassi in Salah ad-Din and Mohammed Hadi al-Julaimi in Anbar. Both individuals are former Sahwa leaders and reportedly helped organize the recent anti-government protests. These targeted attacks follow last week’s assassinations of Mohammed Abdul Rabbo al-Jubouri in Ninewa and Iraqiyya MP Ayfan Saadun al-Issawi in Anbar, both prominent supporters of the ongoing demonstrations. As Iraqi Sunnis become increasingly disillusioned with the failures of political participation, ISI will likely increase its attempts to radicalize the anti-government movement and sideline Sunni tribal leaders.

In a statement released on January 20th, ISI claimed responsibility for the assassination of Ayfan Saadun al-Issawi. The group labeled al-Issawi as a traitor and a “dog of the Americans,” stating that his death should “be an example and a lesson for those after him.” Voicing its support for the rebel forces in Syria, ISI justified attacks in Anbar as a means to “cut off the vein that is extending the life of the [Assad] regime to kill your brothers in the Levant.” ISI has demonstrated its intent to conduct both targeted political assassinations and large scale bombings, in order to take advantage of the growing sectarian crisis in Iraq and Syria and seek retribution against former Sahwa leaders.

ISI attacks are not limited to Sunni areas. Several recent high-profile attacks have targeted Shi’ite and Kurdish areas of Salah ad-Din and Kirkuk, and they coincide with a tense military standoff between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the disputes territories along the Green Line, threatening to exacerbate tensions.

On January 23, a suicide bomber infiltrated a funeral procession in the Shi’ite Sayyid al-Shuhada Mosque in the northern town of Tuz Khurmatu. At least 42 people were killed and dozens more wounded, making the attack the deadliest since ISI’s late summer “Destroying the Walls” campaign. Tuz Khurmatu sits on the ethno-sectarian fault line between the Kurdish Regional Government in the north and the Iraqi central government and has been a primary target for ISI attacks in the past because of its demographics. The town is home to a number of Turkmen Shi’ites and Kurds. In recent weeks, ISI has targeted Kurdish political offices, including the local office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Tuz Khurmatu on January 16.

The geographic spread of ISI’s recent attacks is consistent with the group’s historic areas of operation in northern and central Iraq. This month’s attacks are concentrated around Fallujah and Abu Ghraib west of Baghdad; towns in southern Diyala province; areas along the Tigris river in Salah ad-Din province; and the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul in the north. These areas are also the focal points for the anti-government demonstrations. In statements released this month, ISI has voiced its support of the anti-government movement, while continuing to assassinate the tribal leaders organizing the efforts. Unsurprisingly, many prominent tribal leaders, including Ali Hatem al-Suleiman in Anbar, have rejected ISI’s support for the protests. This month’s attacks are a reminder that ISI is a powerful actor with the capability to threaten the fragile ethno-sectarian balance in Iraq. As the political crises in Iraq progress, ISI will continue to take advantage of growing tensions and exacerbate the already flammable situation in Iraq.

Past Updates

January 2-17, 2013: 2013 Weekly Update #3

January 11, 2013: Political Update: Mapping the Iraq Protests

2013 Weekly Iraq Update #1: Protests heighten political crisis

Iraq Update #52- December19-December 27, 2012: Protests swell in western and northern Iraq

Iraq Update #51- December 12-December 19, 2012: Talabani suffers stroke

Iraq Update #50- December 06- December 12, 2012: Jabhat Nusra designation highlights AQI’s regional ambitions

Iraq Update #49- November 29- December 06, 2012: Jordanian Terror Plot Reveals AQI Regional Network

Iraq Update #48- November 21- November 29, 2012: Tentative agreement reached on disputed territories standoff

Iraq Update #47- November 15- November 21, 2012: Freed Daqduq travels to Beirut

Iraq Update #46- November 7-November 15, 2012: Rumors surround Daqduq release

Iraq Update #45- November 2-November 7, 2012: Tigris Operations Command Continues to Cause Concern

Iraq Update #44- October 24-November 2, 2012: Iraq Sets Date for 2013 Provincial Elections as Maliki Renews Push for Majority Government

Iraq Update #43- October 17-October 24, 2012: Kurdish delegations arrive in Baghdad

Iraq Update #42- October 11-October 17, 2012: Central Bank governor suspended amid political disputes

Iraq Update #41- October 3-October 11, 2012: Iraq confirms massive arms deal with Russia

Iraq Update #40- September 26-October 3, 2012: Iraqi leaders gather in Ankara

Iraq Update #39- September 19-September 26, 2012: Protests present political opportunities

Iraq Update #38- September 12-September 19, 2012: Anti-film protests spread throughout Iraq

Iraq Update #37- September 6-September 12, 2012: Vice President Hashemi sentenced to death

Iraq Update #36- August 31-September 6, 2012: Iran resumes shipments of military equipment to Syria through Iraqi airspace

Iraq Update #35- August 22-August 31, 2012: Communications Minister resigns

Iraq Update #34- August 15-August22, 2012: Data suggests rise in violence along historic fault lines

Iraq Update #33- August 3-August 15, 2012: Baghdad’s Tensions with Irbil and Ankara Diminish

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 32- July 27-August 3, 2012

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 31- Al-Qaeda Leader Claims Credit for Deadly Attacks

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 30- July 16-July 20, 2012: Rebels Take Over Syrian Border Checkpoints

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 29- July 6-July 16, 2012: White House Says Daqduq Issue Not Closed

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 28- June 29-July 6, 2012: Sadrists Back Down

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 27- June 16-June 22, 2012: Maliki Requests U.S. To Stop Exxon Operations

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 26- June 9-June 15, 2012: Sadr Returns To Najaf, Speaks With Maliki

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 25- June 1-June 8, 2012: Sadr Goes To Iran, Pressure Likely To Increase

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 24- May 25-June 1, 2012: The Numbers Game

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 23- Efforts To Remove Maliki Intensify

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 22- May 22-May 18, 2012:Hashemi Trial Begins

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 21- May 4-May 11, 2012: Daqduq Case Dismissed

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 20- April 27-May 4, 2012: Ultimatum Issued To Maliki

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 19- April 20-April 27, 2012: Maliki Visits Tehran

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 18- April 14- April 20, 2012: Iraqiyya, Kurds Consider Vote to Unseat Maliki

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 17- Members Appointed To Human Rights Commission

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 16- March 30- April 5, 2012: KRG President Massoud Barzani Visits Washington

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 15- March 23- March 30, 2012: Baghdad Hosts Arab League Summit

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 14- March 15-March 23, 2012: Barzani Disparages Maliki

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 13- March 8- Maliki Visits Kuwait, Emir to Attend Arab Summit

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis,  Update 12- March 6- Diyala Appoints New Governor

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 11- Diyala Governor Reportedly Resigns

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 10- Judiciary Sets Hashemi’s Court Date

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 9- Investigation Escalates Hashemi Case

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 8- Iraqiyya Ends Boycott of Council of Ministers

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 7- Iraqiyya Returns to Parliament

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 6- Iraqiyya Contemplates Next Move

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 5- January 13- Iraqiyya Continues Boycott

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 4- December 30- January 13, 2012: Kurds Walk Out of Parliament Session in Protest

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 3- December 23- December 30, 2011: Tensions Increase between Maliki and Sadrists

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 2- December 19- December 23, 2011: Crisis escalates in Iraqi Media

Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 1- December 19, 2011: Timeline of political crisis