Iraq Update #33
by Caryn Benisch
August 3, 2012-August 15, 2012
Baghdad’s Tensions with Irbil and Ankara Diminish
Tensions between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have receded for the time being as a result of three key developments over the last week. First, on August 7 KRG President Massoud Barzani announced that the KRG would establish a Supreme Negotiations Council to solve the ongoing disputes with Baghdad, including the oil and gas agreements and budget share for Kurdistan border guards. The committee tasked with creating this Council held its first meeting on August 11. Second, the KRG restarted its oil export program in what was referred to as “a goodwill gesture towards the central government in Baghdad.” A payment dispute between Baghdad and Irbil had led the KRG to halt oil exports last April. Finally, following a nearly two-week long showdown between Kurdish Peshmerga units and Iraqi Army forces in Ninewa, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani announced on August 10 that the standoff had been resolved, maintaining that agreements exist for cooperation between the two forces on border security.
Baghdad’s recent confrontation with Ankara over Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s visit to the Kurdistan Region, which was not coordinated with and therefore considered illegal by Baghdad, has also settled down in the past week. Amidst calls from the Iraqi government to investigate the circumstances of the visit, Davutoglu met with the heads of the Shiite and Sunni Endowments (Waqfs), Saleh al-Haidari and Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai, and Iraqiyya List leader Ayad Allawi to discuss sectarian tensions. In contrast to his behavior earlier this month, Davutoglu appears to be reaching out to these constituencies in an effort to improve the internal political and sectarian conflict in Iraq.
Although some of Baghdad’s most immediate tensions with Irbil and Ankara appear to have dissipated, the disputes over oil remain. As part of an oil exploration deal, the KRG signed an agreement on August 7 with Korean companies to construct two power plants in Irbil and in Sulaymaniyah within the next several months. The news of this agreement came just a week after French energy giant Total announced it would purchase two exploration blocks in the Kurdistan Region. Angered by what Baghdad views as the KRG and international oil companies’ (IOCs) continued defiance of Iraqi oil law, Iraq boldly presented Total with an ultimatum on August 12 either to halt all dealings with the KRG or to sell its share in Halfaya, a major southern oilfield.
OPEC recently announced that Iraq has overtaken Iran as the second-largest oil producer within its membership for the first time since the late 1980s, a development that could exacerbate the dispute between Baghdad and Irbil over oil and land rights. While increased oil production will likely facilitate greater investment interest among IOCs in Iraq as a whole, companies are liable to favor deals with the Kurdistan Region because of its attractive production-sharing contracts, empowering the KRG relative to Baghdad and perpetuating tension between the two governments.
Al-Qaeda Continues to Target Security Forces and Conduct Sectarian Attacks
The July announcement from al-Qaeda’s front group in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), warned of a new offensive called “Breaking Down the Walls,” targeting Iraqi security officials, judges, and lawyers. In what appears to be an extension of this initiative, ISI claimed responsibility for a double bombing on the Baghdad Counter-Terrorism Unit headquarters that killed dozens on July 31. The group also took credit for 27 other attacks and shootings against government and security officials between June 17 and July 20. There have been increased reports recently of death threats and intimidation tactics being employed against Iraqi lawyers: on August 8, gunmen assassinated a well-known lawyer in Baiji along with his wife, five sons, and a relative.
Insurgents have also continued to target Shiite Muslims throughout the country. On August 11, 6 young residents of the town of Amerli in Salah al-Din were shot and killed by unidentified gunmen while swimming just outside Tuz Khurmatu, a predominantly Shiite Turkmen area. A day later, gunmen believed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda rounded up a group of men in Kirkuk province, killing all 8 Shiites but sparing the Sunnis. Authorities have linked such episodes of targeted sectarian violence to an insurgent strategy that seeks to exploit the power vacuum in the country created by the recent political crisis.
Efforts to Withdraw Confidence From Maliki May Be Halted
After months of efforts to investigate and withdraw confidence from Prime Minister Maliki, Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi announced on August 8 that the investigation process had been suspended and the Reforms Proposal was now in effect. Despite Nujaifi’s announcement, members of Iraqiyya List and the Kurdistan Alliance maintain that Maliki’s government cannot be reformed. Iraqiyya MP Faris al-Sinjari insisted that Irbil and Najaf would continue the process of investigating Maliki, and another Iraqiyya representative, Muzher Khodor, stated that “everyone supports comprehensive reform in the state but there is no hope that the reforms will take place, especially with regard to the post of minister of defense in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.” Spokesman for the Kurdistan Alliance Muayed al-Tayeb announced that the parties involved in the opposition movement to unseat Maliki “have several political projects that we hope will develop a solution to the political crisis, including investigating [Maliki].” This suggests a significant disconnect between Nujaifi’s view and those of the groups still intent on removing Maliki; however, after months of similar rhetoric from the opposition failed to produce results, it is unlikely that the opposition will have any chance to reach its goal now as the momentum appears to have shifted in Maliki’s favor.