Iraq Weekly Update #36
Sep 6, 2012 - Sam Wyer, Stephen Wicken
August 31, 2012-September 6, 2012
Iran resumes shipments of military equipment to Syria through Iraqi airspace
According to a September 5 New York Times report, Iraq has reopened its airspace for Iranian cargo planes to fly military equipment to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Last March, Iraq effectively halted Iranian shipments byannouncing that it would not allow the passage of any weapons to Syria. This was due in part to growing U.S. concern over the recent increase in Iranian involvement in the Syrian conflict. According to Senator John McCain (R-AZ), however, military supply shipments resumed in mid-July, following the deadly bombing in Damascus that killed a number of senior Syrian regime officials.
In response to these allegations, Ali al-Moussawi, media adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, stated that Iraq is waiting for the United States to provide sufficient evidence that the Iranian cargo planes contain weapons and not humanitarian aid. However, the use of Iranian aircraft to support foreign activities is not unprecedented. In October 2011, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned the Iranian commercial airline Mahan Air for its role in “providing financial, material, and technological support” to Iran’s Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah. Then, in August 2012, 48 Iranians were captured by the Free Syrian Army arriving in Damascus using a private Iranian tour company. The FSA claimed some of the men were members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Tensions deepen between Kurdish ruling parties
More cracks appeared this week in the alliance between the Kurdistan region’s two ruling parties. A leading member of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) accused KRG President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of breaching the strategic agreement between the two parties by denying government posts and employment to PUK members in KDP-run areas, particularly in Dohuk province. A KDP representative leveled the same criticism at the PUK, criticizing the treatment of KDP members in PUK-administered Suleimaniyah province. The influence of the PUK relative to the KDP has been in decline recently, due in large part to the rise of the PUK-breakaway Gorran movement in Suleimaniyah. This week Gorran published a statementhighlighting the risk of ‘dictatorship’ in Iraqi Kurdistan, accusing both the Kurdish ruling parties, particularly the KDP, of circumventing the constitution of the KRG in its control of the region’s security forces. The statement came on the same day that the Secretary General of the region’s Peshmerga Ministry announced the formation of four new brigades, the locations of which – three in KDP-dominated Erbil, one in PUK-dominated Suleimaniyah – further highlight the KDP’s relative strength. The ruling parties announced in August their intention to renew their strategic agreement before the provincial elections planned for 2013.
The new Kurdish units, which are fully staffed but awaiting funding, also demonstrate Barzani’s intent to strengthen his hand vis-à-vis Baghdad in the Disputed Territories. In a recent visit to Kurdish troops in Zammar district in Ninewa, the site of a recent ISF-Peshmerga standoff, Barzani expressed hope for a greater degree of coordination between federal and Kurdish forces while making clear that “if anyone thinks that he can challenge the Peshmerga and attack the Kurdistan Region, the Peshmerga will always be willing to sacrifice.”
Baghdad threatens Kurdistan budget over oil exports
On Tuesday, al-Maliki’s office reiterated its claim that the U.S. State Department had in fact decreed that international oil companies must coordinate with the Iraqi federal government before striking new oil and gas deals with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Refuting this hardline claim, a State Department spokespersonreaffirmed the State Department’s long-standing advice that international oil companies are not directed to cooperate with Baghdad but merely are advised that “signing contracts for oil exploration or production with any region of Iraq, without approval from federal Iraqi authorities, exposes these companies to potential legal risks.” The same day, al-Maliki adviser Ali al-Moussawi announced that a committee had discovered losses of more than $3 billion resulting from the KRG’s failure to pump the amount of oil agreed in the budget and from the recent halt to exports from the region. Al-Moussawi stated that the Iraqi cabinet had demanded that the KRG send a delegation to Baghdad within one week to discuss the issue or face a $3 billion reduction in the Kurdistan region’s share of the federal budget. Such a reduction would starve the KRG of funds to invest in oil infrastructure, rendering its production-sharing deals with international oil companies all but useless. It is unclear whether the KRG will comply with Baghdad’s demand, or even whether the allegation is valid; it seems, however, that attempts by the Iraqi parliament’s Oil and Energy Commission to facilitate resolution of the dispute have yet to make discernible progress.
Corruption plagues Defense Ministry
Amid fears of widespread corruption, Iraq’s parliamentary integrity committee is seeking further details regarding weapons contracts signed between the Iraqi government and foreign countries, particularly Ukraine, Serbia, Yugoslavia, and the United States. On Tuesday, the Inspector General of the Defense Ministry admitted to the occurrence of corruption regarding the ministry’s funding and the weapons budget of the Iraqi Security Forces.
Historically, Iraqi weapons contracts have been linked to high-level corruption, which have often included price exaggeration, bribes, or faulty equipment. In 2008, former Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader al-Obeidi was accusedof being involved in secret arms deals reaching over $800 million. Additionally, a number of U.S. Army officers and contractors have been indicted on corruption and bribery charges since 2005.
In any case, contract corruption has likely taken a toll on the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces. Faulty equipment, such as the defective ADE 651 bomb detectors, has been widely deployed despite evidence that the equipment does not work as stated. The lasting implications of such corruption have yet to be seen, but it has undoubtedly impacted the ISF’s development and effectiveness in post-withdrawal Iraq.