Weekly Iraq Update #43

October 17, 2012-October 24, 2012

Kurdish delegations arrive in Baghdad

Two delegations from the Kurdistan region travelled to Baghdad over the weekend for discussions about the Baghdad-Erbil relationship. A delegation representing the Kurdistan region’s political parties, led by Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) deputy leader Barham Saleh, met with National Alliance leader Ibrahim al-Ja’afari and with Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) leader Ammar al-Hakim on Sunday, before meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday. Concurrently, an official economic delegation representing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), headed by KRG Deputy Prime Minister Imad Ahmed, met with federal government officials before talks with President Jalal Talabani on Monday. A number of Iraqi and Kurdish politicians expressed optimism about the meetings, heralding signs of progress in the Iraqi-Kurdistani relationship.  

Among the issues discussed were security cooperation and Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, which refers to the disputed territories in northern Iraq contested by the federal and Kurdistan regional governments. The disputed territories have been high on the agenda in recent weeks as a result of two developments. Last week, a draft law was presented by President Talabani that proposes the revisiting of a number of provincial borders covered by Article 140. The proposal, supported by Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Arif Tayfur of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), recommends returning the relevant administrative boundaries to those that existed before the beginning of Saddam Hussein’s Arabization of traditionally Kurdish areas, “in order to remove imprints of the former [Ba’athist] regime” and return areas “to their real owners.” The parliamentary Legal Committee announced that the proposal would involve redrawing the boundaries in particular of the provinces of Anbar and Salah al-Din, the latter of which did not exist before 1968, when the Ba’athists took power. The proposal met with swift and widespreadopposition from ArabSabean and Yazidipoliticians, whose constituencies stand to lose the most from a return to the pre-Arabization borders.

Opponents of the provincial boundaries proposal warned that it risked exacerbating political tensions in the region. Such tensions have already been heightened by the establishment of the Tigris Operations Command, a new command that brings the existing security forces in Diyala and Kirkuk provinces together under Maliki’s control. The command, originally announced in July but yet to move into its planned base at Camp Ashraf in Diyala, forms a part of the planned reorganization of the Iraqi Security Forces at multi-provincial corps level.

The formation of the command, accompanied by rumors of security force movements around Kirkuk, has raised Kurdish fears about Maliki’s intentions regarding Kirkuk, particularly since Maliki circumvented parliament to appoint General Abdul Amir al-Zaydi, a veteran of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign against the Kurds. On Friday, KRG National Security Advisor Masrour Barzani accused Maliki of bypassing the constitution in failing to consult parliament on the establishment of the Tigris command and of sending extra troops to Kirkuk. On Sunday, Kurdistan Alliance MP Khalid Shwani pointed to General Zaydi’s appointment as evidence that the Tigris command was established for political rather than security reasons, warning that the presence of high-ranking former Ba’athists in the Tigris command was a provocation to the people of Kirkuk. Zaydi responded by insisting that any changes to the security forces in the area were purely structural and denied that forces were being moved to Kirkuk. He added that joint committees had been established to coordinate the roles of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the region.


Similarly mixed signals about the health of the Baghdad-Erbil relationship came from conflicting reports about oil exports from the Kurdistan region. On Sunday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs Hussein al-Shahristani met with Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Ruz Nuri Shawiz and KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami. Reuters subsequently reported that the KRG had agreed to raise oil exports through Iraq to 250,000 barrels per day if Baghdad promised to pay oil operators in the region. An article in the government newspaper al-Sabaah, however, stated simply that export issues had been discussed but did not mention a deal. Almost concurrently, Reuters also claimed that the Kurdistan region had begun selling its oil on international markets in independent export deals with two of the world’s largest global trading houses, Trafigura and Vitol, risking significantly heightening tension with Baghdad. A source from the KRG’s Ministry of Natural Resources, however, denied that there was any new trade, insisting that the KRG simply traded condensate for products with Turkey, whence the oil went to market.

Supreme Court strikes down provincial elections law

In a further sign that provincial elections are unlikely to take place on time, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that part of the law governing the elections is unconstitutional. The law was adopted by parliament in August 2012, renewing the 2008 law adopted for the 2009 provincial elections with a small number of amendments. Absent from the amendments was any mention of the fifth paragraph of Article 13, which outlines a system for allotting surplus seats only to electoral lists that win seats in the initial allocation. This arrangement is identical to the one outlined in the 2009 amendments to the 2005 parliamentary elections law, which smaller parties, threatened with marginalization by the new system, referred to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in June 2010 that the amended process for awarding surplus seats was unconstitutional, calling the system “a violation of the principle of justice.”

In debating the amended provincial elections law in August, parliamentarians – particularly those from the large electoral blocs that benefit most from the system – appear to have assumed that the Supreme Court decision referred only to the parliamentary elections law and not to the provincial elections version. Monday’s decision makes clear that the judiciary is applying the same standards to the provincial elections law, requiring parliament to revisit the legislation. Particularly interesting, however, is the collection of plaintiffs behind the appeal against the law: alongside representatives of small parties such as Iraqi Communist Party leader Mufid al-Jazairi, a ringleader in the 2010 appeal, and Kurdistan Islamic Union deputy Najib Abdullah, the leading plaintiff was Sherwan al-Wa’eli, an MP from Maliki’s own State of Law Coalition. Wa’eli’s involvement suggests that despite this Maliki, often a beneficiary of high-level judicial decisions, may be seeking to postpone elections himself.

Past Updates

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