Posts Tagged 'Iraq'

What about Iraq?

By: Annette Wolden

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the demonstrations spreading across the Middle East have led analysts world wide to ask the question: what country will be the next? In the guesswork over which government will be toppled next, Iraq has stood largely on the outside. Perhaps because it is assumed that the population has more than enough to struggle with already and is far from being able to mobilize after the troublesome election process in 2010. Nonetheless, there have been some protests in Iraq as well over the last few months. The Iraqi government is perhaps not in the same danger of being overthrown compared to the regimes in countries such as Yemen or Libya, but given the circumstances, the demonstrations may at least be said to carry some extra weight.

It can be argued that the demonstrations in the region have all initially sprung out of various and differing national demands, in Iraq one of the more pressing issues is the lack of stable flow of electricity. In February 2011 Acting Electricity Minister Hussain Shahristani stated that Iraq had an electricity shortage of about 5000 megawatts.[1] During the most recent demonstrations in Iraq, hundreds of people gathered in Baghdad to protest against poor services and sporadic power.[2] As mentioned this has been a recurring issue. In June 2010 the distribution of electricity got so bad that it resulted in mass protest in Basra and Nassariya that eventually led to the resignation of the former Minister of Electricity.[3] This proves that protest in Iraq can indeed have severe implications for politicians.

Since the call for stable access to electricity has been a long term issue in Iraq, it is interesting to see that the large scale policy changes which have been demanded by the population for so long, are only now becoming apparent against the back drop of regional protest that have already toppled two regimes. Perhaps adding to the severity of the situation is the fact that the Iraqi government is once again approaching summer with a severe shortage of electricity to distribute. As temperature rises, so does the use of air-conditions, and thus the demand for electricity. The failure to deliver may lead to deaths, as it did in 2010 when residents in some areas had only a few hours of power a day or less with temperatures reaching 50c°.

The Ministry of Electricity has responded to the recent demonstrations by announcing that Iraqis will receive their first 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity for free each month.[4] This is a considerable amount of free power, and a considerable amount of money saved for Iraqis belonging to the lower and middle classes. It is thus perhaps not unreasonable to ask whether this latest offer on the government’s side to some degree refelcts the perceived severity posed by the regional

[1] Reuters, “Iraq subsidizes power after protests over services Iraq government to supply free electricity”, Alarabiya, 12.02.11, (Accessed 16.03.11).

[2] Reuters, “Iraq subsidizes power after protests over services Iraq government to supply free electricity”, Alarabiya, 12.02.11, (Accessed 16.03.11).

[3] Ben Van Heuvlen, “Iraq’s electricity minister resigns”, Iraq Oil Report, 22.06.10, (Accessed 16.03.11).

[4] Reuters, “Iraq subsidizes power after protests over services Iraq government to supply free electricity”, Alarabiya, 12.02.11, (Accessed 16.03.11).

Iran-Iraq relations revisited: energy cooperation

By: Annette Wolden

The relationship between Iran and Iraq is complicated. Factors of historical, religious, economic and military nature are interwoven and make it difficult for politicians to resolve one issue without having to tackle the others as well. With regards to the energy sector, large investments have been made, and plans to further cooperation in the sector have been discussed. Among the issues discussed are the countries’ approach to border oil fields, the planned oil pipeline between Abadan and Basra, and Iranian assistance to Iraq with regards to electricity and infrastructure.


In approaching the subject of shared natural resources, such as oil and gas fields in the case of Iran and Iraq, states may feel that their sovereignty is being threatened, posing a security dilemma. To give an example, Norway and Russia have been negotiating over fishing resources and the rights to search for and exploit petroleum resources in the Barents Sea and Artic Ocean since 1970. The final agreement was only reached in April 2010. This agreement establishes for the first time the boundary between Norway and Russia in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean.[1] The petroleum and fishing industries are vital for Norway, as is the petroleum sector for Iran and Iraq. The end of the Cold War made it possible for Norway and Russia to re-embark on the subject of their shared frontier, and perhaps the removal of Saddam Hussein will provide for a similar opportunity for Iran and Iraq.


Iraq Business News reported in May 2010 that Iran and Iraq had come to an agreement to provide a Master Development Plan for the development of five shared oilfields.[2] According to Iraq Business News “Iran and Iraq have different legal and contractual systems to develop their oil and gas fields. Once a common ground is established between the two nations, development of the shared border fields can be on the agenda”.[3]


In October 2010 al-Maliki went to Iran to meet with both president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Here, al-Maliki described the two countries’ relationship as strategic, saying “we ask Iran and our neighbors to support our reconstruction and to boost economic and commercial co-operation, which will help improve stability in our region.”[4] In January 2011 Iraq Business News once again reported that Iran and Iraq had reached an agreement to develop their joint oilfields in border areas. According to this report the deal was inked during the first meeting of the two countries’ joint executive working group in Tehran.[5] Based on the new agreement, Iran and Iraq will set up expert committees to finalize technical and financial details of the agreement to develop the border oilfields.[6] Iranian deputy Oil Minister Mohsen Khojastehmehr said that Iran has finalized a plan for the speedy development of the joint oil and gas fields, adding that Iran will start drilling at Azar oil field in the Anaran block, near the Iraqi border.[7]


In view of these developments on the issue of border fields it will be interesting to see whether the attempt to achieve cooperation in the energy sector will spread to other areas as well, and whether this will promote a general tendency toward cooperation between the two neighboring countries. This would be a development in stark contrast to the previous decades of animosity.


Iran, Iraq, and energy

By: Annette Wolden

There are many issues that have to be resolved in today’s Iraq. First and foremost, in order to get the country back on track, the energy sector needs to be back on track. A large contributor to the rebuilding of the sector is neighboring country Iran. Iran’s energy exports to Iraq in 2009 reached $1 billion, of which $400 million accounted for electricity exports and $300 million to petroleum products.[1] Iran has also been involved in rebuilding Iraq’s energy infrastructure. In 2007 Tehran signed a $150 million contract to build a 300-megawatt power plant in Baghdad,[2] and in 2008 it agreed to build a 400-megawatt electricity line between Abadan and al-Harasa.[3]

Prior to the fall of Saddam, Iran and Iraq had competed against each other over regional hegemony for decades and had been engaged in a war against each other. The fact that Iran is now a large investor in Iraq is a matter of huge controversy. Politically, a close relationship with Iran, is a sensitive issue in Iraq. Moving closer to Iran is perceived by many as a sign of weakness and of Iran trying to control Iraqi affairs. In addition, the changing quality of Iran-Iraq relations has led the region’s political leaders to express their concern of the development of a “Shia Crescent”. A term that refers to a new trend of Shia dominance stretching from Beirut to Tehran, and the fear that this development will cut through the Sunni-dominated Middle East. A closer relationship between Iran and Iraq would enforce this “Shia grip” over the region.

It is difficult to stipulate Iran’s true intensions for investing heavily in Iraq, but from Baghdad’s point of view, Tehran makes out for both a security threat and a much needed investor. Since after the invasion in 2003 there has been talk of establishing a closer cooperation between the two nations’ energy sectors. The Basra-Abadan pipeline is one example, first proposed in 2005. If cooperation between Iran and Iraq’s oil sectors were to become a reality, the countries would obtain a unique place in the international oil market. By committing to cooperate, they would hold a larger marked share between them, enabling them to dictate output levels to a greater extent than what is possible now. This is also true for OPEC negotiations.

By deciding to strengthen the ties to Iran, Iraq will experience protests from within. Especially from the Sunni communities wanting to avoid Shia control. To cooperate will also mean risking appearing as a puppet-state under Iranian control. However, the close energy tie-up between the two nations could also serve as a buffer to any external political pressure on Iraq.

Cooperation demands a large degree of openness and it is not clear whether Iran is prepared to make that kind of commitment towards Iraq, or if Iran is hoping to be the stronger part in the relationship, and thereby dictate the premises.







Iraqi government formation: Syria dives in

By: Ane Mannsåker Roald

As Eid al-fitr is drawing to a close, Iraqi politicians are preparing for what will hopefully be the last rounds of negotiations before a new Iraqi government is formed.

In a bid to help breaking the deadlock, Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Najri Otri called his opposite number in Iraq, incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Thursday evening last week. This is the first contact between al-Maliki and Syrian authorities since August last year, when a particularly deadly string of bombs hit Baghdad and led al-Maliki to charge Syria with supporting Iraqi insurgents. More than just being an effort to patch up bilateral relations, last week’s phone call should be seen as an expression of Syrian ambitions to have their say in the political developments in Iraq.

While Syria obviously has taken a keen interest in Iraqi politics also previously, what is new about the current initiative is their open and systematic approach; earlier years have seen more covert approaches; tacit support for former regime loyalists and insurgents, security collaboration on border control, and otherwise no public engagement with Iraqi internal affairs.

This year is different: Syria stated their intentions to play an active role in Iraqi politics already in April when an Iraq policy group was formed, aiming at contributing to the stability of their neighbour as well as safeguarding Syrian interests in the government formation. Syrian authorities then proceeded to organizing meetings in order to broker a breakthrough in the stalemate which has been plaguing the Iraqi government formation process ever since the March 7 elections. Syrian diplomacy has resulted in a meeting between Muqtada al-Sadr and Iyad Allawi in Damascus in July, as well as a meeting between members of the former Ba’th party and the Shi’i islamist ISCI in June.

For most Iraqis, the Syrian initiative is no more welcome than those of Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or any other meddlesome neighbour. However, one advantage of Syrian mediation would be their good standing with all relevant parties – Damascus has honed relations with former Ba’thists as well as secularists and Sunni and Shia Islamists. It is significant that while no Shi’i Islamist party is represented in Amman, the most prominent hub for Iraqi politics outside Baghdad, the ISCI has now opened an office in the Syrian capital. A major limitation for Syrian diplomacy these days, however, is their strained relations with Nouri al-Maliki, on the background  of which last week’s phone call should be seen.

For Iraq, Syrian success would probably be good news, to the degree that the preferred Iranian solution to government formation, namely an all-Shii alliance, is thwarted. In the event that the announced alliance between al-Maliki’s State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance (ISCI, the Sadr movement, Fadhila) should finally come to fruition, it would mean further cementing sectarian divisions and a logic of ethno-sectarian quotas in political institutions. It is difficult to see how such a development bodes well for Iraq.

What Syria seems to be promoting instead, is an all-comprising national unity government. According to the Iraqiyya spokesman in Damascus, Ahmad al-Dulaymi, the Syrians “back the idea of a national government that represents all of Iraq and that reflects the election results but that is not some weak partnership, created according to sectarian quotas, and unable to make decisions.”[i] While it seems unlikely that a broad, all-encompassing government should be strong and efficient, or for that sake escaping the logic of sectarian quotas, it might have the virtue of lending legitimacy to the many important processes in line for the new government, constitutional reform and passing an oil law being only two examples out of a long list.

The national unity approach is moreover on line with what US authorities have been promoting as their preferred solution. It therefore seems probable that the Syrian initiative is the result of a budding US-Syrian partnership in Iraq policy, and that the Syrians are now in earnest returning to the fold.

[i] Philip Sands (2010) Syria helps to break deadlock in Baghdad. The National 24.10.2010.

Kazim al-Haeri’s Elections?

By Reidar Visser

Among the more overlooked aspects of the Iraqi parliamentary elections that take place on Sunday is the fact that Kazim al-Haeri, a hardliner cleric of Iraqi origin residing in Qum in Iran, enthusiastically supports participation.

Haeri belongs to a particular class and generation of Shiite scholars: He is an old-school Khomeinist. Always loyal to the paradigm of wilayat al-faqih, he has written extensive treatises on the inviolability of the power of the supreme leader, not only inside Iran but throughout the Shiite world. He remained supportive of such views when Khamenei emerged as Khomeini’s successor in the first half 1990s; after 2003 he has formed an important (if not always stable) bridge between Iranian leaders and the Sadrists of Iraq. In this role, Haeri forms the juncture where orthodox Khomeinism and radical Sadrism of southern Iraq meet, and where Tehran has found its best vantage point for domesticating radical Iraqi trends and transforming them into tools of its own interests.

Much is indeed at stake for Iranian strategy in Iraq this weekend. It seems clear that the policy of promoting unity in Shiite ranks has scored certain successes over the past year or so, notably in defining the atmosphere of the elections. In that respect, the reversion to de-Baathification as a dominant theme has been a clever move, serving to nudge the tentatively-nationalist Nuri al-Maliki back towards a more sectarian agenda. Today came yet another variation of this theme: the justice and accountability board declared that 55 of the candidates that had replaced banned candidates were themselves subject to de-Baathification! IHEC, the elections commission, responded by saying that the issue would have to be discussed after the elections, thereby making sure de-Baathification remains on the agenda.

However, the strategy has not succeeded one hundred percent. The Shiites are still contesting as separate entities, even if talk about post-election reunification is now more frequent than was the case only a few months ago. Occasionally, at least, Maliki reverts to what was his basic message back in 2009: The need to have a smaller-sized, ideologically coherent government capable of making decisions instead of focusing on “representation” of  (i.e. patronage for) parochial interests defined in ethno-sectarian terms. Whereas his departure from this theme have been more frequent lately, one still sometimes senses a desire on the part of his coalition to remain separate from its old coalition partner, the Iraqi National Alliance – even though even the most optimistic predictions now tend to make this kind of more narrow alliance (say, a coalition with the Kurds only, without INA) a somewhat unrealistic proposition. Indications are that State of Law is still looking strong in the cities of Basra and Baghdad (and there are 68 seats up for grabs up in the latter); at the same time the sheer arithmetic of the changes in alliance patterns in the Shiite-majority governorates since 2009 (with Sadrists and Jaafari joining INA) could suggest that INA strength in the centre and the south is underestimated in polls focused on the biggest urban areas.

There are also potential cracks in the INA camp. Recently Salah al-Ubaydi, a Sadrist leader, dramatically declared that INA was “without leadership” – an astonishing break with coalition discipline on the eve of the elections – and went on to point to differences with the Kurds on federalism (many of which in fact also apply to ISCI–Sadrist relations). Similarly, many Sadrists express confidence that the open-list system will provide them with a stronger position in the next parliament than the elite-based quota-distribution used for the election lists would suggest, thereby strongly hinting that the post-election coalition-forming scenarios may go beyond the game of aligning the six dominant coalitions. Instead the upcoming negotiations can conceivably also come to include reshuffling the existing coalition line-ups (for example, some of the recent rumours about INA-Iraqiyya flirtation in reality relates to Iraqiyya and the Sadrists). Still, other Sadrists take a more pragmatic view on relations with ISCI and Daawa, such Bahaa al-Aaraji who last autumn was a leading figure in reconstituting the parliamentary Shiite–Kurdish majority in the context of the election law.

In fatwas on his website, Haeri has in the past encouraged the Shiites of Bahrain to seek “executive rulings” by Khamenei to guide them in their affairs. However, with the publication of a constitutional draft for Iraq in 2004, one could get the sense that he now envisaged a degree of Iraqi autonomy within his pan-Shiite cosmology, since a separate constitutional court would come into being. At any rate, cooperation with secularists seems to remain a difficult theme for him. In a work of collected fatwas, Haeri once answered a question of whether Muslims could be members of political parties in the United States (the Republicans and the Democrats were specifically mentioned) by asserting that “Muslims cannot be members of unbelieving parties”. Back at the time of the elections in the first elections in 2005 he warned the Shiites against the secular lists which were “almost the same as the Baath”; this time around he urges participation “to prevent the return of the tyrant”. Haeri’s warnings against Shiite disunity and secularism may form an apt reflection of prevailing moods in hardliner circles in Tehran on the eve of Iraq’s parliamentary elections.

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