Bush’s Iraq

More than six months after the start of the Syrian uprising, Iraq is offering key moral and financial support to the country’s embattled president, undermining a central U.S. policy objective and raising fresh concerns that Iraq is drifting further into the orbit of an American arch rival — Iran.

Iraq’s stance has dealt an embarrassing setback to the Obama administration, which has sought to enlist Muslim allies in its campaign to isolate Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad. While other Arab states have downgraded ties with Assad, Iraq has moved in the opposite direction, hosting official visits by Syrians, signing pacts to expand business ties and offering political support.


I am not a political scientist and can’t make judgments and predictions about each of these states, but in Iraq the original joy at the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was gradually replaced by disbelief at the disintegration of the country. For five, six, seven years my family and friends still thought that their children would have a future there. I always assumed that I would one day be able to return to my homeland in safety and maybe spend a few months at a time in Mosul, the city of my birth. Now I have had to accept that this will never happen. ‘Do not go to Baghdad unless you have to’ is the advice, and do not go to ‘Mosul at all because it is a lawless ruin’.


I remember General Sir Mike Jackson, then Britain’s Chief of the General Staff, saying before the 2003 Iraq invasion: ‘Getting to Baghdad is going to be the easy part. The trouble is that the Americans haven’t the faintest idea what to do afterwards.’


Though Iraqis have called for Americans to leave from the start of the occupation in 2003, the prospect of such a drastic drawdown, from the 48,000 troops here now, has revealed another side of the Iraqi psyche. This is a nation that distrusts itself, with little faith in the government’s own security forces or political leaders. It is as if people here never actually believed that the United States would leave, so all along demands for a pullout were never carefully weighed against the potential fallout.

’s preserving modest gains and in restoring stability because of bombings, assassinations and rocket attacks that are still carried out on a daily basis. And to a large extent they blame the United States for rupturing their society, and then planning to pull out before repairing the damage it caused. Many Iraqis have a list of things they still want the Americans to do: prevent violence between Kurds and Arabs near the city of Kirkuk, and ensure that the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and his government do not alienate the country’s Sunni minority.


In invading Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush had proclaimed his messianic belief that all peoples desired freedom, regardless of the cultural context. “Freedom,” Bush declared “is the universal gift of Almighty God.” That didn’t work out so well in Iraq, where voting meant voting for sectarian blocks. Once our soldiers had done the hard lifting, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki— intent on staying in power for another fiver years—aligned with the anti-U.S. radicals and titled in favor of a long term relationship with Iran.

Bing West, The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, And The Way Out Of Afghanistan, 112.

In pre-invasion Iraq, central authority controlled the disparate elements, tribes and ethnic divisions in Iraqi society, with an iron hand. The Ba’ath Party, Saddam Husein’s instrument, ruled for itself rather than in a democratic manner, for the good of the many. George Bush’s neo-Con invasion of Iraq is the gift that keeps on giving: endless deployment, endless futility, endless expense, no democracy.

Posted on Monday, April 11, 2011

Commentary: Sectarian stalemate threatens Iraq’s security
By Abeer Mohammed | The Institute for War & Peace Reporting

BAGHDAD — Sectarianism is continuing to paralyze Iraqi politics, holding up appointments for key security posts more than a year after the country’s parliamentary elections.

Sunni, Shia and Kurd political leaders have been unable to agree on who should take charge of the defense and interior ministries.

Iraq’s constitution does not set aside government posts for sects or ethnic groups. However, in order to maintain the delicate balance of power among Iraq’s various communities, the president, the prime minister, the speaker of parliament and most ministerial posts are unofficially allocated along sectarian and ethnic lines.

The top posts in the defense and interior ministries have been informally assigned to Sunni and Shia candidates respectively, but the process appears to have broken down, with Sunni and Shia politicians haggling over specific nominees.

Prime Minister , a Shia, has rejected at least five Sunni-supported candidates for the defense minister’s post since December. Iraqiya, the dominant Sunni-led party, has rejected several Shia candidates for the interior minister, including former deputy interior minister Adnan al-Asadi, a Maliki ally.

Hussein al-Mereibi, a lawmaker from the Shia National Alliance, said that Maliki’s decision had been interpreted as “a sectarian move that pushed Iraqiya to dismiss Maliki’s candidates” for the other security posts.

Mahma Khalil, a Kurdish parliamentarian, said, “The sectarian quota is the main reason behind the deadlock; we have to please everybody and to make a balance between the different sects and ethnicities.”

The current standoff is the longest in Iraq’s history. The country has not had a complete cabinet since the March 2010 parliamentary elections.

Other ministerial posts were not filled until February 2011.

Saad al-Muttalabi, a top ally and former adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maili, said choosing security ministers was “very complicated” and that the nominations “will be delayed further.”

“This won’t be solved soon,” he added.

Given Iraq’s ongoing security concerns, the defense and interior ministries are two of the most crucial and powerful institutions in Iraq.

Deputy government spokesman Tahseen al-Sheikhli said Maliki, in his role as commander in chief, would oversee security matters for the time being.

Some, however, worry that the unfilled ministerial posts may affect the government’s ability to take over security ahead of the U.S. troop withdrawal in December. They worry, for example, that the absence of a defense minister means that no one is responsible for ensuring that the military is prepared to fulfill the nation’s security requirements.

“American troops will withdraw on Dec. 31, 2011, regardless of whether the Iraqi forces are ready or whether the ministers are in place or not,” Muttalabi said.

For many, the dispute over the security ministries raises larger questions about sectarian politics and Iraq’s fragile democracy. Hamid al-Mutlaq, an influential Sunni lawmaker, noted that continued bombings and a spate of targeted killings of officials over the past few months “were … all a result of sectarianism. When the political situation is not stable, then there will be no security.”

Mithal Alusi, a former secular legislator, said democracy and the development of a civil state in Iraq have been hindered by the “sectarian atmosphere” in politics.

The frustrations with inefficient government have sparked protests throughout Iraq, but Alusi argued that Iraqi politicians won’t change the system as long as they benefit from it.

“A gambler won’t stop playing as long as he keeps coming out ahead,” he said.


Allawi: Iraq can’t be left to fail
World must exert political pressure on Maliki

By Ayad Allawi
Special to The Washington Post
POSTED: 09/02/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT

As the Arab Spring drives change across our region, bringing the hope of democracy and reform to millions of Arabs, less attention is being paid to the plight of Iraq and its people. We were the first to transition from dictatorship to democracy, but the outcome in Iraq remains uncertain. Our transition could be a positive agent for progress, and against the forces of extremism, or a dangerous precedent that bodes ill for the region and the international community.

Debate rages in Baghdad and Washington around conditions for a U.S. troop extension beyond the end of this year. While such an extension may be necessary, that alone will not address the fundamental problems festering in Iraq. Those issues present a growing risk to Middle East stability and the world community. The original U.S. troop “surge” was meant to create the atmosphere for national political reconciliation and the rebuilding of Iraq’s institutions and infrastructure. But those have yet to happen.

More than eight years after Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown, basic services are in a woeful state: Most of the country has only a few hours of electricity a day. Blackouts were increasingly common this summer. Oil exports, still Iraq’s only source of income, are barely more than they were when Saddam Hussein was toppled. The government has squandered the boon of high oil prices and failed to create real and sustainable job growth. Iraq’s economy has become an ever more dysfunctional mix of cronyism and mismanagement.

The promise of improved security has been empty, with sectarianism on the rise. The Pentagon recently reported an alarming rise in attacks, which it blamed on Iranian-backed militias. The latest report to Congress by the U.S. special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction notes that June was the bloodiest month for U.S. troops since 2008 and concludes that Iraq is more dangerous than it was a year ago. Regrettably, Iraq’s nascent security forces are riddled with sectarianism and mixed loyalties; they are barely capable of defending themselves, let alone the rest of the country.

Despite failing to win the most seats in last year’s elections, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki clung to power through a combination of Iranian support and U.S. compliance. He now shows an alarming disregard for democratic principles and the rule of law. Vital independent institutions such as the election commission, the transparency commission and Iraq’s central bank have been ordered to report directly to the office of the prime minister. Meanwhile, Maliki refuses to appoint consensus candidates as defense and interior ministers, as per last year’s power-sharing agreement.

The government is using blatant dictatorial tactics and intimidation to quell opposition, ignoring the most basic human rights. Human Rights Watch reported in February on secret torture prisons under Maliki’s authority. In June, it exposed the government’s use of hired thugs to beat, stab and even sexually assault peaceful demonstrators in Baghdad who were complaining about corruption and poor services.

Is this really what the United States sacrificed more than 4,000 young men and women, and hundreds of billions of dollars, to build? The trend of failure is becoming irreversible. Simply put, Iraq’s failure would render every U.S. and international policy objective in the Middle East difficult to achieve, if not impossible. From combating terrorism to nuclear containment to energy security to the Middle East peace process, Iraq is at the center.

It is not too late to reverse course. Extending the U.S. troop presence will achieve nothing on its own. More concerted political engagement is required at the highest levels to guarantee the promise of freedom and progress made to the Iraqi people, who have suffered and sacrificed so much and are running out of patience.

It is necessary, and achievable, to insist on full and proper implementation of the power-sharing agreement of 2010, with proper checks and balances to prevent abuse of power, and full formation of the government and its institutions on a nonsectarian basis. Malign regional influences must be counterbalanced. Failing these steps, new elections free from foreign meddling, and with a truly independent judiciary and election commission, may be the only way to rescue Iraq from the abyss.

This solution is increasingly called for by Iraqi journalists and political leaders and on the street.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 may indeed have been a war of choice. But losing Iraq in 2011 is a choice that the United States and the rest of the world cannot afford to make.

Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister of Iraq, leads the largest political bloc in Iraq’s Parliament.


Inquiry & Analysis|683|April 12, 2011

Iraqi Government in Crisis – Sectarianism, Corruption and Dissent

By: Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli


It took nine months after the Iraqi parliamentary election in March 2010 for a new government to be formed, in a process dotted by bargaining, haggling, threats, compromises and even foreign intervention. It took the political skills of Masoud Barazani, the president of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), to fashion a compromise of national partnership that finally gave birth, in December, to the new government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Government Born in Disharmony and Dissent – Survival Increasingly Questioned
The new Iraqi government has suffered since its birth from a number of problems:
The absence of shared political principles that glue a coalition government together and underpin its performance
The notion of national partnership and power-sharing anchored in personal preferences rather than in governing principles and quickly placed in deep freeze
The failure to appoint three key ministers, namely those for the ministries of interior, defense and national security
A fragile security situation
Wide-scale corruption and Poor Services

The Absence of Shared Political Principles
The Iraqi government is a coalition government; by their very nature, such governments are not homogeneous political bodies. In the case of Iraq, the coalition government is handicapped by ethnic, sectarian and religious diversity. Influential elements within the government and parliament are closely linked to foreign interests, which often exercise significant influence on the decision-making process. Other elements within the government show animosity towards and distrust each other.

Sectarianism remains a potent force across Iraq, with each minister assigning senior posts in his portfolio to his political or ethnic group. Nepotism is also rampant.

While sectarianism has been present since the establishment of the modern Iraqi state in 1920, after the 2003 invasion it became institutionalized. The appointment of the Iraqi Governing Council in 2003 was the first time in the political history of Iraq that a national governing body selected its members on purely sectarian basis. Subsequently, muhasasa, the distribution of positions at all political and administrative levels along ethnic and sectarian groups, has become an ingrained feature of the Iraqi political culture. Trying to satisfy all of the coalition partners, the new government comprises 41 ministers, although three of them are yet to be appointed.

National Partnership and Power Sharing
From among the many political groups which competed in the March 2010 parliamentary election, two key political blocs emerged, with an almost identical number of seats. Al-Iraqiya, a list headed by a previous Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, attracted Sunni and secular votes and gained 91 seats in the 325-seat parliament. State of Law, the group headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was second closest bloc, gaining 89 seats. According to the constitution, al-Iraqiya, with the largest number of seats, should have formed the government. However, under pressure from Iran, two additional Shi’a blocks, namely those of the Sadrists and the Supreme Islamic Council, joined the State of Law to form the National Alliance, which controlled the largest number of votes in parliament and the right to form the government.

Although al-Maliki needed the votes of the Kurdish Alliance to form a government, neither the Kurds nor the Sadrists and the Supreme Islamic Council would support al-Maliki as prime minister unless al-Iraqiya was incorporated into the new government. They argued that excluding al-Iraqiya would mean excluding the Sunnis, who accounted for most of its votes. Further, al-Iraqiya insisted that they were entitled to form the new government. The stalemate that persisted for almost nine months and ended only with the intervention of Masoud Barazani, who summoned the feuding parties to Erbil, the capital of KRG, to hammer out a compromise.

Under the compromise hammered out by Barazani, the principle of “national partnership” or “power sharing” was adopted. This principle rested on allocation of a number of ad hoc political benefits of strictly personal nature: Jalal Talabani, an Iraqi Kurd, remains president of Iraq for a second term; Nouri al-Maliki remains prime minister, also for a second term; ministerial portfolios were distributed among the partners; and a new office of Supreme Council for Strategic Policies was created, tailor-made for Ayad Allawi, the head of al-Iraqiya bloc which emerged from the general election with the largest number of seats in parliament. The Council was meant to articulate national and strategic policies and priorities.

Preoccupied with their own personal rewards, the leaders who met in Erbil made no attempt to touch upon the pressing economic problems facing the country, such as a high rate of unemployment, a crumbling infrastructure, the poor provision of public services and widespread corruption. Nor was there any mention made of strategic or foreign policy nature pertaining to Iraq’s future relations with the United States, the suffocating influence of Iran in the internal affairs of the country, or how to deal with terrorism and violence.

Once approved by parliament as prime minister, al-Maliki reneged on many elements of the compromise agreement, particularly with regards to establishment of the Supreme Council for Strategic Policies, claiming that no government can operate with two heads. Al-Maliki did all in his power to drain the proposed council of its powers and then sought to pack it with his supporters. Out-maneuvered and out-foxed by Nouri al-Maliki throughout the nine months leading to the formation of the government and four months since then, Allawi decided he no longer wished to preside over an emaciated body.

Failure to Appoint Security Ministers
Nothing more vividly demonstrates the dissent within, and the sectarian nature of, the Iraqi government than the failure of the coalition partners to agree on the nominees for the three of the most significant cabinet posts, namely those of defense, interior, and national security. Almost four months after this government was voted into office on December 21, 2010, these three cabinet posts remain vacant because the prime minister and the leaders of the other blocs – indeed, even al-Maliki’s bloc, the National Alliance, itself – could not agree on candidates that would get the parliament’s vote of confidence. Al-Maliki was reported to have said that he was prepared to wait a year until he was ready to submit to parliament names of candidates to his liking.[1] As a result, al-Maliki has since been the acting minister for all three ministries.

Unstable Security Situation
While there has been improvement in the security situation, daily acts of violence and terrorism continue to bedevil the security agencies of the government. The Islamic State of Iraq, the local branch of al-Qaeda, has not been defeated. The principal agencies of government, including the offices of the prime minister and most ministries, operate from the confines of the well-protected Green Zone. Senior officials travel in convoys on streets often blocked in advance to insure safe passage. A government operating from behind high walls remains disengaged from the daily concerns of the people and unable to take their pulse.

Iraqi observers maintain that al-Qaeda has recently changed its strategy. Rather than holding territory, the organization is bent on carrying out showcase acts of terrorism that will inflict death and injury in numbers too great to go unnoticed. Two such acts in 2011 dramatize the new strategy: the attack on February 1, 2011 on the Assyrian Catholic church in Baghdad, which caused the deaths of dozens of parishioners, followed in early April 2011 with a major assault on the government compound of Salahuddin provincial government in Saddam Hussein’s city of Tikrit, which resulted in the deaths of 63 people and the wounding of more than 100. Whoever was behind the terrorist act in Tikrit, it is clear that the capacity of the Iraqi security forces is constrained by poor training and poor morale. Not surprisingly, it took a joint U.S.-Iraqi military force to reclaim the provincial government building from the hands of a group of armed men, three of whom blew themselves up to inflict the highest number of casualties and to obstruct evacuation.[2] Critics argue that even after years of training by the U.S., the Iraqi security forces continue to suffer from poor performance and low morale.

The absence of security has meant the absence of investments, domestic and foreign. No foreign investor ventures into a situation that puts his life and the life of those working for him in jeopardy. The exception is the foreign oil companies which entered into contract with the Iraqi government to develop the oil sector. These companies are accustomed to working in politically troubled area and they have the wherewithal to protect their workers and their expensive equipment. The economy would have been in a complete state of paralysis were it not for the flow of oil revenues of $40 billion in 2010 and perhaps a larger amount in 2011.

Wide-Scale Corruption and Poor Services
The Iraqi people are becoming increasingly restless and frustrated by the massive scale of corruption across the board and by the poor supply of public services, particularly electricity and drinking water. Businesses and industry cannot flourish in darkness. The shortage of electric power cannot be blamed on the shortage of funding, however. Billions of dollars have been stolen or squandered on fictitious contracts or non-existing projects, particularly in the ministry of electricity.

At the end of March 2011, the International Monetary Fund issued a report on Iraq which is highly critical of the slow progress in the implementation of the five-year plan, 2010-2014. There has been little progress in the building of the crumbling infrastructure and utilities. Few, if any, major development projects have been implemented. Both the industrial and agricultural sectors remain constrained by lack of funds and clear economic strategy.[3] The country was shocked to learn that $40 billion had been withdrawn from the country’s Development Fund with no visible trace.[4]

Despite government efforts to contain the public rage intensified by the political turmoil in the region, a wave of mass demonstrations spread across Iraq during most of the month of March and continues to date, calling for improvement in public services and an end to corruption. While professing a commitment to the constitutional rights of Iraqis to demonstrate, al-Maliki’s government resorted to restrictions and even violence to limit the access of the demonstrators to public squares on February 25, 2011 (the Day of Rage).

Feeling the heat, al-Maliki decided to cancel the purchase of 18 F16 fighter jets to free up money for spending on projects aimed to ease growing tensions arising from inadequate supply of food items under the ration card system. A day after the mass demonstration in Baghdad on February 25, al-Maliki gave his ministers 100 days to take measures to combat corruption and improve performance. He said that after the 100-day deadline he would personally evaluate the performance of each minister to determine who should keep his/her post.[5] However, he set no benchmarks for performance, and critics have characterized the whole procedure as a charade.[6] Recently, a question was raised as to who will rate the performance of al-Maliki as acting minister over the three security ministries. [7]

The corruption in government and its failure to provide adequate public services has been sufficient to alienate the highest Shi’a clerical authority in the country – Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Al-Sistani has refused, in recent weeks, to meet with Iraqi leaders because of what he perceives to be the failure of the government to respond to the legitimate demands of the people.[8]

Signs of Government Breakup
Prime Minister Nouri Kamel al-Maliki finds himself under siege from all directions, no less than from his coalition partners who snipe at him and at the government in which they serve. Taking the lead is the erratic leader of the Sadrist movement, the Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who keeps threatening to unleash his supporters onto the streets if the government fails to deliver on its promises with regard to the provision of public services and the creation of jobs.[9]

Feeling snubbed by Prime Minister al-Malaki, Ayad Allawi, the head of al-Iraqiya, is scheming to bring the government down. Allawi keeps reiterating that there is no genuine “national partnership” unless the agreement brokered by Barazani is carried out fully. He has criticized the prime minister for centralizing so much power in his hand and for avoiding the creation of proper procedures under which the council of ministers would operate.[10] Even politically moderate and temperamentally sound Ammar al-Hakim – the head of the Supreme Islamic Council, which is a member of the National Alliance – is complaining that his group is being marginalized and that he prefers to serve as loyal opposition rather than as marginal partner in government. A spokesman for al-Hakim revealed that political blocs are actively trying to bring al-Maliki’s government down. There are indications that al-Hakim, Allawi and al-Sadr are coordinating their activities to do exactly that at the expiration of the 100 days al-Maliki gave his ministers and provincial governors to meet people’s aspirations.[11]

Al-Maliki must also contend with the speaker of parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni politician from the northern city of Mosul and a member of al-Iraqiya bloc, who is critical of the prime minister and prone to challenge him.

Al-Nujaifi’s most recent challenge to the prime minister was his rejection in early April of the latter’s request to postpone the legislative process on five proposed pieces of legislations dealing with the Supreme Legal Council, Federal High Court, Financial Control Boards, Public Inspectors, and the Integrity Board. Al-Nujaifi declared the intension of parliament to pass these legislations as a means of fighting corruption and the corrupt officials in government. [12]

Government of Political Majority
Feeling the pressure from all sides and aware of a potential vote of no confidence that his opponents could muster in parliament, al-Maliki’s supporters are floating the idea of a new government with a “political majority” in lieu of national partnership. This concept of a political majority has never been explained because the current coalition government enjoys a majority in parliament and can stay in power as long as its components remain inside the coalition. One possible interpretation of the concept of political majority is to do away with national partnership by forcing members of parliament to choose between being in the majority bloc or in opposition. However, for al-Maliki to keep his job, he will need to split al-Iraqiya and obtain the support of those of its members who are frustrated by Allawi’s political incompetence and his frequent travels outside the country. It is also possible that the idea of a political majority is a pre-emptive strike by al-Maliki to ascribe to others the failure of government to deliver.[13]

Shadow Government
In response to statements attributed to a close associate of al-Maliki about creating a political majority, three disgruntled political leaders have begun to consider the forming of a new government – Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress whose candidacy for the position of minister of interior was vetoed by al-Maliki; Ayad Allawi, who emerged from the general elections with the largest number of seats but remains empty-handed; and Adel Abd al-Mahdi of the Supreme Islamic Council, who has withdrawn his candidacy as vice president of Iraq because of the government’s decision to create three posts of vice president to a president who lacks serious authority in the first place. The three politicians are talking about “a shadow government,” a concept borrowed from the British parliament, meaning an alternative government in waiting. [14]

Measured against the repressive regimes in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, Iraq still maintains broad latitude of free and open political debate and a considerable degree of freedom of expression, as evidenced by the existence of freewheeling press and public media. The fact that dissent is broadly tolerated provides a sound indication that democracy in Iraq has so far survived many setbacks.
On the other hand, corruption and sectarianism continue to dominate the political scene, and the performance of government remains below par. While paying lip service to democratic values such as freedom of assembly and of the press, Prime Minister al-Maliki is displaying worrying levels of authoritarianism hardly alien to the Iraqi political tradition. Although he has vowed not to seek a third term as prime minister, the more immediate issue, given the political turmoil in the country, is whether he will be able to survive in power until the next elections due in 2014.

It is perhaps one of the greatest ironies of Iraq’s modern political history that after suffering from decades of violence and exclusion, the Kurds now hold the key to al-Maliki’s political survival; indeed, no Iraqi government can survive without their support.

* Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is a senior analyst at MEMRI.

[1]Alsumaria.tv, March 22, 2011.
[2] Al-Zaman, Iraq, March 30, 2011; al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, March 31, 2011.
[3] International Monetary Fund, Iraq – Second Review under the Stand-By Arrangement, Country Report No. 11/75 of March 28, 2011.
[4]Al-Zaman, February 22, 2011.
[5] Alsumaria.tv, February 26, 2011.
[6] Alsumaria.tv. February 26, 2011; al-Zaman, February 26, 2011; al-Mada, February 27, 2011 and al-Sabah, February 28, 2011.
[7] Al-Zaman, April 5, 2011.
[8] Al-Sharq al-Awsat, February 11, 2011.
[9] Al-Mada, March 27, 2011; Wasatonline.com, March 27, 2011.
[10] Al-Zaman, April 5, 2011.
[11] Al-Sharq-Awsat, March 31, 2011.
[12] Alsumarianews.com, April 5, 2011.
[13] Alsumarianews.com, April 4, 2011; al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 7, 2011.
[14] Alrafidayn.com, April 7, 2011.

In Iraq, assassinations are a nightly event

By Aaron C. Davis, Published: May 3

BAGHDAD — The assassins strike quietly, often just after dark, as Iraq’s political and military leaders speed home surrounded by armed guards.

The dead in April alone included generals, police commanders, a deputy minister and the head of Iraq’s tax agency. The wounded included a member of parliament, a judge and the head of the national theater, survivors of attacks on their motorcades.

Among 50 targeted killings last month, most were carried out by gunmen using silenced weapons, according to Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which oversees the country’s police forces.

Assassinations are not an entirely new feature of Iraq’s political landscape. But a stealthy string of killings that began last month has given them new prominence, shaking Iraqis’ confidence in their government’s ability to protect them and raising questions about the country’s security just months before the last U.S. troops are scheduled to withdraw.

In recent days, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and members of parliament have felt compelled to address the killings repeatedly in public, vowing all-out efforts to stop them.

But the killings have continued with at least 14 more dead from gun attacks and targeted bombings, mostly against police officials, in the first three days of May. Late Tuesday, a car bomb killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 30 in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad.

Iraqi intelligence officials and U.S. military officers say the killings are being waged from both ends of Iraq’s religious and political spectrum, as part of renewed jockeying for power in advance of the American pullout.

According to Iraqi officials, Sunni extremists, including the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq and former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, who still consider Iraq’s elected government illegitimate, are behind most of the recent slayings. But they say Shiite Muslim militias, some with close ties to Iran, also appear to be conducting some of the killings to assert influence and settle scores.


Iraqi Youths’ Political Rise Is Stunted by Elites

Published: April 13, 2011

BAGHDAD — Inspired by the democratic uprisings around the Arab world to push for change, young lawmakers in Parliament are running up against an ossified political elite still dominated by the exiles who followed American tanks intoIraq to establish a fragile, violence-scarred democracy.

On the streets, the voices of young demonstrators and journalists have been muted by the batons and bullets of elite security units that answer only to a prime minister who officials say personally sends orders by text message.

An Iraq spring it is not.

In a country where the demographics skew even younger than in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the wave of political change in the region has laid bare a generation gap here split by old resentments nurtured by dictatorship and war and a youthful grasping for a stake in the new Iraq. “The younger generation is ready to go forward; they are carrying less resentments,” said Rawaz M. Khoshnaw, 32, a Kurdish member of Parliament, in a recent interview.

But the forces of youth are blunted by the same forces that have robbed Iraqi society of so much for so long — violence, a stagnant economy, zero-sum politics and sectarianism — and that have prevented a new political class from emerging to take Iraq into a new democratic future.

A common sentiment from nearly three dozen interviews with young Iraqis around the country recently is a persistent disenchantment with both their political leaders and the way democracy has played out here. “The youth is the excluded class in the Iraqi community,” said Swash Ahmed, a 19-year-old law student in Kirkuk. “So they’ve started to unify through Facebook or the Internet or through demonstrations and evenings in cafes, symposiums and in universities. But they don’t have power.”

Iraq’s unity government is showing increased signs of splintering over an American-backed power-sharing agreement. If the government fractures and a narrow majority of Shiite parties led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a former exile, takes control, the result would be more divisiveness and potentially more violence.

For the young, it would be another sign of the difficulty in gaining a voice in Iraq’s democracy, and a counternarrative to the grand new history being written elsewhere in the Middle East.

In Basra, Salah Mahmod, 18, said politicians here were “in love with power.”

“We don’t have democracy, and the politicians have no idea what it means.”

But it is a measure of progress that these students can speak out freely and join in street protests. One small result is that bars reopened in Baghdad after being closed in January. “I do not want to be so negative about it,” said Shereen Ahmed, 19, who is studying to be a teacher in Anbar Province. “Yes, we are witnessing a small part of democracy now from what we see from the protests in Iraq. When Saddam was here, not even one Iraqi could go out in protest because he would be killed.”

Talal al-Zubai, 41, a lawmaker from the Iraqiya bloc — the coalition led by Ayad Allawi, who was handpicked by the Americans to be prime minister in 2005 and was once attacked in exile by ax-wielding assassins sent by Saddam Hussein — decided to form a youth bloc of Parliament members after witnessing the protests in the region and here.

He said that six had joined, and that 20 others had privately told him of their interest but were fearful of going public because “right now they are afraid of their leaders.”

Mr. Zubai, a Sunni politician who recounts with pride the number of assassination attempts he has survived — three: by car bomb, roadside bomb and pistol — has no such fear, and he spoke openly about his disdain for the political elite during an interview in the foyer of Iraqiya’s office in Parliament.

“The problem is, those leaders have more power than we do,” said Mr. Zubai, who is working on his graduate studies at a college in Baghdad. “They have more money to use in elections. They have more power to use the army and police to consolidate power.”

In Iraq, the demographic trends that have underpinned the wave of democratic uprisings and altered the dynamics of power across the Middle East are more pronounced than in other countries. The median age in the country is 21, according to the C.I.A. World Factbook. In Egypt it is 24, and in Tunisia it is 30. Nearly 40 percent of the population here is 14 or under, compared with 33 percent in Egypt and Libya and 23 percent in Tunisia. The comparisons are similar for Bahrain and Syria.

Recently, a group of young Iraqis who used Facebook to organize protests in February to demand improved services gathered in Baghdad near a church where more than 60 Christians were killed late last year. The organizers spoke of being detained and beaten by security forces after the protests, of being called homosexuals and Baathists.

Ali Abdul Zahra, a journalist, told of seeing his friend beaten as the officer asked, “Are you the Facebook guy?” The officer continued, according to Mr. Zahra: “You want freedom, huh? I’ll show you freedom.”

Here, violence and politics are still intertwined — eight years after the American invasion, six years after ratifying a Constitution, and after several national and local elections, all ratified by international groups as free and fair. A brutal attack recently on the seat of local government in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, left nearly 60 people dead, including three members of the provincial council.

That stubborn insurgency creates a space for leaders like Mr. Maliki to centralize power, especially over the security forces, critics say. For example, Mr. Allawi said in an interview that as part of the power-sharing agreement to form the government last year, it was “agreed that the units which are attached to the prime minister should be disengaged.” That has not happened.

“There is no power sharing,” he said. “There is no democracy.”

Mr. Khoshnaw, the Kurdish lawmaker, explained the gap between the generations of leaders this way: The older generation that suffered under Mr. Hussein and struggled against him in exile is “defined by the resentments inside themselves.”

“They have a hard time letting go,” he said.

“People are fed up by the faces they have seen on television for the last eight years.”


Secret memos expose link between
By Paul Bignell

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Plans to exploit Iraq’s oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world’s largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in invading Iraq, government documents show.

The papers, revealed here for the first time, raise new questions over Britain’s involvement in the war, which had divided Tony Blair’s cabinet and was voted through only after his claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

The minutes of a series of meetings between ministers and senior oil executives are at odds with the public denials of self-interest from oil companies and Western governments at the time.

The documents were not offered as evidence in the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war. In March 2003, just before Britain went to war, Shell denounced reports that it had held talks with Downing Street about Iraqi oil as “highly inaccurate”. BP denied that it had any “strategic interest” in Iraq, while Tony Blair described “the oil conspiracy theory” as “the most absurd”.

But documents from October and November the previous year paint a very different picture.

Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair’s military commitment to US plans for regime change.

The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf because the oil giant feared it was being “locked out” of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.

Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: “Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis.”

The minister then promised to “report back to the companies before Christmas” on her lobbying efforts.

The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq “post regime change”. Its minutes state: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.”

After another meeting, this one in October 2002, the Foreign Office’s Middle East director at the time, Edward Chaplin, noted: “Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in [Iraq] for the sake of their long-term future… We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.”

Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had “no strategic interest” in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was “more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time”.

BP was concerned that if Washington allowed TotalFinaElf’s existing contact with Saddam Hussein to stand after the invasion it would make the French conglomerate the world’s leading oil company. BP told the Government it was willing to take “big risks” to get a share of the Iraqi reserves, the second largest in the world.

Over 1,000 documents were obtained under Freedom of Information over five years by the oil campaigner Greg Muttitt. They reveal that at least five meetings were held between civil servants, ministers and BP and Shell in late 2002.

The 20-year contracts signed in the wake of the invasion were the largest in the history of the oil industry. They covered half of Iraq’s reserves – 60 billion barrels of oil, bought up by companies such as BP and CNPC (China National Petroleum Company), whose joint consortium alone stands to make £403m ($658m) profit per year from the Rumaila field in southern Iraq.

Last week, Iraq raised its oil output to the highest level for almost a decade, 2.7 million barrels a day – seen as especially important at the moment given the regional volatility and loss of Libyan output. Many opponents of the war suspected that one of Washington’s main ambitions in invading Iraq was to secure a cheap and plentiful source of oil.

Mr Muttitt, whose book Fuel on Fire is published next week, said: “Before the war, the Government went to great lengths to insist it had no interest in Iraq’s oil. These documents provide the evidence that give the lie to those claims.

“We see that oil was in fact one of the Government’s most important strategic considerations, and it secretly colluded with oil companies to give them access to that huge prize.”

Lady Symons, 59, later took up an advisory post with a UK merchant bank that cashed in on post-war Iraq reconstruction contracts. Last month she severed links as an unpaid adviser to Libya’s National Economic Development Board after Colonel Gaddafi started firing on protesters. Last night, BP and Shell declined to comment.

Not about oil? what they said before the invasion
* Foreign Office memorandum, 13 November 2002, following meeting with BP: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity to compete. The long-term potential is enormous…”

* Tony Blair, 6 February 2003: “Let me just deal with the oil thing because… the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it. The fact is that, if the oil that Iraq has were our concern, I mean we could probably cut a deal with Saddam tomorrow in relation to the oil. It’s not the oil that is the issue, it is the weapons…”

* BP, 12 March 2003: “We have no strategic interest in Iraq. If whoever comes to power wants Western involvement post the war, if there is a war, all we have ever said is that it should be on a level playing field. We are certainly not pushing for involvement.”

* Lord Browne, the then-BP chief executive, 12 March 2003: “It is not in my or BP’s opinion, a war about oil. Iraq is an important producer, but it must decide what to do with its patrimony and oil.”

* Shell, 12 March 2003, said reports that it had discussed oil opportunities with Downing Street were ‘highly inaccurate’, adding: “We have neither sought nor attended meetings with officials in the UK Government on the subject of Iraq. The subject has only come up during conversations during normal meetings we attend from time to time with officials… We have never asked for ‘contracts’.”


Iraq has doubled its electricity capacity
Updated 4/21/2011 2:08 AM ET

By Hadi Mizban, By AP Protesters chant anti-government slogans during a protest on April 15 in Baghdad.

By Jim Michaels, USA TODAY

Iraq has doubled its electricity capacity over prewar levels, making dramatic headway in a critical benchmark that had plagued U.S. leaders and frustrated Iraqis since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Iraq’s supply of electricity is 7,900 megawatts, about double the levels before the war, according to the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.

Demand for electricity has increased 73% since 2005 to 15,300 megawatts, according to embassy statistics.

For years, Iraq’s sputtering electrical grid was a symbol of U.S. inability to rebuild Iraq in the face of growing chaos.

Iraq has increased capacity by renovating plants, buying power from outside the country and improving transmission lines. Much of the capacity was increased in the past three years, according to U.S. military statistics.

The United States has contributed $4.6 billion since 2003 to Iraq’s efforts to restore electricity.

“They generate and transmit more electricity now than they ever have in the past,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.

Even with the increase, Iraq will fall short of what is needed because demand for power is skyrocketing at an even faster clip. Iraqis have access to computers, wide-screen televisions, air conditioners and other items that were in short supply when the country was under sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

Because most consumers pay little or nothing for electricity, there is not much incentive to conserve. That will probably mean continued blackouts in Baghdad and elsewhere that will force residents to use generators and other private sources of electricity. “There’s still a significant gap between desire and capacity,” said Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

That has Iraq’s government concerned as summer approaches. Temperatures regularly rise above 100 degrees in summer.

Protesters have taken to the streets as part of a wave of regional unrest sweeping across the Arab world and could do so again.

Iraq’s demonstrations focus on a variety of issues, including corruption, unemployment and cronyism, Cordesman said. A lack of services, such as clean water and electricity, helps trigger the anger, he said.

“They are listening, and they’re very concerned about how … do they meet the people’s needs,” Buchanan said of Iraq’s government.

At the height of the insurgency, militants targeted power lines and other infrastructure, but violence has dropped dramatically.

It’s not clear when Iraq’s ability to generate electricity will catch up with demand.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts Iraq’s economy will grow by 9.65% this year. Most of Iraq’s economy is based on oil, which has been increasing in price.

Iraq’s government has contracted with 14 foreign oil companies, and crude oil production has increased 26% over prewar levels to 2.7 million barrels a day.


Bush’s Iraq

About Jerry Frey

Born 1953. Vietnam Veteran. Graduated Ohio State 1980. Have 5 published books. In the Woods Before Dawn; Grandpa's Gone; Longstreet's Assault; Pioneer of Salvation; Three Quarter Cadillac
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