John Kerry: Mission Impossible?

By John Cookson. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s whistle-stop swing through the Middle East and Europe will likely include a meeting this week with Iraq’s embattled caretaker prime-minister Nouri al-Maliki.

At the Baghdad summit we can expect Secretary Kerry to again hammer home Washington’s demand that the Iraqi premier form an inclusive government of national unity with Sunni politicians given prominent roles. The top US official will also seek assurance that the 300 American military advisers being sent to shore up Iraq’s military are immune from prosecution on Iraqi soil.

In my opinion Secretary Kerry’s visit to Baghdad is almost certainly mission impossible, as Al-Maliki is not likely to relax his hard-line stance on either issue.

On Sunni inclusiveness Washington has made the same impassioned plea for years and Al-Maliki has ignored it, even as unrest raged in Al-Anbar and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned Iraq was facing disaster. It was a high-risk political gamble by Al-Maliki, but the recent general election result shows millions of Iraqis supported him and endorsed his policies.

On the question of whether 300 advisers will not be tried in Iraq if they commit crimes; again Al-Maliki is unlikely to U-turn on his consistent policy of non-immunity, especially as few in Baghdad can forget how 4 American Blackwater security guards, working for the State Department, escaped prosecution in Iraq for shooting dead 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007 – their US trial is ongoing.

Al-Maliki’s tough position was boosted Sunday when Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came out and expressed strong opposition to intervention in Iraq by the United States – or anyone else – and he insisted that the Iraqis themselves can bring an end to chaos sweeping the country.

Khamenei also suspects Washington wants to keep Iraq under its control and place its own stooges in power.

Kurdistan’s Prime Minister: We Warned U.S. About ISIS in Iraq Months Ago

Shafaq News/ The Prime Minister of Kurdistan region , Nechirvan Barzani said that he warned Baghdad and the United States months ago about the threat that a Sunni militant group posed to Iraq , but “nothing happened”, NBC news agency said in news briefed by “Shafaq News”. In an interview with NBC News, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said that Kurdistan was well aware of the danger posed by the Islamic State of […]

Can 300 US Military Advisers save Iraq?

By John Cookson. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

President Obama opposed the 2003 US-led war which toppled Saddam. He based his run for the White House on ending wars rather than starting them.

So his decision announced at a press conference last night of sending 300 advisers to Iraq – including Green Berets and other special forces – must have been taken very reluctantly.

America has already spent a trillion dollars and lost 4,500 military lives ousting one dictator, training Iraqi security forces and installing a Western-style democracy in Iraq.

So the question is at this pivotal time in Iraq’s history: will 300 US advisers sent in now prevent it plunging in to the abyss?

Acknowledging America’s laudable intentions, and with great regret: I think probably not.

The US sent thousands of its finest to train Iraqi forces for 8 years in the post Saddam era. In 2006 I spent time with intelligent and thoughtful American colonels in towns like Baiji; dedicated men who had taken time to study Iraqi history; honorable commanders who had established a true rapport with their Iraqi counterparts.

The goal: to turn the Iraqi armed forces into disciplined and effective fighting machine, backed by some of the finest military equipment in the world.

Baghdad’s Revenue-Sharing Deal: Avoiding a Kurdish Split

By Ruth Lux, Managing Director of political risk consultancy Strategic Analysis.

The security situation in Iraq has significantly declined over the last week. Mosul and Tikrit fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an al-Qaeda off-shoot, and Tal Afar, in the Nineveh province, was seized on Monday.

Additionally, Baquba, only 37 miles from Baghdad, was briefly over-run by the militants. ISIS have engaged the Iraqi army in Diyala and Salahuddin provinces and reportedly now control up to 75% of the Baiji oil refinery, the largest in Iraq. This oil refinery is 210 km north of Baghdad and should the militants follow-through on their threat to cut off domestic oil supplies, an already fragile domestic situation will be exacerbated.

The Kurds have benefitted from this security vacuum and the Iraqi army’s inability to secure the country. They have moved their peshmerga forces into areas claimed to historically be part of Iraqi Kurdistan and are unlikely to withdraw. The presence of the peshmerga is undoubtedly securing oil-rich Kirkuk and the Mosul dam, which provides Baghdad with its water supply, however, some critics identify this move as opportunistic.

The deteriorating security environment in Iraq has also bolstered the Kurdish region’s position with regards to its’ revenue-sharing agreement with Baghdad. The Kurdish region has been eager to identify export routes for its crude oil and on 5th June Turkey and Kurdistan signed a 50 year oil export deal.  With Baghdad facing more pressing security concerns, the Kurdish region is unlikely to face the usual backlash entailed in acting without the authorisation of the federal government.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has actively sought export routes for its crude oil and its latest oil export deal with Turkey meets this objective. Kurdistan has proven oil reserves of 45 billion barrels, with production capacity quickly rising and expected to reach 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2015, compared to the current level of 400,000 bpd.

Gazprom Neft “has No Problems in Iraq”

By John Lee.

Gazprom Neft has said it has no problems in Iraq and does not feel that its work in the country is under threat.

Deputy CEO Vadim Yakovlev (pictured) told reporters on Tuesday:

“Of course we are worried because we operate there and our people are still working … [but] we do not feel any impact yet as the company operates in the country’s calm regions and everything is in line with the plan.”

At the same time the company has contingencies in place to intensified security and even evacuate personnel if necessary.

(Source: ITAR-TASS)

Baiji Refinery Under Attack

By John Lee.

Islamist militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, ISIL) have attacked Baiji [Bayji] oil refinery (pictured), 155 miles north of Baghdad.

A security official told Associated Press that the attack on Iraq’s largest refinery began late on Tuesday night and continued into Wednesday, with militants targeting it with mortar shells, starting a small fire on the periphery.

The refinery accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s entire refining capacity, all of which goes toward domestic consumption such as petrol and fuel for power stations, leading to fears of fuel shortages and additional power cuts.

(Source: The Guardian, Reuters)

Iraq: Reconciliation or Partition?

By Tariq Abdell. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

…The ultimate test of statesmanship is what to do in the face of war…”   — Thatcher’s statecraft

The upsurge in Sectarian violence across Iraq underscores the blatant failure of Iraq’s consensual democracy and the vulnerabilities of its security forces as result of a host of daunting and intricate constraints: A sectarian commander-in-chief, lingering ethno-sectarian loyalties, politicized security apparatus; and the regions geopolitical tensions, namely Syria’s civil war and Saudi-Iran’s rivalries.

Irrefutably, the cumulative effects of Maliki’s sectarian-based policies – marginalization and disenfranchising of Sunnis in particular- are to blame for exacerbating Iraq’s sectarian violence and, subsequently, entrenching Iraq’s centuries-old ethno-sectarian schisms as evidenced by ISIS’s recent offensive, supported by Sunni tribes, in north-central and northern Iraq.

For Washington to help Baghdad fend off a protracted sectarian war and a total chaos, it must first devise a set of benchmarks as a precondition of U.S. military and financial support. The endgame of such benchmarks it to force Maliki to renounce his sectarian-based policies, espouse a genuine and inclusive democracy, and form a government of national unity that heads to the people’s aspirations regardless of their political and religious beliefs; to include an action plan that reflects the country’s pressing priorities:

  • Genuine national reconciliation to overcome interfaith communal distrust and sectarian violence.
  • Overhauling of Iraq’s security apparatus namely the forces reporting directly to Maliki -SWAT and CTS in particular- to curb sectarian loyalties, rein in corruption, and build a cohesive and effective Military.
  • Repealing of the Anti-terrorism law – Article 4 in particular- and the use of secret informants and coerce confessions.
  • Reversal of targeted and unjust De-Ba’atification law.
  • Merit-based appointments to promote efficiency and accountability.
  • Providing access to basic services (e.g., potable water, electricity, running sewer, etc) and equitable distribution of oil revenues.
  • Investing in human capital through education and training to fend off societal and political unrest.
  • Advancing the principles of human rights and rule of law.
  • Diversifying and reviving of Iraq’ strategic industries to curb its dependence on a single commodity – fossil fuel.

ISIS Fights Virtual War in Cyber Horror Show

By John Cookson. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Gruesome images and videos from Iraq have sparked revulsion around the world as ISIS militants video executions and upload them on the internet.

Grisly stills and videos appear on jihadist websites often days before being picked up by mainstream western media, but perpetrators must surely take grim satisfaction when their work ultimately appears on front pages and TV news channels for a global audience.

In the latest, captured Iraqi soldiers are shown being taunted and made to repeat extremist slogans. One refuses and is shot.  All are later killed and their bloody corpses shown.

In recent days we also saw gunmen driving an open road in Salahuddin and riddling other vehicles with bullets, killing occupants before they moving on to cut down veiled women walking in the street.   Another shows mass executions of Iraqi soldiers in civilian clothes.