The Iraq Corner – September 2, 2008

Iraq’s Ministry of Interior is feeling pretty confident.  The general manager of operations told A-sharq al-Awsat that intelligence information gathered during recent arrests of suicide bombers (most famously the Iraqi teenager Rania) will enable MOI to permanently disrupt the network of suicide bombers in Diyala province.  He notes that AQ has turned to exploiting women and children and accuses AQI members of marrying teenage girls to gain control over them and force them to execute suicide attacks. 

After tensions between the Iraqi Army and its Kurdish population last week, ASAA reports that things have settled down in the mixed town of Khaniqin.   The Kurds have reached a peaceful agreement with Baghdad, things have returned to normal, and ASAA quotes individuals from Khaniqin’s various ethnicities as saying, at the most, that they support the inclusion of Khaniqin in the region of Kurdistan, and, at the least, that they do not oppose the inclusion of Khaniqin in the region of Kurdistan.  So it seems as though the most potentially destabilizing move would be for Baghdad to declare that Khaniqin was NOT part of Kurdistan. 

But while the situation on the ground has temporarily cleared up, the strategic picture remains muddled.  Comments made to ASAA by both Kurdish and Baghdadi parties demonstrate that the Kurds and Baghdad still have to come to terms on several major issues, such as 1)the legal rights of the Peshmerga* (ie what parts of Iraq they can deploy to) 2)the oil law and revenue sharing and 3)the status of Mosul (is it in Kurdistan or not?).  Granted, these issues will require lots of time to hash out, but the fact that the Iraqi government is not setting a timetable to settle these issues is discouraging.

On September 1, U.S. forces handed over security responsibilities in Anbar Province to the Iraqis.  Al Hayat reports a tense environment there.  Although AQ poses less of a threat then it once did, tensions exist between the Awakening Councils and the central government.  The Sunni political parties resent the Awakening Councils because AC members have started to engage in politics as well as security operations, a development that threatens the Sunni political parties.  The rest of Baghdad worries about the Awakening Councils because they are armed groups which exist outside the structure of the Iraqi government.  Members of the central government oppose absorbing the ACs into the Iraqi Security Forces because a)doing so would dilute the influence of factions currently holding power and 2)elements of the ACs have ties to Saddam’s regime. 

Ultimately, the central government won’t be able to stabilize Anbar without accomodating the Awakening Councils.  It would be near impossible.  The sooner Baghdad realizes this, the better the prospects are for sustainable calm in Anbar province. 

Last, while receiving The People’s Republic of China’s new ambassador, vice president Tariq Hashemi praised China’s decision to write off Iraq’s debt and called for stronger relations between the two countries.  According to as-Sabaah, Iraq is looking to attract investement in exploring and developing oil fields.

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