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A Brief Example of the Lack of Dialogue Between Ninewa's Kurds and Sunnis
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/21/2009 00:37 AM ET
Usama al-Najafi
Photo: Daniel W. Smith
Usama al-Najafi

BAGHDAD – For weeks, there has been no functioning local government in Ninewa province.

Sunni Arabs largely boycotted the 2005 elections, giving Kurdish parties the political majority in Ninewa, even though this did not reflect the makeup its population. The Sunni-led al-Hadba List swept the local election in January, and, when forming the city council, gave all key positions to al-Hadba members. In response, the Kurdish-led Brotherhood List began a boycott of the council, and declared that some regions within Ninewa with a large Kurdish majority might secede from the province, and declare themselves part of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Tensions have been rising since then, and Ninewa has become, like Kirkuk, a center of Kurdish/Arab disaffection. After an incident in early May, when Kurdish pesh merga forces blocked Ninewa governor Atheel al-Najafi from attending an event outside of Mosul, al-Hadba demanded that all pesh merga leave Ninewa. They then requested extra security forces from Baghdad to counter them.

Al-Hadba MP Usama al-Najafi (and brother to the Governor) told Iraqslogger, “The local government in Ninewa was elected by an absolute majority and now it is the legal and constitutional authority. We have always worked for dialogue and security, but this agenda is not shared by the Brotherhood list. Its members want to divide the land of Ninewa.”

Of the Brotherhod List’s boycott, he said, “It is only an attempt to ruin the reputation of al-Hadba List and to detract from its huge victory in the election, but I think they got their response when the people of Ninewa got out and demonstrated. Educated people, tribal leaders, workers, and well known citizens all got out and demonstrated on their own.”

“Yes, they got the majority,” countered Ahmed Anwar, an MP with the Kurdistan Alliance coalition. “If they want to rule Ninewa alone no one can stop them, but Iraq needs harmony. The Brotherhood List got one third of the votes, so of course, they should obtain one third of the seats of the local government.”

As he spoke, he took on a somewhat conciliatory tone. “What happened, though, is that our brothers in al-Hadba formed their own government instead. This is the basis of the problem - more than one million voters were ignored. The PDK has provided a lot of services to the area and helped with security, and that must be acknowledged. I think that this will be temporary until both lists reach some kind of solution through discussion.”

After relating Anwar’s comments to al-Najafi and asking for a response, he said, in a tone which would not be called conciliatory, “I have addressed the government of Kurdistan, not a political party or politician. I explained to them that we can’t agree to something if we don’t know what it is. We have to share some clear agenda. Our agenda is that the land of Ninewa has its own clear borders, from long ago.”

While listing the three conditions, he refrained from using the term “pesh merga” instead using the word “militia”, a clear statement on how he views the validity of the Kurdish forces.

“The Kurdistan Government has violated Ninewa’s borders by crossing them, so firstly, they have to recognize these borders. Secondly, they must withdraw their militia. The final demand is that they must acknowledge the new jurisdiction of the government of Ninewa over all of Ninewa. Then it is possible to share.”

He finished by saying, “If their answer is not to acknowledge the borders, let them tell this to the world. This, of course, would mean that they disagree with the constitution.”

Daily Column
Kurdistan's Troubled Democracy, White Supremacist Recruitment of Veterans
By DANIEL W. SMITH 04/18/2009 01:57 AM ET
There is only one real news story about Iraq today, in the New York Times, but it is a good one. Opinions are more common, and cover a variety of topics.

From Iraq
From Rabia, in northern Ninewa province, the New York Times’ Campbell Robertson and Stephen Farrell write of the re-ascendancy of Sunni Arabs in Ninewa. In earlier years, the group largely shunned politics, giving the American-allied Kurds power “by default, giving them a political and military ascendance out of all proportion to their numbers”. In Iraq’s provincial election of January, Sunnis embraced politics, and their al-Hadba party took a clear majority of votes in Ninewa.

It is an informative and needed article – as much as many who even are up on Iraqi politics know about Ninewa is that al-Hadba won, and that there is some hubbub about the new provincial council. Kurds, who control 12 seats out of the 37 seats, threatened to boycott the council and even refuse to accept government services in areas where they dominate, because al-Hadba, who has 19 seats, has installed only al-Hadba members in all major high-ranking positions.
The dispute has implications far beyond the northern fault line (lands disputed by Arabs and Kurds). Three hundred miles south in Baghdad, the central government led by Iraq’s majority Shiite Arabs must decide which presents the biggest threat: the political ambitions of Mr. Hussein’s once ruling Sunni Arab minority, or the territorial ambitions of the Kurdish minority who claim that some northern areas administered by Baghdad should rightfully be added to their three provinces, two of which border Nineveh.

...Others, and not only Kurds, are wary of Nineveh’s new rulers. More than one Sunni Arab sheik accused Al Hadba of being in league with violent extremists... In his office in Mosul, Al Hadba’s leader, Atheel al-Nujaifi — just before he was installed as Nineveh’s governor — spoke of a willingness to make overtures to insurgents... The lack of violence on election day, he explained, was not only a result of a security lockdown. His party contacted “influential people,” he said, to ensure that votes would be cast peacefully.
“The old order has returned,” is the message being sent by an influential Sunni Sheikh in Rabia who flies the three-starred flag of the old Iraq government from towers and guard posts. US leaders say it is a welcome development that Iraq’s northern Sunnis are confronting other groups the political arena now, but as far as sectarian harmony is being demonstrated in Ninewa’s provincial council, Robertson and Farrell write, “So far it does not look good.”

In a Washington Post op-ed, Scott Carpenter at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. and Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute write that there’s more to the story of January’s election than the universal harmony that many often spoke of – that in three provinces that comprise Iraqi Kurdistan, the regional parliament postponed the vote until May 19. It is far from clear how they will proceed, they argue, not least of all because he questions the Kurdish leadership’s commitment to democracy. These are more hard truths about Iraq’s northern politics that need to be looked at.
Before Saddam Hussein was ousted, Iraqi Kurdistan was certainly more democratic than the rest of Iraq. But this is no longer the case. Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, refuse to compete in open elections, choosing instead to divide power equally. While more benign than Hussein's Baath Party, Kurdish authorities have adopted the Baathist model, requiring party membership to guarantee university slots, qualify for the best jobs or win lucrative contracts. Independent candidates report intimidation and threats. ...In contrast to the rest of Iraq, Kurdish parties have already cemented alliances and power-sharing agreements. Voters in Iraqi Kurdistan will not have the benefit of real competition or open lists. Nor will they be able to choose among individuals.
The Kurdish-administered regions of Iraq are of utmost importance as an example for the rest of the country and once was a model to it, say Carpenter and Rubin. They call on the Obama administration to “do everything it can to ensure that it is not left behind.”

The Christian Science Monitor has an op-ed called ”The Dictator in Iraq’s Hearts Must be Toppled” by Janessa Gans, president of the Euphrates Institute, a charitable organization “dedicated to improving relations between the Middle East and West” tells of returning to Iraq to make a documentary, after not being there for three years. The contrast between the Baghdad of today and that of hyper-violent 2006 is “nothing short of miraculous.”

The corruption now present, namely her own experience with it, has her less enamored. She writes, “Not only did our fixer have to pay 'tips' to secure even the most basic appointments, but also to secure a police escort on some of our excursions." Yes, gathering information in Iraq is often maddening, but there are many other examples of rampant corruption to choose from which are easily observable and which affect actual Iraqis, not just the amount a foreigner has to pay their fixer to get something - especially when they apparently expect government forces to provide free security for their "excursions". (She also might want to consider a change in fixers)

On points such as reconciliation, she speaks not only of problems, but of some general solutions. Iraqi organizations that promote understanding, tolerance, and peace. the focus of her documentary, are the key, in her view.
Iraqis need outlets and opportunities to come to terms with the traumas and injustices of the past, and to support the groups that help reintegrate the large number of victims back into society. We met many such individuals and organizations who are laying the groundwork for this long-term societal and cultural change. These unsung heroes of Iraq are working against wide-ranging and powerful forces, from a government that distrusts and seeks to control their efforts, to armed groups who directly attack them, to a lack of outside funding and support. Although this type of grass-roots reform is at odds with the quick fixes on which American policy generally focuses, it does present the only road to permanent, lasting change.
New York Times op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow writes of a recent report by Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis which suggested that current political and economic conditions are energizing right-wing extremist groups, that many of these groups follow extremely conservative ideologies and that some may seek to recruit and “radicalize” veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Conservatives, he says, reacted to this reports “by throwing a knee-jerk hissy-fit,” and says that they “twisted the report’s meaning to imply that they, and more importantly our war heroes, were being vilified by a partisan document.”

Not so, says Blow. He points to the high levels of PTSD and depression among many veterans (quoting a RAND study) and writes that “these soldiers could prove fertile ground for men hoping to prey on their fear, loneliness and dispossession,” groups that will actively seek them out.
The only debate we should be having is about the best way to protect our newest veterans from falling prey to this handful of military apostates. If they only recruit a few, that is still too many. Terrorists have shown the world time and again that a few well-trained men is all it takes.
Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

The Latest
Anti-Gov't Site Alleges Baghdad District MosquesTargeted by Iraqi Forces
03/06/2009 7:13 PM ET
Google Earth image/

Iraqi forces have arrested the leaders of two Sunni mosques in western Baghdad, according to an Iraqi website in Arabic, which claims that the arrests are a sign of a “campaign” against Sunni imams in the Yarmouk area.

The al-Haq News website reports in Arabic that the imams of Omar al-Mukhtar mosque and the al-Shawaf mosque, both in Baghdad’s Yarmouk district, were arrested without charges announced against them by the military forces, according to the agency.

This “arrest campaign” comes as part of what the al-Haq website calls a “dangerous escalation” in what it sees as “a series of elimination and arrests of imams of Sunni mosques in Baghdad.”

Al-Haq writes that government forces arrested Shaykh Ibrahim Rumayd, imam of the Omar al-Mukhtar mosque in the Yarmouk district and the muezzin of the Mustafa mosque after the evening prayer on Sunday last week, which led to the mosque’s closure. Prayer-goers avoided the facility, according to al-Haq, fearing further arrest raids. Iraqi forces also placed a military checkpoint in front of the mosque, al-Haq claims.

The anti-goverment agency, staunchly opposed to the Shi'a-dominated writes that another force the next day arrested Shaykh Hasan Mala Ali, the imam of the al-Shawaf mosque in the same area, and the muezzin of the Othman mosque, without revealing the reasons.

Daily Column
Some Cry Foul After Early Election Results
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/05/2009 02:00 AM ET
There are only two news stories filed from Iraq today, and they’re about the same thing. That’s understandable though, because it’s a pretty big thing -post-election violence being threatened amid accusations of voter fraud by a major party.

From Iraq
From Ramadi, Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post writes the better of the two articles – better, simply, because he went there, and has more information and more quotes.

In what may be a case of ballot-tampering or sour grapes(or most likely, both), preliminary election results which show the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) ahead of leaders of the Anbar Awakening movement are being contested with strong words. Ahmed Abu Risha, a major figure in the Anbar Awakening vowed that, if his party did not win, ”disaster” would follow. He said, "An honest dictatorship is better than a democracy won through fraud."

Raghavan sums up the situation as follows.
Abu Risha and other leaders of the Awakening, the U.S.-backed Sunni sheiks who rose up to quell the insurgency, charge that Sunni politicians of the Iraqi Islamic Party have committed electoral fraud, which party officials deny. The allegations, coupled with threats to use arms, have prompted provincewide curfews and strict security measures. Although the United States handed responsibility for the security of Anbar to the Iraqi government in September, U.S. Marines this week returned to Ramadi in observation roles, patrolling areas from which they had largely withdrawn.
The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has taken seriously the claims against the IIP, and calls them the only “red” or extremely serious allegations brought so far, and is continuing investigation. A recount, they say, is unnecessary,

The other article, by the New York Times’ Sam Dagher in Baghdad explains the actual claims more thoroughly.
As was the case in all the other provinces, ballots in Anbar were supposed to have been counted at the individual polling stations by commission employees in the presence of observers from all political parties. The tallies were then to be manually recorded on forms that were sent to the commission’s headquarters in Baghdad. The actual ballots were to be sealed and stored in depots in every province.

Sheik Issawi (one of Abu Risha’s allies and a candidate on his slate) asserted that the cheating occurred during the recording of the tallies at several voting sites in Anbar and was committed by officials beholden to the Islamic Party. A party official has denied the charges and condemned Sheik Risha’s threats of violence.
Stephen Milioti of the New York Times reports that Zaha Hadid, the Iraq-born architect "known for fantastically angled buildings, was commissioned to design the faucet of the future". Ms. Hadid’s futuristic tap, which she created for a British company, comes in two models, for the bath and the kitchen. They start at $7,000. Perhaps some could be donated to the people of Iraq. Even if potable water isn’t reliable, who's day wouldn't be spruced up by an artsy faucet?

In the Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Kagan (president of the Institute for the Study of War) and Frederick W. Kagan (resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute) show they can beat the pants off most op-ed writers, when it comes to effortlessly-referenced background information on Iraq.

Iraq's Remarkable Election: The government ensured integrity and security. Iran and sectarianism were the big losers”, is one of two opinion pieces today which laud the election, and there has been a steady stream of them since Saturday.

They hit everything from Moqtada al-Sadr to Khanaqin, and it all seems to fall together for them in one grand scheme of things getting better and better. They don’t minimize the sticky issues all that much, but it does read a little like an op-ed by two people from institutions with a stake in how things play out, as “American forces will continue to play a vital role as honest brokers and impartial arbiters standing behind efforts to resolve conflicts peacefully.”

The Wall Street Journal’s “Review and Outlook” page continues its celebration of the peaceful election, but switches gears at the end to question President Obama’s choice of Christopher Hill as the next US ambassador to Iraq.
Especially with U.S. troop levels going down, Iraqis need the assurance of someone both more knowledgeable and sympathetic. Plenty of Iraqis -- especially Sunnis -- remain suspicious that the U.S. will bargain with Tehran by conceding Iranian interests in Iraq. As ambassador, Mr. Crocker held talks with the Iranians but emerged with a sober view of Tehran's malignant role in Iraqi politics. The elections were another notable sign of Iraq's democratic progress, and the U.S. needs an emissary who won't lose the Iraqi trust so painstakingly won by so many.
USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Cleric's Ascent to Local Strongman Shows Shift, Bombings in Iraq as Biden Visits
By DANIEL W. SMITH 01/13/2009 01:59 AM ET
Still not a great deal of Iraqi coverage, with the usual complete absences in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Baghdad explosions and Sen. Biden are reported on in the New York Times, and al-Qaeda’s past dominance/Iraq’s new power struggles are covered in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

From Baghdad
Timothy Williams of the New York Times reports that a series of bombings around Baghdad killed eight people and wounded at least 29 others on Monday morning, a few hours before Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. arrived in the Iraqi capital for an unannounced visit, and met with President Jalal Talabani.

Williams points out that most of the bombs seemed to target Iraqi police and army convoys, the trend for some time now. He lists the circumstances of several bombings in some detail, giving a good overall idea of the kind of incidents which most frequently occur. Sticky bombs are a running theme. According to the US military, an American soldier was killed in a non-combat-related episode on Sunday in the city of Samarra, but they gave no further details.

On Monday, the Iraqi government also released a national poverty survey of 18,144 families conducted during 2007 by the World Bank, the Iraqi Ministry of Planning and the Kurdish Regional Ministry of Planning, which found that “most of the families lacked indoor plumbing and that about half the homes were infested with insects or rats”.

Elsewhere in Iraq
Next are two articles which explore the past dominance of groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq, the role of the Sons of Iraq, and the new power struggles which have arisen.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Tom A. Peter files from Yusufiyah, and begins with...
Three months before Amin al-Qaraghouli walked into a meeting of tribal sheikhs here and blew himself up, killing 23 people, he was in jail for planting roadside bombs. He was freed after local elders backed his claim that he had abandoned his violent past. The Jan. 3 attack in this town of dirt roads and mud-brick buildings 25 miles southwest of Baghdad was the worst suicide bombing in months and a deadly reminder that Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) remains within striking distance.
Peter poses the question “As US withdraws, will Al Qaeda in Iraq find new openings?”, and though he cites examples, as above, that its presence remains, the answer is mostly “no.” Though some locals in Yusufiyah are still protecting members of al-Qaeda, they have been mostly stamped out by the SOI, and the size and general presence of the Iraqi security forces, though flawed, bodes well.

If violence does return in Iraq when the US leaves it is likely to look different, if for no other reason than because many of the key players from the insurgency were killed or captured during the surge, says a senior lecturer at Cambridge University who specializes in war and insurgencies.

Peter ends with an unsettling local solution in Yusufiya.
While the growth of tribal influence may provide a counterbalance to sectarian politics, it could also lead to a rise in violent civil disputes. The Yusufiyah bombing reveals frustrations within the local SOI group, the country's community policing program that arose from the Awakening Movement.

From now on, Mr. Qaraghouli, the deputy, says if the SOI know someone is guilty of murder they will skip the court and execute the alleged killer themselves. He admits this type of vigilante justice could create enduring bloodshed. "We will risk hate and fighting forever. It will affect the future of our sons," he says, undeterred.
On page one of the Washington Post, a second look AQI, SOI, and new power structures within Iraq. The most impressive article of the day, by Anthony Shadid, is about the rise of power of a Sunni cleric in the northern city of Thuluyah.

The subject, Nadhim Khalil and others (both for and against him) tell of his past as an al-Qaeda allied insurgent involved in sectarian violence and his transformation into what he has now become – a strong-talking cleric/SOI leader with great power and influence in the area, who aspires to be a member of parliament.
He heads a council of 10 tribal leaders established last year by Maliki, the prime minister's tentative but far-reaching attempt to cultivate rural support. He said he meets with the U.S. military every two weeks. Each Tuesday, he gathers a council in Thuluyah with the mayor and heads of the police, city council and army to review security here.
What changed since his al-Qaeda days, you ask?
Khalil's analysis is blunt: He used to be on the losing side. His formula is simple: With God, guns and money, he is now the authority in town.
"I'm sure the Americans will leave after a little while, and there's nothing I achieve by killing them now. I could kill them anytime, anywhere, and so what?" he asked. "In the beginning, the thought was that you could achieve your goal with weapons, but honestly? That investment has shown no return. That company has shown no profit."

He doesn’t seem like the kind of person you’d want as an enemy.

Shadid, with the extended story of Kahlil’s rise to prominence, tells the story of how power throughout parts of Iraq is playing out, and it is not all comforting.
Definitely worth a full read.

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

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