Political analyst, journalist
The January 30,2005 Iraqi parliamentary elections have become a sort of historical pass of the crest with something unknown looming there in front.
It is predicted that by October 15 this year the transitional National Assembly will work out a draft Iraq's Constitution, and provided it is approved at a referendum, it is to become the basis of elections of the constant National Assembly not later than December 15, 2005.
The biggest vote at the elections, 146 mandates was for the predominantly Shia United Iraqi Alliance. The General Iraqi list, Kurdish in essence, was given 77 seats in Parliament, and the "mundane" Iraqi list headed by the Washington favourite, temporary Prime-Minister Iyad Alawi, got 40 mandates.
The Shia and Kurds now control 81% of seats in Iraqi Parliament. The first speaker of the National Assembly, which is mainly a ceremonial post, not giving its owner much political clout, became a Sunni Hajim al-Hasani. Kurd Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was elected Iraqi Head of State, and elected Vice-Presidents were Shia Adel Abdel Mahdi and Sunni Gazi Ajil as-Yaver. These "three" who form the Presidential Council, appointed Shia Ibrahim al-Jaafari Prime Minister. Al-Jaafari is the leader of the influential party "Hizb ad-Daava al-Islamia" ("The Party of Islamic Call"). Besides, local authorities were elected in each of the 18 provinces of that country, and in North Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan)), which for the last 14 years have actually been autonomous territory independent of Baghdad, now elected its regional parliament.
Overt and Covert Threats
The results of Iraqi elections gave rise to new complicated problems that appear hard to solve. The Shia victory has aggravated the already tense domestic political situation. The humiliated Sunni leadership is now faced with a dilemma of either accepting the invitation to participate in the preparation of the draft constitution and to face the prospect of a limited participation in running the country, or embark on the road of a confrontation with the winner.
Terror acts that for many months accompanied the election campaign were largely a reflection of the Sunni stance, but no matter what, they failed to disrupt the elections. In this sense Saddam's supporters (former members of the Baath
party), nationalists and Jihaddists suffered a painful defeat. Usama bin Laden's emissary in Iraq, the leader of the terrorist organisation "Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad ar-Rafidein" ("The Base of Jihad in the land of the Tiger and the Euphrates") Abu Musaab az-Zarkawi has in the end failed to live up to his pledge to launch a wide-range civil war in Iraq. Finally, while forming the government, the Shia leaders made many concessions to the Sunni with an eye at stifling the flames of confrontation.
Having collected 25.7% of votes (77 parliamentary seats) "The Kurdish Alliance" has won a serious victory which now gives the Iraqi Kurdish community an important edge in its struggle for power. Following the elections in Iraq, "the horse trading", as Americans dubbed what began to take place in that country with competing political groups striving to gain advantages for themselves, began to strike overt and covert deals with one another. In the circumstances the Kurds, whom everybody was now wooing, began to act very energetically and aggressively.
As Head of the Presidential Council leader of PUK Talabani was given the right to veto any candidate for premiership. His own presidential position Talabani received thanks to striking an alliance with the Shia majority in exchange for appointing al-Jaafari head of the government. Other nominees for the job included Alawi (whose block received 14% of votes and 40 parliamentary mandates), and Chalabi, the most pro-American Iraqi politician. At the same time, it is quite possible that the alliance between the Kurds and Alawi that symbolises "secular" (or pro-American) direction of Iraqi policies
together with a number of Sunni groups can challenge "the Shia dominance" in the National Assembly.
Another source of tensions is to be found in the "mundane" foundations of the would-be state, which Alawi and his US sponsors strive to put in place. By way of characterizing this striving Sheik Ibrahim Ibrahimi, a representative of Great aytolla Iskhak al-Fayad from An-Najaf, stated quite precisely: " All the ulems and higher spiritual authorities, the entire Iraqi nation demands that the National Assembly make Islam the only base of law-making in the framework of a new constant Constitution; it would reject any law contradicting it. We warn officials against separation of religion from the state, and we will not compromise on it in any way". Statements like that make a tangible blow on the US plans to turn that country into "a beacon of democracy", being also a threatening warning that special relations between Iraq and Iran can be installed in the near future.
Nevertheless it cannot be ruled out that "secularist" Muslims from Kurdish parties supported by politicians pursuing "mundane" line from both Shia and Sunni Muslims and can still withstand the country's "Islamisation". That is exactly what US experts bargain for, taking into account "the prudency" of the Shia top leaders as well. In the end al-Jaafari - "a moderate mullah wearing a costume" as he is quite often referred to, has to a large degree defined his stance on a number of rather complicated issues: "Islam, - he says, - should become official religion, one of the basements of a legislative building along with other foundations, which Muslims do not view negatively. The security situation is the most important
and vital problem. Everywhere there's blood spilled. How can we remove foreign troops from the country under the circumstances?"
Statements like that make it clear what kind of domestic policies Al-Jaafari, as a Shia leader and a man who, incidentally, stands for women's rights in a Muslim society, is going to pursue. One of the elements of that is signing agreements with oil giants Shell, British Petroleum and Shevron-Texaco on the eve of the elections and with the active participation of the current vice-president Adel Abdel Mahdi, a former Finance Minister and an influential person in the "secular" Shia elite.
However, irrespective of such signs of "prudence" of the new Shia Iraqi Prime-Minister, neo-conservatives in the US administration are seriously concerned over the prospects of development close and friendly relations between An-Najaf and Teheran, all the more so that al-Jaafari and other Shia leaders avoid making statements on that score.
Washington has other reasons to be concerned, too. Starting from the 1990s Kurds joined hands with Americans in their fight against Saddam Hussein's regime, hoping that the United States would support their plans of forming an independent Kurdish state. Washington, on the one hand, sustained this hope, and on the other continued to build its policies in regard of Kurds with an eye at strengthening its relations with Ankara.
Turks have more than once threatened to invade North Iraq, and it took great diplomatic effort on the part of Americans to prevent such a contingency. The elections in
Kirkook, the capital city of Kurdish oil-production region, have added aggressiveness to the tome of statements from Ankara, which now had a shade of anti-Americanism. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdallah Gyul stated on many occasions that his country "will not remain idle" if Kurds grab control of that city, stressing that "the situation now has dangerous proportions". Turkish Prime-Minister Rejep Taiyip Erdogan charged the US administration over its lack of activities, which threatened the regional security.
From what can be judged from the new rigid Kurdish demands, the cinders of the conflict kept smoldering. Their demands include the following: control over oil resources in the Kurdish territory, including Kirkook, the right on a par with the centre in redistribution of the region's revenues, keeping their armed groups "the peshmerga", amounting to about 100,000 troops under the contorl of the Kurdish military command; control over locally collected taxes by the Kurdsih regional government, which wanted to determine the amounts to be transferred to the Centre; setting up in Kurdistan of ministries similar to those in Baghdad, including ministries of security and economy. All this makes the autonomy project almost totally similar to complete independence of the Kurdish north.
The status of Iraqi Kurdistan is a problem that causes a profound inter-community discord, complicating preparation of a draft Iraqi constitution. The territorial appetites of Kurds are growing - they aim to have control over more than the Tamim province; they also aim at the regions of cities Hanaqin and Sinjar. Barzani explained their demands as follows:
"It is a fact that we have two nationalities in Iraq, Kurds and Arabs. If the people of Kurdistan agrees to remain within the frame of a unified Iraq in this or that federal form, others must appreciate that"
The Cabinet of "Hostages"
All this explains why al-Jaafari failed to put together a Cabinet in almost three months following the elections. Most Sunni nominees for the most significant ministerial posts, like head of the defence ministry, were unacceptable for the Shia group and partially for the Kurds. The leadership of both communities, who suffered the most under Saddam Hussein, insisted that the process of de-Baathification, which the previous government led by Alalwi let stall to a certain degree, be continued.
"De-Baathification" will hurt 65,000 activists of the party's top echelon, while the total membership of "Al-Baath" amounted to a million and a half people, mainly the Sunni Muslims. As much was stated in May, 2005 by Ali al-Lami, head of the Higher National Commission on de-Baathification. The course on intensifying repressions as well as the Shia demand of capital punishment for Saddam Hussein spurred sharp resistance of the Sunni community.
Only 33 out of 37 government posts could initially be distributed. The Shia group received 18 portfolios, 8 went to Kurds, 6 to the Sunni, and 1 to the Christian. A severe covert struggle started between al-Jaafari and the Sunni community for the remaining nominees. The Sunni negotiators were represented by the United Iraqi Council, headed by al-Yaver, and
his deputy Muhammad Shihab ad-Dulaimi. They demanded an end to de-Baathification, a disbandment of the old Iraqi army, where the key roles were played by Saddam's supporters, and freedom to prison inmates whose collaboration with the resistance forces was not proved. All the demands were rejected.
At the same time the new head of the Cabinet enlarged the line-up of the government adding to it two Sunni men of importance, appointing Abed Mutlak as-Djiburi Vice-Premier, and Saadun as-Dulaimi Defence Minister. Both were influential members of the Baath party who for reasons of their own chose to join the opposition to the deposed dictator. Both politicians belong to major tribes Jiburi and Dulaimi with a population of hundreds of thousands people. Al-Djiburi comes from the neighbourhood of Kirkook, and Saadun ad-Dulaimi is a resident of Ramadi, the centre of province Anbar, regarded as a stronghold of anti-US and anti-governmental resistance. In theory, both men could draw in a significant segment of the Sunni insurgents, which is now the chief objective of the Iraqi leadership. However, many analysts believe that despite the concessions made to the Sunni, this can hardly be achieved, because the Sunni political groups have virtually no means of bringing pressure to bear upon the forces of resistance. All the more so, the powerful Association of Iraqi ulems that controls three thousand mosques, predominantly in the Sunni territories and as many believe is a religious and political "shelter" for the radical Baathists and Jihaddists, was sidelined. As for "moderate" Sunni, they are still politically weak.
A certain slump in the insurgent movement could be brought about, should al-Jaafari manage to bring into the government people who command unequivocal authority with the Sunni. There are such people, but most of them were so influential under Saddam, that both Shiites and Kurds view them as "personi non grati", deserving to be "de-Baathificated"
During behind-the-scene negotiations while forming the government different parties concluded important unwritten agreements on a number of acute problems. Non-commissioned military formations "the peshmerga", a more or less independent Kurdish force - are to be regarded as part of Iraqi armed forces, but "under the control of the Kurdish regional government and stationed in North Iraq". Inadequacy of such an approach is evident, but at least in the near future it could obscure to a degree the conflict over the status of Iraqi Kurdistan.
A solution was also found to another most acute problem of distribution of petrodollars in the country. They will be equally distributed among all Iraqi communities but "with an expressed preference to those communities that were oppressed under the Saddam regime, that is Kurds and the Shia in Iraq's southern territories", including those known as "the bog Arabs" residing in the Basra region. The precise percentage of such incomes for each community has not yet been fixed, which in the future will definitely give rise to acerbated bargaining.
The mechanism of the Kirkook problem settlement has also been outlined. Kurds from the city whom Saddam turned loose are now entitled to return home, and re-installation of
the 1968 status of Province Tamim, when "Arabisation" of this oil-rich province began is to take place. The next step should be a referendum for the province residents to decide whether they want to be governed by Baghdad or Kurdish authorities. The outcome of such referendum is evident.
In the West the government of al-Jafaari is now dubbed "the Cabinet of hostages". The Shia premier indeed is hostage of the circumstances that block the way to reaching the objective set by Americans of eradicating armed resistance. The Sunni leaders have expressed their utter dissatisfaction, first, of the fact that conditions of normalisation of relations with two other communities were rejected, and, second, they resented the very principle of Cabinet formation, whereby the Sunni were to be content with second-fiddle roles (with the exception of the post of Defence Minister).
The leaders of nationalist, Baathist and Jihaddist military formations immediately joined hands in an effort to discredit the new Cabinet. In Aril 2005 only they made 135 explosions in public places using car bombs. Suicide killers drove 67 such cars. Hundreds of people, mainly civilians, lost their lives. In the first two weeks of May the intensity of such attacks almost doubled reaching 70 explosions a day. More than 500 people were murdered and more than a thousand were wounded in the first 12 days of May.
Ideologically, former Baath party members and Jihaddists have nothing in common, but where tactics is concerned both wings of resistance force resort to terror more and more often.
US Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Mayers said that the rampage of terror in Iraq can continue for 5 to 9 years. Given
the statements of high-ranking US officials including President George Bush to the effect that US troops will only leave the occupied country after peace settles in, a long stay of the expeditionary corps in Iraq is guaranteed.
True, on May 16,2005 "the New York Times" reported: "Some radical Sunni Arabs" contacted the US administration, pledging they were ready to stop resisting under condition that "the Shia give the Sunni a more significant role in working out political evolution of Iraq", including the work on preparation of the draft constitution. According to the paper, in dealing with that the Unites States demands that the Shia hierarchy and Kurds stopped urging for "de-Baathification", giving the former Baath party members the right to take jobs in government institutions, for the former Saddam servicemen to get pensions, and to investigate the cases of people accused of taking part in the insurgent movement who are now jailed without a trial.
Washington demands that al-Jaafari resume contacts with the Sunni Council for National Dialogue, whose members, as is stated, can influence at least part of insurgents. In an answer one of al-Jaafari key advisers said: "This has nothing to do with Americans. They can express concern or, when asked, offer their points of view, but the political process carried out by Iraqi people themselves and their Prime-Minister is above all."
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As is known, President Vladimir Putin assigned the Foreign Ministry to focus on protecting Russia's interests in Iraq, and in particular, to facilitate the return of Russian business there. Given the hopelessness and unpredictability of the current situation
the task is extremely hard. According to Russia's media, former Russian partners during the reign of Saddam Hussein have incurred great losses. Companies Lukoil, Zarubezhneft and Machinoimport assess that they have lost up to $40 bln due to the abrogation of the contracts to develop West Qurna-2 oilfield. The total losses of Russian companies UAZ, Izhevskieye Mototzikly, Irbitsky Motozavod and Cheliabinsky Traktorny Zavod amount to $40 mln. No data is available on the losses incurred by companies Tekhnopromeksport and Interenergoservice. It is highly unlikely that Russian business can in the near future change the situation in its favour, as the Iraqi side shows no great interest in that, all the more so that the US companies in control of actually everything in Iraq are not interested in that either.
By the spring of 2005 the US military contingent has actually withfrawn from taking part in active operations against Iraqi resistance force, shifting the task to the poorly prepared local National Guard and army units. In late April through early May 2005, a major military operation titled Matador was carried out in the regions adjacent to Syrian border with an aim of capturing az-Zarkawi, but it failed.
The cost of occupation in terms of human life the United States has to pay is constantly growing. By the end of April 2005 the number of US troops killed in Iraq exceeded 1,600. 7,000 troops were wounded. This is a serious blow to the ratings of President Bush. According to the polls carried out in May by the weekly "Time" the President's action in Iraq was supported by 46% of Americans, with 47% denouncing it.
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