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Backgrounder — Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria

June 13, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder — Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), a predominantly Sunni jihadist group, seeks to sow civil unrest in Iraq and the Levant with the aim of establishing a caliphate—a single, transnational Islamic state based on sharia. The group emerged in the ashes of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and the insurgency that followed provided it with fertile ground to wage a guerrilla war against coalition forces and their domestic allies.

After a U.S. counterterrorism campaign and Sunni efforts to maintain local security in what was known as the Tribal Awakening, AQI violence diminished from its peak in 2006–2007. But since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in late 2011, the group has increased attacks on mainly Shiite targets in what is seen as an attempt to reignite conflict between Iraq’s Sunni minority and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Burgeoning violence in 2013 left nearly eight thousand civilians dead, making it Iraq’s bloodiest year since 2008, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, in 2012 the group adopted its new moniker, ISIS (sometimes translated as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) as an expression of its broadened ambitions as its fighters have crossed into neighboring Syria to challenge both the Assad regime and secular and Islamist opposition groups there. By June 2014, the group’s fighters had routed the Iraqi military in the major cities of Fallujah and Mosul and established territorial control and administrative structures on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

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CRS — Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights (updated)

February 25, 2014 Comments off

Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

More than two years after the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, sectarian divisions and the Sunniled uprising in neighboring Syria have fueled a revival of radical Islamist Sunni Muslim insurgent groups that are attempting to undermine Iraq’s stability. Iraq’s Sunni Arab Muslims resent the Shiite political domination and perceived discrimination by the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Iraq’s Kurds are embroiled in separate political disputes with the Baghdad government over territorial, political, and economic issues. The rifts caused a significant uprising led by the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq, now also known by the name Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), that began December 26, 2013 and gained control of several cities in Anbar Province. Earlier, unrest delayed some provincial elections during April-June 2013 and the latest uprising could affect the legitimacy of national elections for a new parliament and government set for April 30, 2014. Maliki is widely expected to seek to retain his post after that vote.

CRS — Executive Order 13438: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq

January 28, 2014 Comments off

Executive Order 13438: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

On July 17, 2007, President Bush issued Executive Order 13438, Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq. It is the latest in a series of executive orders based on the national emergency declared by President Bush with respect to “the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by obstacles to the orderly reconstruction of Iraq, the restoration and maintenance of peace and security in that country, and the development of political, administrative and economic institutions in Iraq.” Regulations implementing this Executive Order were issued on September 13, 2010.

The President’s authority to issue the executive order stems from the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 (IEEPA). The executive order covers financial transactions and authorizes property controls with respect to three categories of persons: (1) individuals or entities determined “to have committed, or to pose a significant risk, of committing an act or acts of violence that have the purpose or effect of … threatening the peace or stability of Iraq …”; (2) individuals or entities determined “to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, logistical, or technical support for, or goods or services in support of, such an act or acts of violence or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order …”; and (3) individuals and entities determined “to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order….”

This report provides a brief history of the development of presidential powers in peacetime. It discusses some of the issues that might be raised in light of the contrast between the executive order’s broad language and its narrow aim—supplementation of sanctions applicable to Al Qaeda and former Iraqi regime officials to cover terrorists operating in Iraq. It examines the reach of the executive order and provides legal analyses of some of the constitutional questions raised in the courts by similar sanctions programs, noting that the broad language of the executive order is not unprecedented. The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has published names of persons designated under the executive order and issued regulations further refining its terms and applicability. The report examines some of the procedures available to challenge OFAC sanction regulations and briefly discusses OFAC’s rules, which may be of concern to attorneys representing individuals and entities subjected to sanctions or involved in transactions with sanctioned persons.

CRS — Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response

January 24, 2014 Comments off

Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Fighting continues across Syria, pitting government forces and their foreign allies against a range of anti-government insurgents, some of whom also are fighting amongst themselves. Since March 2011, the conflict has driven more than 2.3 million Syrians into neighboring countries as refugees (out of a total population of more than 22 million). Millions more Syrians are internally displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance, of which the United States remains the largest bilateral provider, with more than $1.3 billion in funding identified to date. U.S. assistance to opposition forces was placed on hold in December 2013, as fighting in northern Syria disrupted mechanisms put in place to monitor and secure U.S. supplies. The war is exacerbating local sectarian and political conflicts within Lebanon and Iraq, where escalating violence may threaten stability.

CRS — Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights (updated)

December 27, 2013 Comments off

Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Two years after the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, sectarian divisions and the Sunni-led uprising in neighboring Syria have fueled a revival of radical Islamist Sunni Muslim insurgent groups that are attempting to undermine Iraq’s stability. Iraq’s Sunni Arab Muslims increasingly resent the Shiite political domination and perceived discrimination by the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Iraq’s Kurds are embroiled in separate political disputes with the Baghdad government over territorial, political, and economic issues. The rifts delayed some provincial elections during April-June 2013 and coul d affect the timing and viability of national elections for a new parliament and government set for April 30, 2014. Maliki is widely expected to seek to retain his post after that vote.

Contractors Who Worked in Conflict Zones Suffer High Rates of PTSD, Depression and Get Little Help

December 13, 2013 Comments off

Contractors Who Worked in Conflict Zones Suffer High Rates of PTSD, Depression and Get Little Help
Source: RAND Corporation

Private contractors who worked in Iraq, Afghanistan or other conflict environments over the past two years report suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression more often than military personnel who served in recent conflicts, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Researchers found that among the contractors studied, 25 percent met criteria for PTSD, 18 percent screened positive for depression and half reported alcohol misuse. Despite their troubles, relatively few get help either before or after deployment.

FACTBOX — Women’s rights in the Arab world

November 23, 2013 Comments off

FACTBOX — Women’s rights in the Arab world
Source: Thompson Reuters

Egypt is the worst country for women in the Arab world, closely followed by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen, according to gender experts surveyed in a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll released on Tuesday.

Comoros, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar came top of the survey, which assessed 22 Arab states on violence against women, reproductive rights, treatment of women within the family, their integration into society and attitudes towards a woman’s role in politics and the economy.

The results were drawn from answers from 336 gender experts invited to participate in an online survey by the foundation, the philanthropic arm of the news and information company Thomson Reuters, in August and September.

+ Complete poll results

Many Sunnis and Shias Worry About Religious Conflict; Concern Especially High Among Muslims in Lebanon

November 11, 2013 Comments off

Many Sunnis and Shias Worry About Religious Conflict; Concern Especially High Among Muslims in Lebanon
Source: Pew Religion & Public Life Project

This week Sunni and Shia Muslims ushered in the Islamic New Year and the beginning of the holy month of Muharram. For Shias, the month also is a time to mourn the events that sparked the centuries-old schism between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Pew Research Center polls conducted in 2011-2012 find high levels of concern about sectarian tensions in several countries where Sunnis and Shias live side by side. These concerns are particularly pronounced in Lebanon, where fully two-thirds of all Muslims, including about half of Shias and 80% of Sunnis, say sectarian tensions are a very big or moderately big problem. Roughly half of all Muslims in Iraq, more than four-in-ten in Afghanistan and nearly a quarter in Iran say the same.

The polls were conducted from November 2011 to May 2012 among a total of more than 5,000 Muslims in five countries with substantial numbers of both Shias and Sunnis (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon). Although Shias make up only about 10%-13% of the world’s Muslims, three of the five countries surveyed (Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan) have Shia-majority populations. Several of the countries polled also have a recent history of sectarian violence. This includes Lebanon, where a civil war was fought along sectarian lines from 1975 to 1991, and Iraq and Afghanistan, where bombings and other suspected sectarian attacks have occurred in the last few years.

Mortality in Iraq Associated with the 2003–2011 War and Occupation: Findings from a National Cluster Sample Survey by the University Collaborative Iraq Mortality Study

October 16, 2013 Comments off

Mortality in Iraq Associated with the 2003–2011 War and Occupation: Findings from a National Cluster Sample Survey by the University Collaborative Iraq Mortality Study
Source: PLoS Medicine

Background
Previous estimates of mortality in Iraq attributable to the 2003 invasion have been heterogeneous and controversial, and none were produced after 2006. The purpose of this research was to estimate direct and indirect deaths attributable to the war in Iraq between 2003 and 2011.

Methods and Findings
We conducted a survey of 2,000 randomly selected households throughout Iraq, using a two-stage cluster sampling method to ensure the sample of households was nationally representative. We asked every household head about births and deaths since 2001, and all household adults about mortality among their siblings. We used secondary data sources to correct for out-migration. From March 1, 2003, to June 30, 2011, the crude death rate in Iraq was 4.55 per 1,000 person-years (95% uncertainty interval 3.74–5.27), more than 0.5 times higher than the death rate during the 26-mo period preceding the war, resulting in approximately 405,000 (95% uncertainty interval 48,000–751,000) excess deaths attributable to the conflict. Among adults, the risk of death rose 0.7 times higher for women and 2.9 times higher for men between the pre-war period (January 1, 2001, to February 28, 2003) and the peak of the war (2005–2006). We estimate that more than 60% of excess deaths were directly attributable to violence, with the rest associated with the collapse of infrastructure and other indirect, but war-related, causes. We used secondary sources to estimate rates of death among emigrants. Those estimates suggest we missed at least 55,000 deaths that would have been reported by households had the households remained behind in Iraq, but which instead had migrated away. Only 24 households refused to participate in the study. An additional five households were not interviewed because of hostile or threatening behavior, for a 98.55% response rate. The reliance on outdated census data and the long recall period required of participants are limitations of our study.

Conclusions
Beyond expected rates, most mortality increases in Iraq can be attributed to direct violence, but about a third are attributable to indirect causes (such as from failures of health, sanitation, transportation, communication, and other systems). Approximately a half million deaths in Iraq could be attributable to the war.

Crisis Reporting : 91 Days to the Invasion of Iraq Seen Through U.S. Elite Media

October 2, 2013 Comments off

Crisis Reporting : 91 Days to the Invasion of Iraq Seen Through U.S. Elite Media
Source: California State University-East Bay (Poole)

This study examines a consecutive 91-day reporting period in The New York Times as it peaked leading up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. It analyzes the newspaper‘s role through the type and scope of information it offered the public about the administration’s arguments for war.

A content and quantification analysis method using 1,038 articles is illustrated in charts, graphs and tables to determine whether the reporting (a) balanced American government or military voices on the subject of weapons of mass destruction, and Iraqi affected groups; (b) fairly represented military achievements or movements with possible massive damage to– institutions of law and order, infrastructure, public health, the environment and to civil order, resulting from expected massive high ordnance bombing; (c) represented the voices of Iraqis or other Arab/Islamic/antiwar groups in the conflict.

The study reaches back to the Civil War for historical context to show, with examples, the media-government relation pattern set then and followed in each U.S. intervention, except Vietnam, up to the latest in Iraq when the Internet disrupted it as The Times readers could compare their information to that from other sources.

Results from this study, as reflected in the data extracted from this research, may be useful for (a) understanding the type of pressures administration and military officials can bring to bear upon the media in times of war and how news stories about a country designated as an “enemy” are reported; (b) journalism educators to demonstrate to reporters and editors the pitfalls they should avoid, and to be aware of incidents when the interests of the U.S. military and politicians override those of the US media; and to seek out ways to resist them, and be independent of government; (c) helping readers understand how newspapers see their role as the public’s watchdog, and how they interpret their task during periods of national crisis.

SIGIR — September 2013 Final Report to Congress

September 9, 2013 Comments off

September 2013 Final Report to Congress
Source: Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction

This Final Report culminates almost a decade of oversight work and was preceded by 220 audits, 170 inspections, 36 Quarterly Reports, 9 lessons-learned studies, 3 special reports, and 1 evaluation. Together, they comprise over 20,000 pages of reporting on the use of $60 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars for Iraq’s reconstruction. SIGIR’s work made a difference for the good. It imposed accountability and transparency upon a challenging rebuilding program, producing 90 convictions and nearly $2 billion in financial benefits. And SIGIR operated efficiently, with annual costs averaging about $25 million.

Our success stemmed from our values and our people. SIGIR’s values were straightforward and posted in our vestibule for all to see: professionalism, productivity, and perseverance. Professionalism meant ensuring fairness, integrity, and respect in every engagement. Productivity meant executing as much work as possible in tight time frames so as to aid reconstruction managers in implementing course corrections. Perseverance meant meeting our mission by pushing through the inevitable adversities that accompany war-zone work. The most devastating adversity occurred on March 24, 2008, when a rocket launched by terrorists hit the Embassy compound, killing one of my auditors, Paul Converse. Paul was one of hundreds of SIGIR personnel— auditors, investigators, and inspectors—who willingly braved the threats in Iraq to accomplish our mission. I thank all of them for their heroic service.

The first section of this Final Report provides a review of SIGIR’s history, delving into the perennial challenges we faced and various successes we achieved along the way. Section 2 updates the work of my investigative team, outlining indictments, convictions, and sentencings of those who criminally violated the sacred trust placed in them in Iraq. The Congress extended the life of our organization to achieve more investigative results; as Section 2 documents, we did. The last section provides an overview of events in Iraq this quarter, one marked by a sharp rise in violence.

“It Takes a Network”: The Rise and Fall of Social Network Analysis in U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Doctrine

September 9, 2013 Comments off

“It Takes a Network”: The Rise and Fall of Social Network Analysis in U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Doctrine (PDF)
Source: Connections (International Network for Social Network Analysis)

During the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, a group of warrior-thinkers developed a new U.S. Army counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine to fight modern “jihadist” insurgencies. Drawing heavily on social network analysis ideas, COIN principles emphasized population protection and organizational learning and adaptation. As implemented in Iraq by General David Petraeus, the doctrine greatly reduced intercommunal violence although other factors also contributed. But, COIN in Afghanistan under General Stanley McChrystal was unsuccessful in ending the Taliban insurgency. Although the Obama Administration substantially diminished the U.S. Army’s counterinsurgency capabilities, social network analytic ideas persist in military policy and practices.

CRS — Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights (8/22/13)

September 3, 2013 Comments off

Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Nearly two years after the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, increasingly violent sectarian divisions are undermining the fragile stability left in place. Sunni Arab Muslims, who resent Shiite political domination and perceived discrimination, have escalated their political opposition to the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki through demonstrations and violence. Iraq’s Kurds are embroiled in separate political disputes with the Baghdad government over territorial, political, and economic issues. The rifts impinged on provincial elections during April—June 2013 and could affect the viability of national elections for a new parliament and government expected in March 2014. Maliki is expected to seek to retain his post in that vote.

The violent component of Sunni unrest is spearh eaded by the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQ-I) as well as groups linked to the former regime of Saddam Hussein. These groups, emboldened by the Sunni-led uprising in Syria as well as perceived discrimination against Sunni Iraqis, are conducting attacks against Shiite neighborhoods, Iraqi Security Force (ISF) members, and Sunni supporters of Maliki with increasing frequency and lethality. The attacks appear intended to reignite all-out sectarian conflict and provoke the fall of the government. To date, the 800,000 person ISF has countered the escalating violence without outside assistance and Iraqi forces have not substantially fractured along sectarian lines. However, a July 2013 major prison break near Baghdad cast doubt on the ISF ability to counter the violence longer term.

U.S. forces left in December 2011 in line with a November 2008 bilateral U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement. Iraq refused to extend the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, seeking to put behind it the period of U.S. political and military control. Some outside experts and some in Congress have asserted that U.S. influence over Iraq has ebbed significantly since, tarnishing the legacy of U.S. combat deaths and funds spent on the intervention. Program components of what were to be enduring, close security relations—extensive U.S. training for Iraq’s security forces through an Office of Security Cooperation—Iraq (OSC-I ) and a State Department police development program—have languished or are ending in part because Iraqi officials perceive the programs as indicators of residual U.S. tutelage. The U.S. civilian presence in Iraq has declined from about 17,000 to about 10,500 and is expected to fall to 5,500 by the end of 2013. Still, Iraqi efforts to acquire sophisticated U.S. equipment such as F-16 combat aircraft, air defense equipment, and attack helicopters gives the Administration some leverage over Baghdad.

Although recognizing that Iraq wants to rebuild its relations in its immediate neighborhood, the Administration and Congress seek to prevent Iraq from falling under the sway of Iran, with which the Maliki government has built close relations. However, the legacy of the 1908-88 Iran-Iraq war, Arab and Persian differences, Iraq’s efforts to reestablish its place in the Arab world, and Maliki’s need to work with senior Iraqi Sunnis limit, Iranian influence over the Baghdad government. Still, fearing that a change of regime in Syria will further embolden the Iraqi Sunni opposition, Maliki has not joined U.S. and other Arab state calls for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to leave office and Iraq has not consistently sought to prevent Iranian overflights of arms deliveries to Syria. Iraq took a large step toward returning to the Arab fold by hosting an Arab League summit on March 27-29, 2012, and has substantially repaired relations with Kuwait, the state that Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied in 1990. In June 2013, the relationship with Kuwait helped Iraq emerge from some Saddam-era restrictions under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.

The Unseen War: Allied Air Power and the Takedown of Saddam Hussein

August 17, 2013 Comments off

The Unseen War: Allied Air Power and the Takedown of Saddam Hussein
Source: RAND Corporation

The Unseen War offers a comprehensive assessment of the role of allied air power in the three weeks of major combat that ended the rule of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2003. Unlike in the earlier Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the contribution of air power in the second war was less readily apparent to most observers, since the land offensive began concurrently with the air offensive and the overwhelming majority of the deployed journalists who reported on the war were embedded with ground units. Lambeth’s work fills a longstanding gap in the literature on modern warfare by telling, in full, the story of the role of air power for the first time. This book is published in cooperation with the RAND Corporation and sponsored by the commander of U.S. Central Command Air Forces, who was responsible for planning and conducting the 2003 air offensive for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Fall and Rise and Fall of Iraq

July 30, 2013 Comments off

The Fall and Rise and Fall of Iraq
Source: Brookings Institution

Iraq has been rekindled. Whether it will merely be singed or immolated entirely remains to be seen, but the fire is burning again.

Most Americans stopped caring about Iraq long ago. That’s an inescapable reality but also an unfortunate mistake. Iraq is not just a painful and divisive memory or a cudgel to take up against one’s political rival, it is a very real interest. Today, Iraq has surpassed Iran to claim the spot as the second largest oil exporter in OPEC, behind only Saudi Arabia. Iraq’s steadily climbing oil production has been critical to reducing oil prices, and its collapse into renewed civil war would endanger our fragile economic recovery.

Moreover, just as spillover from the Syrian civil war is helping to re-ignite the Iraqi civil war, so renewed chaos and strife in Iraq could once again threaten other important oil producers like Kuwait, Iran and even Saudi Arabia. As it has in the past, Iraq is again becoming a hub for al-Qa’ida’s regional presence.

Just as unfortunately, the problems of Iraq will not be easily healed. They are not the product of ancient hatreds, a canard that resurfaces with the outbreak of each such civil war. Instead they are principally the products of our own mistakes. We caused the Iraqi civil war, we healed it briefly, and then we left it to fester all over again. It is not that Iraqis had no say in the matter, no free will. Only that they were acting within circumstances that we created and those circumstances have driven their actions.

Thus, understanding where the Iraqis may end up requires understanding how we brought them to where they are. And here again, America’s determination to turn its back on the experience of Iraq is a dangerous hindrance. The problems sucking Iraq back into the vortex of civil war are merely the latest manifestation of the powerful forces that the United States unleashed as a result of our botched occupation from 2003 to 2006. Minor adjustments and small fixes are highly unlikely to be able to cope with them. Averting a relapse of the civil war may require a combination of moves akin to those that the United States and Iraqis engineered between 2007 and 2009, and that is exceptionally unlikely.

This essay traces the course of Iraq’s fortunes from the American invasion in 2003 through the civil war of 2005-2008 and the endangered effort at reconstruction that followed. Only by seeing the full course of Iraq’s narrative arc during this period is it possible to understand both Iraq’s present, and its likely future—as well as what would probably be needed to produce a better outcome than those that currently seem most plausible.

It is not a hopeful story, but it is an important one. It is the critical piece to understanding the possibilities for Iraq as we fret over its renewed downward course. And it is a warning about what would likely be required to address the analogous Syrian civil war raging next door, as well as the dangers of allowing that war to rage unchecked.

New Report: Solving Iraq’s Political Divisions Key to Stemming Internal Violence

July 30, 2013 Comments off

New Report: Solving Iraq’s Political Divisions Key to Stemming Internal Violence
Source: Chatham House

Iraq’s political groups must pursue meaningful domestic reconciliation and formulate a strategic response to the crisis in Syria or risk exacerbating a wider regional conflict, says a new report.

Iraq on the International Stage: Foreign Policy and National Identity in Transition, argues that Iraq’s foreign relations are increasingly intertwined with the country’s own divisions, and the increasing polarisation of key Middle Eastern countries over Syria threatens to escalate Iraq’s internal crisis. Drawing on interviews with key stakeholders across Iraq, the report offers a rare insight into Iraqi perspectives on these challenges.

The report is launched at a time of escalating tensions and growing fears of a new Iraqi civil war. The UN estimates that more than 1,000 Iraqis died in political violence in May, the highest monthly death toll in years. Meanwhile, Syria has become the most divisive foreign policy issue facing Iraq, with little consensus on how to respond to spillover from the conflict next door.

CRS — Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights

April 23, 2013 Comments off

Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. Department of State Foreign Press Center)

Ten years after the March 19, 2003, U.S. military intervention to oust Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, accelerating violence and growing political schisms call into question whether the fragile stability left in place after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will collapse. Iraq’s stability is increasingly threatened by a revolt—with both peaceful and violent components—by Sunni Arab Muslims who resent Shiite political domination. Sunni Arabs, always fearful that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would seek unchallenged power, accuse him of attempting to marginalize them politically in part by arresting or attempting to remove key Sunni leaders. Sunni demonstrations have grown since late December 2012 and some have led to protester deaths. Iraq’s Kurds are increasingly aligned with the Sunnis, based on their own disputes with Maliki over territorial, political, and economic issues. The Shiite faction of Moqtada Al Sadr has been leaning to the Sunnis and Kurds, and could hold the key to Maliki’s political survival. Adding to the schisms is the physical incapacity of President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who has served as a key mediator, who suffered a stroke in mid-December 2012 and remains outside Iraq. The rifts have impinged on provincial elections on April 20, 2013, and will likely affect national elections for a new parliament and government in 2014. Maliki is expected to seek to retain his post in that vote.

The violent component of Sunni unrest is spearheaded by the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQ-I). The group, apparently emboldened by the Sunni-led uprising in Syria, is conducting attacks against Shiite neighborhoods and Iraqi Security Force (ISF) members with increasing frequency and lethality. The attacks are intended to reignite all-out sectarian conflict, and some fear that goal might be realized. Should the violence escalate further, there are concerns whether the ISF—which numbers nearly 700,000 members—can counter it now that U.S. troops are no longer in Iraq.

U.S. forces left in December 2011 in line with a November 2008 bilateral U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement. Iraq refused to extend the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, seeking to put behind it the period of U.S. political and military tutelage and arguing that the ISF could handle violence on its own. Since the U.S. pullout, many observers assert that U.S. influence over Iraq has ebbed significantly. Cornerstone programs of what were to be enduring, close security relations—U.S. training for Iraq’s security forces through an Office of Security Cooperation – Iraq (OSC-I) and a State Department police development program—have languished. The U.S. civilian presence in Iraq has declined from about 17,000 to about 10,500 as of March 2013, and might fall to 5,500 by the end of 2013. However, the Administration—with increasing Iraqi concurrence—has asserted that the escalating violence necessitates that Iraq rededicate itself to military cooperation with and assistance from the United States. In December 2012 signed a new defense cooperation agreement with the United States.

Although recognizing that Iraq wants to rebuild its relations in its immediate neighborhood, the United States is seeking to prevent Iraq from falling under the sway of Iran. The Maliki government has built close relations with the Islamic Republic. Apparently fearing that a change of regime in Syria will further embolden the Iraqi Sunni opposition, Maliki has joined Iran in supporting Bashar Al Assad’s regime. However, the legacy of Iran-Iraq hostilities, and Arab and Persian differences, limit Iranian influence among the Iraqi population. Another limitation on Iranian influence is Iraq’s effort to reestablish its historic role as a major player in the Arab world. Iraq took a large step toward returning to the Arab fold by hosting an Arab League summit on March 27-29, 2012.

Country Analysis Brief: Iraq

April 3, 2013 Comments off

Country Analysis Brief: Iraq
Source: Energy Information Administration

Iraq was the world’s eighth largest producer of total petroleum liquids in 2012, and it has the world’s fifth largest proven petroleum reserves after Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Canada, and Iran. Just a fraction of Iraq’s known fields are in development, and Iraq may be one of the few places left where much of its known hydrocarbon resources has not been fully exploited. Iraq’s energy sector is heavily based on oil. Over 90 percent of its energy needs are met with petroleum (2010 estimate), with the rest supplied by natural gas and hydropower.

Iraq has begun to develop its oil and natural gas reserves after years of sanctions and wars, but it will need to develop its infrastructure in order to reach its production potential. According to estimates by Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister for Energy, capital expenditures of $30 billion per year in Iraqi energy infrastructure are required to meet Iraq’s production targets. Progress has been hampered by political disputes and the lack of a law to govern development of Iraq’s oil and gas. The proposed Hydrocarbon Law, which would govern contracting and regulation, has been under review in the Council of Ministers since October 26, 2008, but has not received final passage.

Adverse health consequences of the Iraq War

March 19, 2013 Comments off

Adverse health consequences of the Iraq War

Source: The Lancet

The adverse health consequences of the Iraq War (2003—11) were profound. We conclude that at least 116 903 Iraqi non-combatants and more than 4800 coalition military personnel died over the 8-year course. Many Iraqi civilians were injured or became ill because of damage to the health-supporting infrastructure of the country, and about 5 million were displaced. More than 31 000 US military personnel were injured and a substantial percentage of those deployed suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other neuropsychological disorders and their concomitant psychosocial problems. Many family members of military personnel had psychological problems. Further review of the adverse health consequences of this war could help to minimise the adverse health consequences of, and help to prevent, future wars.

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CRS — Arab League Boycott of Israel

March 15, 2013 Comments off

Arab League Boycott of Israel (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. Department of State Foreign Press Office)

The Arab League, an umbrella organization comprising 22 Middle Eastern and African countries and entities, has maintained an official boycott of Israeli companies and Israeli-made goods since the founding of Israel in 1948. The boycott is administered by the Damascus-based Central Boycott Office, a specialized bureau of the Arab League.

The boycott has three tiers. The primary boycott prohibits citizens of an Arab League member from buying from, selling to, or entering into a business contract with either the Israeli government or an Israeli citizen. The secondary boycott extends the primary boycott to any entity world-wide that does business in Israel. A blacklist of global firms that engage in business with Israel is maintained by the Central Boycott Office, and disseminated to Arab League members. The tertiary boycott prohibits an Arab League member and its nationals from doing business with a company that deals with companies that have been blacklisted by the Arab League.

Since the boycott is sporadically applied and ambiguously enforced, its impact, measured by capital or revenue denied to Israel by companies adhering to the boycott, is difficult to measure. The effect of the primary boycott appears limited since intra-regional trade and investment are small. Enforcement of the secondary and tertiary boycotts has decreased over time, reducing their effect. Thus, it appears that since intra-regional trade is small, and that the secondary and tertiary boycotts are not aggressively enforced, the boycott may not currently have an extensive effect on the Israeli economy.

Despite the lack of economic impact on either Israeli or Arab economies, the boycott remains of strong symbolic importance to all parties. The U.S. government has often been at the forefront of international efforts to end the boycott and its enforcement. Despite U.S. efforts, however, many Arab League countries continue to support the boycott’s enforcement. U.S. legislative action related to the boycott dates from 1959 and includes multiple statutory provisions expressing U.S. opposition to the boycott, usually in foreign assistance legislation. In 1977, Congress passed laws making it illegal for U.S. companies to cooperate with the boycott and authorizing the imposition of civil and criminal penalties against U.S. violators. U.S. companies are required to report to the Department of Commerce any requests to comply with the Arab League Boycott.

The current list of countries that request U.S. companies to participate or agree to participate in boycotts prohibited under U.S. law includes Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

This report provides background information on the boycott and U.S. efforts to end its enforcement. More information on Israel is contained in CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti.

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