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Iraq Politics - 2011

Echoing dissent in other Middle Eastern countries starting in early 2011, Iraqi protests coalesced around collective anger over poor government services, rampant public corruption, and a lack of jobs. In contrast to the unrest that surfaced in other countries in the region this quarter, protests in Iraq focused on reform rather than regime change. The sporadic, scattered demonstrations that began in Iraq on 04 February 2011 culminated in the Iraqi “Day of Rage” on 25 February 2011. Many Iraqis took to the streets because of frequent electricity shortages — a grievance that became all the more aggravated as summer approached. Despite rising demand, Iraq’s supply of electricity has remained almost flat since autumn 2009. Nationally, the government grid supplied about 56% of estimated demand this quarter, though regional differences abound, with the Kurdistan Region being far better off than the southern provinces of Babylon, Najaf, and Qadissiya.

The first months of 2011 demonstrated the governing coalition’s fragility. Prime Minster al-Maliki’s loose alliance, woven together in 2010 to secure a second term in office, began to fray. Three developments underscore the ruling coalition’s weakness. Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi had agreed to serve as chairman of the the National Council of Higher Policies (NCHP) on the condition that he would have a say in setting security, economic, and diplomatic policies. In February 2011, apparently dissatisfied with the ill-defi ned nature of the body’s powers, Allawi announced that he would not lead the NCHP. Allawi’s al-Iraqiya bloc fractured, as several prominent members formed a breakaway party in the wake of Allawi’s refusal to accept the new post. Muqtada al-Sadr reemerged as a political force, particularly evidenced by his threat to reactivate the lethal Jaish al-Mahdi militia and resume violence if any new agreement allowed U.S. troops to stay in Iraq beyond December 2011.

Early 2011 saw significant defections from both Prime Minister al-Maliki’s State of Law (SoL) bloc and former Prime Minister Allawi’s al-Iraqiya list. For example, in February 2011, Jafar al-Sadr, the winner of the second-most votes on Maliki’s SoL list, resigned from the the Council of Representatives (CoR - Iraq's parliament), criticizing parliament as corrupt and unable to deliver basic services to the Iraqi people. Several weeks later, Safi a al-Souhail, arguably Iraq’s most prominent female parliamentarian, announced her resignation from SoL, claiming that she was increasingly marginalized within the bloc and that it had devolved into an autocracy. Madame al-Souhail stated that she would continue serving in the CoR as a liberal independent and advocate for women’s rights.

In early March 2011, eight CoR members from al-Iraqiya split to form the new “White Iraqiya” party, citing Allawi’s ineff ectiveness as a political leader and the need for a stronger parliamentary opposition to the governing coalition. The new opposition party was led by Hassan al-Allawi (no relation) and includes the prominent anti-corruption activist Aliya Nassif.

Throughout the first months of 2011, Iraqi citizens conducted public, and occasionally violent, demonstrations in major urban centers, including Baghdad, Sulaymaniyah, Falluja, Basrah, Mosul, Kirkuk, and Kut. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) units forcibly broke up some of these gatherings, resulting in many deaths and hundreds of injuries. In mid-April 2011, the GOI, citing traffic problems and complaints by local business owners, banned all street protests in Baghdad, restricting demonstrations there to three soccer stadiums. Demonstrations were also banned in Mosul. In a troubling development, large and violent protests occurred in the long-tranquil Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah. More than 50 days of frequently violent demonstrations occurred there since February. Protesters denounced the political bloc comprising Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which long have dominated the region. The demonstrators demanded early elections, seeking to end the PUKKDP control.

The 100-day deadline for improved ministerial performance set by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in February 2011 passed on 07 June 2011 without any ministers being replaced for poor performance. Stating that it was unrealistic for officials to effect drastic changes in performance within such a short period, Prime Minister al-Maliki provided his ministers another 100 days to outline their performance improvement plans. Meanwhile, he continued to hold the portfolios of Minister of Defense and Minister of Interior, as the major political blocs had yet to agree on mutually acceptable candidates.

On 18 December 2011, after the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division drove into Kuwait Soldiers from the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, Third Army, and Kuwaiti border military police closed the gate at Khabari Crossing. The 3-1 was one of the final units to depart Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn after a nearly nine-year war in Iraq came to a close. Forging an Iraqi political consensus for a continuing American troop presence proved impossible. But U.S. Embassy- Baghdad had recently doubled the number of personnel under the Chief of Mission(COM) — from 7,980 to approximately 16,000 U.S. government employees, contractors, and locally employed staff.

On 18 December 2011, Maliki asked parliament to issue a vote of no confidence in leading Sunni politician, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, a day after Al-Iraqiyah announced that it was boycotting parliament to protest what it said was the prime minister's monopoly on power. Iraqiya, the parliamentary faction backed by many of Iraq's minority Sunnis, began a boycott of parliament in December 2011 to protest Maliki's perceived centralization of power in the hands of his Shi'ite ruling faction. The leaders of Iraq's Sunni minority complained the Iraqi prime minister was monopolizing power in the hands of majority Shi'ites and excluding Sunnis from decision-making. Maliki threatened to resort to majority rule, which actually would be the rule of the Shi'ite demographic majority rather than the political majority. That would exclude Sunni political blocs from the ruling coalition.

Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi fled to Turkey after Iraq's Shi'ite-led government issued the terror charges against him in December 2011, the day after U.S. troops withdrew from the country. The court convicted Hashemi and his son-in-law in absentia of plotting the murder of a Shi'ite security official and a lawyer. On 19 December 2011 the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant for Iraq's top Sunni politician, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who promptly fled to Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north. Hashimi was accused of heading a death squad that assassinated officials and of involvement in the bombing outside the Parliament building in the heavily fortified International Zone.

The government broadcast taped confessions of several of his bodyguards accusing Hashemi of directing them to planted bombs targeting Iraqi government and security officials. The fugitive vice president denied accusations that he oversaw paramilitary death squads responsible for targeting political opponents, security officials and Shi'ite religious pilgrims over a six-year period. A death warrant had been issued against Hashemi in absentia. He said the charges were trumped up for political reasons. The Hashemi warrant came after a wave of arrests across Iraq that supposedly were targeted on former Ba’ath Party members, but which scooped up many allies of Maliki’s political rivals, including Ayad Allawi. The Iraqi judiciary had previously adopted strongly pro-Maliki positions.

In a 19 December 2011 interview with Reuters in Amman, Jordan, former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who heads Al-Iraqiyah, expressed fears of a return of sectarian violence. "In front of all the people, all the world, democracy is being raped in Iraq and undermined completely now, and we fear this will bring about a rise of sectarianism again, and more bloodshed," Allawi said.

Public opinion data collected in 2011 on behalf of the U.S. National Democratic Institute (NDI) showed the mixed nature of popular sentiment among Iraqis. Overall, respondents viewed the security situationas improving (62%), but felt that corruption (58%) and the electricity supply (51%) were getting worse. Further, despite positive macroeconomic trends, 56% described Iraq’s economy as weak, citing lack of jobs (63%) and poor public services (47%) as their two top concerns. However, other data suggests that this effect has yet to be felt. Iraqis are split on whether their country is currently a “real democracy” — 42% believing that it is and 39% stating that it is not. Moreover, 49% believe that the overall situation in Iraq is deteriorating (a 5% increase from the previous survey conducted in November 2010), while 42% believe the country is on the right track. The main demographic groups that feel conditions are getting worse are Sunni Arabs (71%) and young males under the age of 35 (54%)—two groups that played significant roles in the worst days of the insurgency. Almost three-quarters (71%) of respondents believed that democracy “will likely” have a positive effect on their quality of life — someday.

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Page last modified: 03-08-2013 19:14:56 ZULU