Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Harvard symposium: Growing up in Contemporary Iraq

Dr. Kanan Makiya, the author, Dr. Joseph Sassoon and Sayed Hossein Qazwini
Recently I had the pleasure to attend the second annual symposium on Iraq sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University.  As with the prior symposium held in March 2016, this event, organized by former Center Director, Roger Owen, and Dr. Muhamed Almaliky, Associate of Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, offered a heady stream of presentations. The theme, “Growing up in Contemporary Iraq,” focused on Iraqi youth and the impact of recent sociopolitical demographic on this oft ignored demographic.

The Harvard symposium raised the following question: Why has youth as a category of analysis been largely ignored in the politics of the Middle East?  In Iraq, and in most of the MENA region nation-states, youth constitute 70% of the population under the age of 30.  Unfortunately, the many authoritarian regimes which control most MENA states fear youth. 

The Arab Spring only reinforced this fear, leading to the ouster of leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen. In Syria, the political graffiti and peaceful demonstrations initiated by youth led to the start of a vicious civil war whose end is still not in sight.  Indeed, in March 2016, Iraqi youth were instrumental in the resignation of many corrupt ministers in the government.

After welcoming remarks by Roger Owen and Muhamed Almaliky, I began the day with my presentation, “How should we envision a Post-Dacish Iraq?”  I argued that answering this question involved a deeper understanding of 5 “critical junctures” which Iraq has faced over the past 50 years.  In other words, to ask about “post Dacish Iraq” assumes we know what Iraq was like prior to the rise of the IS when it seized one-third of Iraqi territory in 2014.

Iraq’s current challenges began with the 1979 coup in which Saddam Husayn seized power from Muhammad Hasan al-Bakr and imposed what the late Falih Abd al-Jabbar so aptly called the “family-party state (dawlat hizb al-usra). 

Followed by the September 1980 invasion of Iran, in response to continued verbal attacks on Saddam’s regime by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iraq entered a period of rising sectarian tensions.  “Persians” became associated with Iraq’s majority Shi a population whose loyalty was increasingly disparaged as the war dragged on.

The seizure of Kuwait in August 1990 and the Gulf War of 1991 represented the second critical juncture which was followed by the third, the Intifada of March 1990 which was suppressed by Saddam using helicopter gunships allowed to take to the air by the US.

The brutal United Nations sanctions regime, which lasted from 1991-2003, and caused the collapse of the national economy and education system, constitutes the third critical juncture. Saddam’s so-called “Faith Campaign,” launched under his sidekick, Izzat al-Duri in mid-1993, further strengthened sub-national identities, already weakened by Iraq’s severe economic decline.

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq on the pretext that Saddam’s regime still possessed a substantial arsenal of chemical weapons.  Appointing a sectarian based Iraqi Governing Council in July 200-3 and handing Iraqi politics to a group of sectarian entrepreneurs, or carpetbaggers, who lacked any commitment to building democracy, only undermined Iraqi nationalism still further.

The final critical juncture occurred with the Dacish’s seizure of Mosul and two thirds of Iraqi territory in 2014.  The humiliation of the Iraqi Army in Mosul and Iraq’s north central provinces underscored the corruption and sectarianism of the Iraqi government at the time under the leadership of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The killing of large numbers of Shica troops at Camp Speicher and the formation irregular militias, many of whom were loyal to Iran, only added to the sectarian flavor of Iraqi politics.

Thus to speak of a post-Dacish Iraq has little meaning without consideration of the cumulative effect of a long historical trajectory of events which had serious negative impact on Iraq. The most damaging impact was to erode a sense of “Iraqiness” which crossed the lines of ethnicity and sect.

The key factor I emphasized in all these critical junctures was that they do not prove the hypothesis of a sectarian Iraq.  Quite the opposite is the case. Each decision which produced a serious consequences was made by a small political elite.

Whether the decision by Saddam Husayn and his immediate circle of cronies to invade Iran and later seize Kuwait, or decisions by exogenous forces, such as the George H.W. Bush's administration to expel Iraq from Kuwait in January 1991 and impose UN sanctions, or George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraqi in 2003,or Iran’s efforts to take political advantage of the militias formed in 2014 which it funded and controlled, the domestic populaces were excluded.

In all critical junctures, the Iraqi people had little or no say.  As I noted in my presentation, an important part of the civic education of Iraqi youth is to inculcate them with the understanding that destructive political leadership, not some inherent “flaw,” namely sectarianism, is the cause of the problems Iraqi faces today. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Iraq Reconstruction after the Da'ish: Does the international community realize what's at stake?

A Mosul street, July 2017
In August 1945, much of Europe lay in ruins. The Red Army occupied Eastern Europe and much of Germany.  Fearing that Europe’s instability would play into Soviet hands as it tried to extend its influence westward, the United States made one of the most important foreign policy decisions to date.  The Marshal Plan was credited with reconstructing Europe, preventing the spread of communism and creating a democratic and prosperous Western Europe. In Iraq, also devastated by a war, which began with the Dacish’s seizure of Mosul and one third of its territory.  Will the United States and the Western community step in to recreate a new Marshall Plan for Iraq?

What are the stakes in Iraq if the country can’t rebuild itself?  First, without the necessary funds, Iraq will not be able to find homes for over 2.5 million people displaced from their homes.  Second, the instability which will result from the inability of the Federal Government to rebuild the cities destroyed during the lengthy struggle with the Dacish will play into the hands of neighboring Iran, much as an unstable Europe would have benefited the USSR in post-WWII Germany. 

Finally, the inability to rebuild the homes, infrastructure and education systems of the predominantly Sunni Arab areas of north central Iraq will thwart Iraq’s efforts to make a meaningful transition to democracy.  This in turn will undermine hopes for democratization in other parts of the Arab world by allowing despots to argue that democracy is an alien form of governance.

Talk of the Marshall Plan was widespread after the toppling of Saddam Husayn’s regime in 2003.  Tragically, graft, corruption, lack of proper bidding for contracts and, most important of all, building projects which were inappropriate for Iraqi society and economy which had just emerged from the most punitive sanctions regime in modern history generated very little benefit.  Allowing political actors, many of whom returned from exile in Iran, to assume office, the United States assured that the Iraqi political system would be one based in sectarian identities and corruption and nepotism.

The argument can be raised that the amount of funds available during the implementation of the Marshall Plan during the late 1940s were more plentiful than they are today.  This argument is specious because the global economy is on the rebound and US allies in the European Union and in the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar, are awash with large sovereign wealth funds.

Why would the European states contribute to Iraq’s rebuilding process?  The answer can be posed in one word: migrants?  Despite the internationalist worldview and generous and welcoming policies of many European countries, even Germany – the most receptive state – has tightened its immigration policies.  The right wing populist backlash to immigrants coming from the MENA region and Africa has created serious domestic problems for all European countries, both inside and outside the European Union.

Instability in the Sunni areas of north-central Iraq which the Dacish formerly controlled could entice Turkey to intervene using the need to protect Iraq's Turkmen population in the city of Kirkuk and elsewhere as an excuse.  NATO certainly doesn't want any more conflict with Turkey, a NATO member state, which would certainly be the outcome of its becoming involved in northern Iraq.

Why would Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States agree to invest large amounts of funds in rebuilding Iraq?  This question can be answered in one word: Syria.  Do the Saudis and the Gulf Arabs want to see the same type of failed state and extensive violence and destruction in Iraq as we are witnessing in Syria?  Hardly. 

But isn’t it true that Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states made limited financial pledges to Iraq at the February  8th International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq which was held in Kuwait?  
This is true but the US failed to actively coordinate its strategy at the conference with its NATO, EU and Japanese partners.  Further, this was the first reconstruction conference of its kind.  More can and will be held in the future.  The fact that conference was held in Kuwait was highly significant if we remember the horrors Saddam Husayn visited on Kuwait between the invasion of August 1990 and the expulsion of Iraqi forces in January 1991.  Nevertheless, the conference raised $30 billion of the $88-100 billion Iraq says it requires for rebuilding areas devastated by the war with the Dacish.

To the surprise of many, Iraqis, particularly students have been returning to the city to rebuild the University of Mosul and the city.  That many of these students are not originally from Mosul is all the more impressive.  What this suggests is that the most efficient use of reconstruction funds will need to involve a partnership between Baghdad and local municipalities.

Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi should begin by holding the Iraq equivalent of “town hall” meetings on Iraqi television which would allow those in need of housing, education, health care and other services to suggest how best areas which need reconstruction can be served.  A “bottom up” approach, especially if UNAMI or another international agency can monitor the distribution and expenditure of funds (a process sorely lacking under the US occupation as the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s reports so clearly demonstrated). 

Developing a process whereby citizens at the local level become directly involved in the rebuilding process would allow them to circumvent corrupt local officials – many of whom lost all their legitimacy by supporting the Dacish – and inject an sense of empowerment into communities which still feel marginalized and dejected by the trauma they have experienced.

With youth constituting 70% of Iraq’s population, Prime Minister al-Abadi could follow the example of President  Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression.  Roosevelt created organizations to employ youth and young professionals, such as the Farm Service Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Organizations like these could help stimulate a new sense of civic engagement in Iraq following the Dacish’s defeat.  These organizations could rebuild houses and health care clinics, repair school buildings and tutor young children who have no school to attend.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Iraq after the May 2018 Elections: Building Democracy or Becoming an Iranian Satellite?

Who will win the elections for Iraq’s Council of Deputies (national parliament) on May 12th?  Will the current prime minister, Haydar al-Abadi, be returned to office for a full 4 year term or will he be defeated?  Who are his main competitors?  Why is this election so important for the future of building a democratic Iraqi nation-state?

The recent defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and neighboring Syria represents an important step forward.  Among Iraqis, especially in Arab areas of the country, it has created a sense of positive momentum of which Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi has been the beneficiary. The Iraqi Army’s professionalism and non-sectarian behavior during the campaign against the Dacish, especially that shown by its US trained Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), earned the respect of many Sunni Arabs and has worked to tamp down sectarian feeling nationally.
Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi
At the same time, Prime Minister al-Abadi weathered a difficult period this past fall after the ill-fated September 25rd KRG referendum which asked Iraq’s Kurds whether they wanted to leave Iraq and form an independent nation-state.  The referendum, the product of political maneuvering by ex-KRG president, Masoud Barzani, passed by a large margin (although many Kurds chose not to vote) and seemed to pose a major threat to Iraq’s unity.

However, fissures between the two main  Kurdish political parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), allowed Federal Government forces to reoccupy territories seized by the KRG’s Pesh Merga forces after they were abandoned by the national army in 2014, following the Dacish seizure of Mosul and other areas of northern Iraq. 
Former KGR president, Masoud Bazani
The loss of these areas, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, deprived the KRG of 30% of its oil revenues.  While precipitating a major crisis with the KRG, Abadi’s popularity also benefited from the return of territories which Arab Iraqis felt had been unlawfully seized by the Pesh Merga in 2014.  Abadi came to be seen as a strong leader who prevented the dissolution of Iraq.

Still, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), or al-Hashad al-Shacbi, formed after the Iraqi Army collapsed in Mosul and the north in June 2014, also benefited from the defeat of the Dacish.  Not only did the 40 odd militias celebrate their victories over terrorist forces, but the 3 most powerful strengthened their ties to Iran.  In effect, the Badr Organization, led by Hadi al-Amiri, a highly popular and known among some Shica as “shaykh al-mujahidin,” the Kata’ib Hizballah (Hizballah Brigades), led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and the League of the Righteous People, led by Qa’is al-Khazzali, have become military and political arms of the Iranian regime in Iraq.

Equally important is the extensive political organization which the PMUs have created, especially in the southern Shica majority provinces of Iraq. Having been able to offer poor youth employment, the PMUs are revered not only for their military prowess (which is not always deserved), but for the economic resources which they have delivered to marginalized Shica communities.  This dual reputation will serve the many PMU candidates well who will run for parliamentary office.
Hashad leaders Qa'is al-Khazzali, Hadi al-Amiri & Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis
The PMUs have benefited from funds obtained from Prime Minister al-Abadi’s office. Because these funds were distributed to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Deputy Head of the PMU coalition, he has been able to build an extensive patronage network. These public monies have reduced the pressure on Iran to fund those militias which support its policies in Iraq. Thus there will be strong pressure during the election campaign, which is now in full swing, to maintain Federal Government funding of the PMUs, thereby attracting votes for PMU candidates from the unemployed and underemployed who rely on PMU largesse.

How does Hayder al-Abadi fare in this political equation?  How can he strengthen his position in the forthcoming national elections?  His best move is to focus on winning the election not only by emphasizing democracy in the abstract, namely individual freedoms, fair elections, and transparent and accountable governance, but by stressing job creation and the rebuilding of Iraqi towns and villages destroyed in the war against the Dacish. In other words, he must emphasize social democracy, which will provide jobs, such as construction work, for large numbers of currently unemployed Shica youth, the main constituency of the PMUs.

What type of a coalition can Abadi build in confronting the PMUs?  He must mobilize four different constituencies to have any hope of winning a full term as Iraqi prime minister.  First, he needs to develop solid support among the secular middle classes, Shica Sunni and Kurd.  He can accomplish this end through promising to fight corruption and nepotism, and offer transparent and accountable governance.  Personal freedoms must also be part of his message.  Above all, he needs to emphasize that he will combat sectarianism in favor of an Iraqi nationalism which is tolerant and inclusive of all Iraq’s diverse religious and ethnic communities.  
Rebuilding the city of Mosul

Second, he must reach out to the poor and unemployed.  Here success at the February 12-14 Kuwait International Conference of Iraq Reconstruction and Development, which seeks to raise $100 billion in international funds for rebuilding regions destroyed in the war against the Dacish, will be critical to this effort.  If Abadi can mobilize resources to rebuild the damaged and destroyed towns and cities, formerly under control of the Dacish, then myriad construction jobs will become available.  

Here the United States can play an important role in encouraging Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states to open their pocketbooks and contribute handsomely to Iraq.  These US allies should also be encouraged to invest in Iraq, thereby earning profits and not just distributing financial largesse.  Saudi Arabia has already reopened its border with Iraq and committed large amounts of funds which it will invest in the Iraqi economy. 

The message here to Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf: a prosperous Iraq will be a bulwark against the rise of new terrorist organizations and Iranian interference in Iraq’s internal affairs. A prosperous Iraq, whose government is cross-ethnic and cross-sect will prevent the rise of Shica sectarianism which Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states see as a threat to their internal security, given the large populations of Shica in the Saudi kingdom and the Arab Gulf states.

In the rebuilding process, Abadi could draw upon the United States’ experience during the Great Depression when the Roosevelt administration's Neal Deal developed the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which put millions of Americans to work developing the national infrastructure, constructing buildings, engaging in reforestation and expanding national parks and contributing to many other areas of the US economy.
Muslim women repairing Christian monastery in Mosul desecrated by IS
Muslim men repairing the monastery
In Iraq, unemployed Shica could work in the north with Sunnis to rebuild communities, schools, hospitals, roads and municipal water and sewer systems.  This idea of Shica and Sunnis working side by side is not a new idea because Iraqi unions during the 1930s through the early 1960s – before they were suppressed by the first Bacth Party regime which came to power in 1963 - were characterized by their multi-ethnic and multi-religious membership.  Indeed, university students from many parts of Iraq have already traveled to Mosul to help the citizens of the city rebuild their famous university, city schools and other municipal institutions.
Lt. General cAbd al-Wahhab al-Sacdi, CTS commander
A third constituency Abadi needs to attract is the security forces.  The CTS, and Federal Police, which fought the Dacish so effectively, are highly professional, having received excellent training from the US army.  As one of the top commanders of the CTS, Lt. General cAbd al-Wahhab al-Sacdi stated, there is “zero tolerance” for sectarianism in his units.  The loyalty of this segment of Iraqi society will be critical to Abadi’s efforts, if reelected, to further professionalizing the Federal Iraqi Army.

The United States military, which played a central role in retraining the Iraqi Army after its rout by the Dacish in 2014, thereby enabling it to defeat the terrorists, needs to remain engaged in  further training and professionalization of the Iraqi armed forces.  An important dimension of this training, which is often overlooked, is that professionalism is indirectly correlated with sectarianism.  A non-sectarian Iraqi Army is key to circumscribing the political and military influence of PMU sectarianism.
Muqtada al-Sadr and Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi
There are two cleavages in Iraqi politics from which the prime minister can benefit.  First, the popular cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, is vociferously anti-Tehran and pro-Arab.  While his Saraya al-Salam brigades haven’t gained as much legitimacy from fighting the Dacish, his long term commitment to Iraq’s poor and the social services his organization has provided to the residents of Sadr City (formerly Revolution City) – the most densely populated quarter of Baghdad – has earned him enormous legitimacy among the Shica poor.

Sadr was angered by Abadi’s efforts to form a coalition with the PMUs earlier this month in an effort to demonstrate that the prime minister does not oppose them and seeks to rule through a broad political coalition.  The outcry among Abadi’s supporters was such that the still born political alliance crumbled in a day as the 3 dominant militias withdrew from Abadi’s al-Nasr (Victory) coalition.

Finally, Abadi must convince the Kurds that they are truly equal citizens in a federated Iraqi nation-state.  The Kurds need to see a sincere effort on Abadi’s part to offer them a role in Iraq which will offset the desire to form an independent nation-state of their own, one which most Kurds now agree isn’t economically viable.  The Kurds fear Iran and their local agents in Iraq especially the “Big 3” PMUs - the Badr Organization, the League of the Righteous People and the Kata'ib Hizballah.  In this sense, the Kurds' “natural political home” is in an Abadi government, especially if he appoints Kurds to a number of important ministries and military positions.

Another cleavage from which Abadi benefits is the hostility large numbers of Iraqi Shica feel towards former prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, whose ultrta-sectyarian policies enabled the Dacish to seize  Mosul and large portions of north central Iraq and to carry out the horrors of the Camp Speicher massacre where 1500 Shica troops were summarily executed by the terrorist organization.  When Maliki has tried to deliver speeches in cities in the south – such as Karbala’ and Basra – he has literally been forced to leave the podium given the anger of the crowd.

Nevertheless, Maliki seeks a comeback.  His strategy is to try and ride the wave of the PMUs should they receive a large number of votes and hence seats in the new Council of Deputies.  This prospect represents a long shot, but Maliki could potentially become the PMU candidate for prime minister in light of the common bond the 3 main PMUs and he share through their ties to and financial support from Tehran.

General cAbd al-Karim Qasim
Not only is Abadi popular for defeating the Dacish and liberating Iraqi territory, but he possesses a quality which almost no Iraqi leaders before him have enjoyed, namely trust.  Aside from  cAbd al-Karim Qasim, who ruled from 1958-1963, and, to a lesser extent, King Faysal I, who ruled from independence in 1921-1933, Iraq has never had a political leader who the populace feels is working on their behalf.  (Among Iraq’s Kurds, Mulla Mustapha Barzani certainly enjoyed that status).  

In light of the track record of failed Iraqi political leaders since independence in 1921, the election of Haydar al-Abadi as prime minister next May is vital for Iraq and the surrounding region. Unlike Faysal I or Qasim, Abadi’s authority did not originate as a result of colonial control of Iraq or a military coup d’état.  To have a democratically elected, highly educated, non-sectarian and civically minded leader of Iraq is essential if the country is to transcend the trauma brought on by scars the Dacish left on large segments of the country's population.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Post-Da'ish Iraq: A Vision for 2018 ما بعد الداعش العراق: رؤية لعام 2018

Ziggurat of Ur
Iraq is facing a critical juncture.  Having decisively defeated the Dacish, and maintained its territorial integrity, Iraqis – at least its Arab citizens – face a New Year with great hopes that their country may have finally turned the corner after all the problems it has faced since 2003.  Nevertheless, Iraq faces enormous challenges in 2018.  How can these challenges be addressed?

Displaced persons  First and foremost, Iraq needs to find homes and jobs for those Iraqis who were displaced by the war to rid the country of the Dacish terrorist organization.  Schools, hospitals and other municipal services need to be restored.  To date, progress in solving these problems has been slow.  Funds - and not a small amount of politics and corruption - has impeded progress.

How can Iraq cover the huge costs which  are needed to create some semblance of normality for displaced communities in area formerly controlled by the Dacish, especially in light of declining oil prices?  One avenue to explore is working with Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Arab Gulf states to raise the necessary funds.

If the Saudis would provide its own funds and bring in those from the United Arab Emirates, and perhaps smaller amounts from Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, these funds could be used to hire contractors to speed up the process of rebuilding that is desperately need in al-Anbar, Ninawa and Salahidin provinces.  Over 4.5 million people have been displaced and are not enjoying anything resembling normal living conditions.

What could Iraq offer the KSA and Gulf states in return?  First, it could open its markets to larger amounts of investments from the KSA an d the Gulf.  Second, it could offer technical help by offering to provide hundreds of Iraqi engineers, scientists, academics and school teachers to help the KSA with its new reform program and other Gulf states with projects requiring technical expertise.

The most powerful argument Iraq could make to its Gulf state partners is that the failure to rebuild the north central region of Iraq could pave the way for resurgence of the Dacish and other terrorist organizations.  Such resurgence could inspire youth in the KSA and the Arab Gulf to become attracted to extremism.  It also could be argued that the rise of terrorist groups in north central Iraq would provide the excuse for meddling in Iraq’s domestic politics by Iran using local militias which it presently funds.

Federalism In second order of importance is reconciling the differences between the Federal Government in Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).  Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi may be posturing in public with tough conditions for negotiating with the KRG, but this need not be the negotiating strategy in private meetings with Kurdish leaders.. 

In private negotiations, al-Abadi and his team should strive to cut an equitable deal with the KRG.  The Iraqi prime minister  should offer as gracious a settlement as possible which could then be implemented in stages after the spring 2018 national elections.  In return for the KRG agreeing to remain within a federated political system, al-Abadi should offer conditions under which the Kurds could feel more comfortable with local cultural autonomy.

Of course, the most thorny issues remain the distribution of oil revenues and the disputed territories.  Here UNAMI, which has already conducted a study of the disputed territories, might be of help as could other impartial international arbiters who could assist the 2 parties in concluding a mutually acceptable national oil law.

An especially important negotiating position would be to give the KRG a more central role in Iraq’s national army.  If the Kurds could feel that they are true partners in the Iraqi military, then gradually the Pesh Merga could transition to a local gendarmerie, on the mode of the Italian carabinieri, which could then play the role of a regional police force in the KRG.

Creating a joint command of units controlled by a Kurd and non-Kurdish commander would provide greater interaction between Kurdish and non-Kurdish troops.  This model already existed in Saddam’s conscript army prior to 1991.  In conversations with former Kurdish members of the conscript army, all officers and conscripts with whom I spoke indicated that cordial relations existed among all sects and ethnicities.
Let’s not forget that, although he often was sidelined by former PM Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Army’s Commander-in-Chief between 2004 and 2015 was Babakir Shawkat Zebari, a Kurd. Indeed, Kurdish officers have always been part of the Iraqi Army.  General Bakr Sidqi al-Askari, and a Kurd, led (unfortunately) the first military coup in the post-WWI Arab world in 1936.
Iraqi Commander-in-Chief Babakir Zebari meets Gen Martin Dempsey 2014
Minorities and national reconciliation A key item on Iraq’s 2018 political and social agenda is national reconciliation.  Among the most important areas which need to be addressed are the attempted genocide of a number of Iraq’s minority groups, especially the Yazidi, Assyrian and Shabak minorities.

Because many members of these minority groups believe that their Arab neighbors had a role in betraying them to the Dacish, to obtain economic and political benefits, the process of rebuilding trust among the ethnic mosaic of north central Iraq will be a long and painful process.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shica al-marjaciya, Sunni religious clerics and the Shica and Sunni waqf (religious) endowments should be in the forefront of this process.  Respected tribal confederation leaders might also be asked to contribute to the national reconciliation process, especially in light of the fact that virtually all Iraqi tribes having Shicand Sunni clans and share many social and cultural characteristics with Kurdish tribes as well.
Excellent assistance could be offered by the UNESCO Chair for Islamic Inter-Faith Dialogue Studies, co-chaired by Sayyid Jawad al-Khoei, director of the al-Khoei Institute in al-Najaf, and Dr. Hassan Nadhem, professor of Islamic History at the University of Kufa, which has worked diligently over the past several years to promote dialogue, understanding and tolerance among Iraq’s many religious groups and ethnicities, including Iraqi youth

The Iraqi government should devote considerable air time on national television channels, in social media, and in regional workshops and conferences to discuss what occurred during the occupation of what was, at one point, a third of Iraq by the so-called Islamic State.  Honest discussions are essential if this process is to be successful.  Most important is for all groups to be able to deliver their narratives and for other groups to respect these narratives by listening to them and developing empathy for what they have suffered.

With help from UN agencies and international NGOs specializing in transitional justice and conflict resolution, using Rwanda, Argentina and South Africa as case studies, the Iraqi government needs to develop a comprehensive approach which is sensitive to the raw emotions which still  characterize those groups who suffered most under the Dacish’s oppressive rule.

The Iraqi military and non-state militias  One of the great success of 2017 was the Iraqi Army’s stellar performance in defeating the Dacish in Mosul and throughout Iraq , together with the Pesh Merga and the Federal Police.  The Iraqi Army benefited greatly from training by US forces and has emerged as a highly professional force. 

Although many excellent officers contributed to the defeat of the Dacish, Lt. Gen. cAbd al-Wahhab al-Sacdi, Mosul commander of the elite Golden Brigade – part of Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service, also known as the “Golden Division,” has become a national hero.  His statement that the CTS has “zero tolerance” for sectarianism is emblematic of a mindset which is necessary if Iraq is to continue to defeat extremist forces within its borders.
Lt. Gen. cAbd al-Wahhab al-Sacdi
Now that the Dacish has been soundly defeated, it is time for the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) or al-Hashad al-Shacbi to be disbanded.  Many PMUs have voluntarily disbanded, but the 3 which are funded by and loyal to Iran – the Badr Organization, the League of the Righteous People and the Hizballah Brigades – refuse to turn over their weapons and join the Iraqi Army.

This trifecta of rogue militias represents a danger to Iraq.  First, it is loyal to Iran first and only secondarily to PM Hayder al-Abadi, the commander-in-chief of Iraq’s armed forces.  Second, Iran has plans to use the PMUs to fight its battles in Syria to protect Bashar al-Asad's tyrannical regime.  Third, the Tehran regime seeks to create a larger military alliance between the PMUs, Lebanon’s Hizballah and the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Forces.

According to the fatwa which Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued calling upon Iraqis to mobilize to fight the so-called Islamic State after it seized the city of Mosul in June 2014, this military effort was only to be temporary.  However, once PMUs were created, providing employment and steady salaries for its young members, many have now refused to disband.

It would be appropriate if Sayyid al-Sistani issued a new fatwa requiring militias to either disband or have their members to apply for positions in the Iraqi Army or national police forces.  Disbanding of al-Hashad al-Shacbi would constitute an important step.

Diversification of the economy Over 50 years have passed since the steep rise in oil prices between 1972 and 1980 consolidated Iraq’s position as a “rentier state.”  As industrial production becomes more efficient in the advanced industrialized countries, as China confronts its environmental crisis by promoting electric automobiles and solar power, and as Green Energy becomes ever more economically viable, the demand for carbon based fuels will decline.  It behooves Iraq to vigorously move towards diversifying its economy.

Solar energy represents one area which Iraq has yet to develop. Using such energy to provide farmers with better access to water through more efficient pumps would help reduce a stagnant agrarian sector.  Solar energy could provide an inexpensive method to tackle Iraq’s continuing  problem of providing sufficient energy to its citizenry especially in the port city of Basra and southern Iraq where temperatures are brutal during the summer months.

The Prime Minister’s Office could create a special government unit to promote small business in Iraq.  This office could work with appropriate ministries to offer small loans and technical assistance to foster the success of new enterprises.  Iraqi television could be used to disseminate publicity about contests for new start-ups to foster economic diversification.  Winners of the contests would see their entrepreneurial spirit rewarded with grants to help jump-start their new businesses.

Women’s empowerment Apart from all citizens having equal rights under the constitution and national laws, there is another compelling reason why women need to be taken more seriously by the Federal Government.  An estimated 60-65% of the Iraqi population is comprised of women.  Many did not receive an adequate education during the UN imposed sanctions regime of the 1990s and after 2003.

The exclusion of women from much of the Iraqi work force and the lack of opportunities for them to express themselves in entrepreneurial ventures constitute a huge waste of human resources.  The International Labour Office (ILO) estimated in 2015 that the ratio  of male to female workers in Iraq was 21.65%, far below an optimal situation for the Iraqi economy.

While Iraqi universities are filled with women students – in  many the majority of students are female – the higher education of women has not translated into contributing to the Iraqi economy in the way which it could were the necessary institutional incentives in place for that to occur. It does not make sense for the state to educate women who then fail to use the skills which they have because they spend most of their time in the household.

Once again, women should be offered funds to establish their own entrepreneurial ventures and NGOs designed to bring more women into the workforce.  This effort would require more child care facilities which would not only facilitate female employment but create more jobs.

Youth As in much of the MENA region, youth constitute 70% of the population under the age of 30.  As with Iraq’s female population, youth are likewise a vastly under utilized national resource.  At the MA Program in Political Science – United nations and Global Policy Studies at Rutgers University, we are working to develop an international project to encourage youth social entrepreneurship in the MENA and other regions of the non-Western world.

As a country in which national public surveys continually demonstrate  a high degree of entrepreneurial consciousness, Iraqis continue a tradition which began with extensive production and trade of goods in ancient Mesopotamia.  Indeed, one of the reasons that led ancient Iraq to develop the world’s first language, cuneiform, was for merchants to be able to keep track of the goods which they had sent to the far reaches of the Fertile Crescent and what is today Iran.

Tourism Iraq has huge tourist resources which derive from is ancient civilizations, the Abbasid Empire, and as the global center of Shiism.  The tourist sector provides the opportunity for Arabs and Kurds to cooperate in bringing tourists to Iraq, thereby further diversifying the national economy.
Baghdad's al-Mutanabbi St., known for its bookshops and coffee houses

The Erbil Citadel
The Erbil Citadel, arguably the oldest continuously inhabited urban space in the world, ancient Babylon, the ruins of Ctesiphon, Baghdad's al-Mutanabbi Street with its many bookstores and coffee houses, the unique marshes above the Shatt al-cArab at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the tome of the Prophet Eliezer (the Muslim Prophet Dhu al-Kifl) are just a few of the sites which can be used to create national tours including the northern and southern regions of Iraq.
A courtyard in the Erbil Citadel

The Federal Government could work with the KRG to develop a skiing industry in the beautiful Kurdish mountains (think of Mt. Zozak). Summer youth camps can bring Arab and Kurdish youth to the north for educational, inert-cultural and sports activities.

These suggested policy initiatives require considerable thought and none will be easy to implement. However, without a well-articulated plan for the future, the Federal Government will squander the political capital it has amassed with the defeat of  the Dacish.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Proposed amendment to the Iraqi civil status code No. 188 of 1959: Paedophilia and the disruption of national identity

Guest Contributor, Dr. Faris Kamal Nadhmi, is a founding member and President of the Iraqi Association for Political Psychology. He is the author of many studies, most recently, THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PROTEST IN IRAQ: From the Rise of Islamism to the Emergence of Nationalism.  Dr. Nadhmi teaches at Salahiddin University in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The long social history of mankind has always had times when its crimes have been legitimized or justified via their institutionalization in a deep-rooted framework arising from a supposedly “infallible” law derived sometimes from “theological necessities,” and at other times, from worldly customs and norms. The cruelest injustices and worst abasement of human dignity have always occurred under the cover of titles such as “sacredness” or “justice”. 
It is easy to reproduce injustice via the letter of the law, and to abuse humanity by the authority of the holy text which “cannot be accountable” so long as it stands on the basis of legislation that remains in the grip of “true” authority derived from the metaphysics of heaven, or of the earth - it really makes no difference. 
In Iraq, we dealt with this idea some three years ago when there was an attempt in the Iraqi Parliament to pass a draft bill on the Ja’fari civil status codes. It was successfully frustrated at the time by the efforts of civil activists, including many women and youth. 
Gen. 'Abd al-Karim Qasim,
Today, in the same parliament, there is an ongoing effort to revive this effort, but with more cleverness and deceit. On 1st November 2017, a proposal was introduced to amend the civil status code, No. 188 of 1959, enacted by the regime of Gen. 'Abd al-Karim Qasim in 1959, by adding new articles, or substituting some existing articles for new ones. This effort is dedicated to the Islamization of Iraqi state and society, and replacing the rational organisational bases of Iraq's civil status codes with selective contexts, about which promote neurotic psychological and sociological tendencies.
Taking the proposed amendments altogether, their motivations and consequences can be assessed as follows:
1    These amendments, in their essence, are nothing more than a political effort which seeks to impose a cultural hegemony on authority, in a defining moment before the parliamentary elections, by reproducing a society according to a limited and hubristic theocratic vision.  This vision is in conflict with the determinants of natural humanity and is in contradiction with the rational development of the concept of the family across history.
2.      If the social purpose envisaged by the marriage bond is the establishment of a rational nuclear family, characterized by the ability to organize its economic, emotional and sexual affairs for the benefit of a well-ordered society, then what is the purpose of legislation that eschews the high standards of discipline, civilization and rationality, and sinks instead to the depths of childishness, compulsion, and sexual abuse?! 
Iraqi women protest against the proposed Ja'fari Law, May 2014
The overturning of the particular article which limits the age of female marriage to 18 years, and makes it, according to the conditions of religious jurisprudence (which could mean permitting a girl to be married at age 9 and allowing particular sexual practices with her according to some of the marja’iyaat) means the legitimization of paedophilia, which is considered a sexual-psychological mental disorder. 
   This definition of paedophilia as a disorder is one which has been made by the World Health Organisation. It is likewise prohibited in international covenants, including the Covenant on the Rights of the Child issued by the United Nations in 1990, to which Iraq became a signatory in 1994.
4.    The current proposals rob the civil judge of his authority, springing from the overarching identity of the state, and redistributes it between administrative authorities such as the Administration of Awqaf and other theological authorities, such as the religious muraja’, both of which have fundamental disagreements on their interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence (al-fiqh). This creates an intentional breach in the coherence of national identity as an essential condition for social harmony and civilizational awakening.
5  This change in Iraq's Civil Status Law will lead to the individual establishing a closed, sectarian mental picture of her/his sect and religion, thereby undermining citizens' ability to develop feelings of national belonging towards other Iraqis. This potential outcome, should the law be amended, is consistent with the destructive function which a sectarian political Islam has played in Iraq.  As an ideology, political Islamism has sought, and still seeks, to undermine the entity of the “nation-state,” which cannot cohere and develop a national sense of identity if based sectarian foundations which promote social and cultural fragmentation and exhaustion.
6/ 11/ 2017

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Unhappy Marriage of Baghdad and the KRG: Like it or not, Divorce is not an Option

Clashes outside the Kurdish Regional Government parliament, Oct. 29, 2017
The Western media’s analysis of the recent KRG independence referendum and the subsequent Kirkuk crisis has focused on the usual questions:  Who were the winners and who were the losers? Did the US or Iran benefit from the crisis?  Did the crisis strengthen Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi or the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Units?  Is Masoud Barzani’s political career finished?  Moving forward, what will the relationship be between the two dominant Kurdish parties, the KDP and the PUK?

While these questions are important, more fundamental questions, those with serious long-term implications, have largely been ignored, such as the role of corruption, nepotism and authoritarian rule in the current crisis.

The inconvenient truth for those on both sides of the crisis is that the Federal Government in Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil are joined in an irrevocable marriage, unhappy perhaps, but one in which divorce isn’t an option.  Unless this fact is recognized, there can be no solution to the how the two parties can live together.

Because the Federal Government and the KRG can’t separate, the constant criticisms by those advocating for the Kurds and those supporting Baghdad - on social media, in blogs and in interviews with the media which attempt to assess blame for the conflict, are misplaced.  

All those who argue the crisis do is to fan the flames of anger.  Kurds who feel that their legitimate right of self-determination has been ignored and belittled, and Iraqis in the south who feel that the Kurds seek to break up their country, leading to more chaos in an already unstable region, find themselves locked in a constant cycle of point, counter-point.

These arguments notwithstanding, let’s be clear on an inconvenient truth.  The desire for self-determination is one thing, a viable Iraqi Kurdistan is another.  Why is an independent Kurdish state unfeasible?  We can point to at least five reasons why this is the case.

First, such a state is economically untenable. Blame for this state of affairs is the result of Saddam Husayn’s brutal regime, the policies of the two ruling Kurdish parties - the Kurdish Denocratic Party (KDP), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and changes in the global energy market (we could add post-WWI British colonial rule which always opposed an independent Kurdish nation-state).

Saddam’s notorious ANFAL campaign of the 1980s razed hundreds of Kurdish villages, killed thousands of men between the ages of 15 and 55 (many of whom were farmers) and in the process destroyed the Kurdish agrarian sector.  Today, 90% of food supplies are imported by the KRG.  Once known for their yogurt and milk products, Iraqi Kurds now import them, primarily from Turkey.

The second area of blame needs to be laid at the feet of the Kurdish political elite, the rulers of the KDP and PUK, which split from the KDP in 1977.  Despite the PUK having originally identified itself with Marxism, it, along with the KDP, has exploited the KRG’s oil wealth, creating a politcial economy based on extensive corruption and nepotism.

Rather than use the KRG’s oil wealth to rebuild the agricultural sector and diversity the economy, the ruling KRG political elite rested on its laurels, raking in large amounts of oil revenues which were used to expand patronage networks, enhance the power of domestic intelligence agencies, and prevent the media from offering any criticism of the two ruling parties.  The callous alliance between Masoud Barzani and Saddam Husayn during the UN sanctions regime of the 1990s demonstrates clearly that the Kurdish people’s interests were not the main concern of their leaders.

When Barzani’s KDP forces faced defeat by the PUK’s Pesh Merga in 1996, which were backed by Iran, the KDP leader asked Saddam to send his tanks north to help him prevent a PUK victory.  In return for the favor, Barzani turned over 130 anti-Saddam activists, many seeking to create a democratic Iraq, to Saddam’s secret police who immediately executed them all.  

The second reason an independent Kurdistan can’t sustain itself is the failure of the Kurdish leadership, from 1991 but especially after 2003, to use its oil wealth to develop a diversified economy and thereby spread the benefits of the KRG’s oil revenues beyond its political elite. 

Exacebating this problem has been the KRG's inability to develop the human resources necessary for a modern economy. Kurdish universities give preference to members of the two ruling political parties when they apply for admission.  This policy has undermined the ability of most Kurdish universities to improve the quality of their graduates.  With a higher education policy more focused on political patronage, as opposed to learning, Kurdish universities haven’t  produced the professional cadres required for developing the type of diversified economy, e.g., technology startups, food processing, and the tourist industry, all of which could augment the oil sector. 

Further, oil revenues have not been used to promote entrepreneurial initiatives which might have dissuaded many KRG youth from immigrating to Europe, North America or other parts of the MENA region.  Thus domestic KRG policy has undermined its ability to form an independent state.

A third factor relates to the current condition of the global energy market.  In the US, oil is rapidly being replaced by natural gas in heating and industrial production.  Increased US oil production has made it an oil exporter. The slowdown of the Chinese economy, together with the Japanese and European Union economies, has decreased the global demand for oil.  As oil prices have dropped, so has Iraq’s revenues, including those of the KRG.

As oil prices dropped, so did the ability of the KRG to pay its bills.  One victim of the collapse of global oil prices were its employees, whose salaries were cut by 40%.  Indeed, I know colleagues in the KRG who have been receiving reduced salaries for close to two years.
When Iraqi Kurds (and Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iran as well) speak of the injustice dealt the Kurds by the victorious allies in WWI by not allowing them self-determination, they fail to realize that the world in 1918 is far different from the world in 2017.  A globally integrated world market, in which national sovereignty is increasingly subordinated to international economic processes, means that small states, such as a would be independent Iraqi Kurdistan, are buffeted by forces over which they have little or no control.

A fourth factor which precludes the establishment of an independent Kurdish state is the KRG’s neighbors.  More significant than the Federal Government’s opposition is that of Turkey and Iran which themselves have large Kurdish minorities who have been seriously mistreated for many decades.  A landlocked Kurdistan would become thoroughly dependent on Turkey and Iran for its export of oil and for its imports and professional expertise needs.

A foreshadowing of what Turkish and Iranian hostility could do to an independent Kurdish state has been evident by the actions of Iraq's Federal Government.   Having closed KRG airspace to international flights and taken over border crossings with Turkey and Iran, formerly controlled by the KRG, have major implications for the future autonomy, let alone independence, of Iraq’s Kurdish population.

The occupation of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and the territories seized by the KRG in 2014 in the wake of the Iraqi Army's abandoning of much of north cenbtral Iraq after the Dacish seizured Mosul, have now reverted to Federal Government control.  This means that the KRG lost, within a period of a several days, 30% of its oil revenues, which comprise the mainstay of its budget.  Clearly the Federal Government has inflicted economic harm on the KRG which pales in significance to what the Turkish and Iranian regimes could do if they wanted to undermine a newly independent Kurdish state.

Fifth and finally, there is the problem of the serious internal divisions among the Kurds themselves.  Even before the referendum, there were rumors that Kirkuk Governor, Najmadin Karim, was part of a PUK plan to join the areas it controlled in the KRG with Kirkuk, marginalizing Masoud Barzani and the KDP in the process.  The PUK’s cooperation with Federal Government forces in Kirkuk and elsewhere in areas seized by the KRG in 2014 infuriated Masoud Barzani and the KDP, whio have referred to them as "traitors".

Following the announcement on October 29th by Masoud Barzani that he would resign as KRG president (even though he has occupied the post illegally for the past two years), chaos broke out in the KRG parliament as thugs attacked opposition delegates. Later opposition delegates had to be rescued by security forces so they could exit the parliament.

Marun Raouf, a MP representing the Gorran Movement, was beaten by KDP thugs after he refused their demand that he apologize to Masoud Barzani for criticisms of his remaining in office illegally. The parliament speaker said he feared for the KRG’s stability after witnessing these events. In Zakho, the same day, the offices of the Gorran Movement were burned.  KDP members are clearly frightened that they have lost the goose that laid the Golden Egg.

Any rational observer must conclude that an independent Kurdish state in Iraq is not possible at  present.  What rational actors in Baghdad and Erbil need to do immediately is to begin negotiations which, while private in terms of content, send a message to their respective publics that the way to move forward is first and foremost to eschew violence.

The agenda for such negotiations will be long and complex.  However, the alternative to negotiations is instability within Iraq and the creation of power vacuums in the areas which separate the three Kurdish speaking provinces of the KRG and Arab provinces to the south.  Political chicanery by Iran, Turkey and a revived Dacish could produce violence and economic  destabilization which neither the Kurds ,nor the Arabs and Iraq’s other minorities desire.

Foreign mediators – including the United States, the European Union and the United Nations – need to act forcefully to move the negotiation process forward.  The production and export of oil and the revenues derived from it sales constitute Item Number 1 on the agenda.  A close second is the disposition of the disputed territories, according to the Constitution, or through developing alternative proposals to which all parties might agree, e.g., making Kirkuk a governorate (province) under the control of the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen where all ethnic groups benefit from its oil production.  

Another aganedda item needs to be the Iraqi Army which must become a national professional institution, rather than one which is divided between the national army, two Pesh Merga forces, and multiple Shica militias, some of which hold allegiance to Iran rather than Iraq.

The possible eruption of conflict within the KRG between the KDP and PUK, with attacks on the Gorran Movement, Arab refugees who have taken refuge in the KRG, or Arabs who live permanently in the north, constitutes another potential problem which needs to be prevented before they occur.  Clearly the Kurds must put their own political house in order before they revisit the idea of independence or a restructuring of their status as an autonomous region within Iraq.

Cooler heads must prevail.  Although the KRG has renounced the referendum and a KDP—PUK delegation has gone to Baghdad, now is the time that the problems which have been swept under the rug by both the Federal Government and the KRG must be addressed head on.  More indecision, instability and possibly violence will only serve the interests of Iraq’s enemies.

For those, especially in the West, who only see an Iraq going south in the future, just think how much has changed since the overthrow of Saddam Husayn.  Negotiations are beginnign  hbetween Baghdad and Erbil.  Commanders of the Federal Army and Pesh Merga forces are meeting to prevent the outbreak of armed conflict.

The main threat facing Iraq is the effort of Iran to capitalize on the KRG-Federal Government crisis.  This issue will be the topic of the next post from The New Middle East