On Its One Year Anniversary, Iraqi Government Gets Long List Of Challenges

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Last week, Iraq’s minister of health, Ala Alwan, resigned. He is the first minister of the current government, formed a year ago, to resign his post and in a statement he gave his reasons: He could no longer work under the kind of pressure put upon him by various corrupt individuals in authority. He was paying the price of being what many consider a technocratic, rather than a political appointment.

Ordinary Iraqis had called for an end to corruption and the appointment of ministers who actually knew what they were doing – Alwan was the epitome of this: Previously a professor at a Baghdad university and an adviser to the World Health Organisation.

But now, he couldn’t go on: The current system was preventing the positive development of his ministry, he wrote in a long letter in which he blamed “blackmail and misinformation”.

Previously politicians had only two options: To surrender to the corrupt practices or to resign.

However Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, rejected the resignation and told Alwan to reconsider his decision. This is, in fact, the second time that Alwan has tried to resign. Other ministers and politicians defended Alwan saying that they too understood what he was up against.

This reaction seems to indicate that, almost for the first time, politicians are being open about what they are up against in terms of trying to reform the Iraqi system. In Iraq, long standing networks of tribal fealty and family relationships have led to cronyism and nepotism that are extremely hard to erase, simply because they are so insidious and cultural. The other Iraqi politicians have come to understand that keeping silent or being reluctant to support a colleague like Alwan equals surrender to the corrupt systems that undermine the effective functioning of state institutions. Previously they had only two options: To surrender to the corrupt practices or to resign.

In just a few weeks, the current Iraqi government will celebrate its first anniversary in power. Faced with growing anger from voters, the government has tried to work on two major points – fighting corruption inside the country and committing to  a neutral foreign policy outside the country.

Last week, a number of politicians from different parties – including the significant and popular bloc led by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – began campaigning against the current prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, threatening to replace him because the government wasn’t making sufficient progress. But the campaign didn’t last long, perhaps because there are no real alternatives right now and circumstances are far from ideal for a renegotiation of senior roles.

The most recent developments both inside the country and outside have weakened this government’s position and embarrassed it, particularly as tensions between the Iraq’s two major allies, Iran and the US, have increased.

 

Recent international incidents – where Israel targeted weapons depots inside Iraq, saying they stored Iranian armaments, and then where either Iranian affiliates or Iran itself bombed Saudi Arabian oil facilities – are just more fuel for this diplomatic fire.

This is felt even more in Iraq, where several MPs have made statements saying they were happy about the attacks on Saudi Arabia and congratulating the Yemenis for their “success”. This has seen Iraq’s burgeoning diplomacy – dozens of visits made by Iraqis around the region to underline the country’s new neutral stance –abruptly curtailed.

At the same time,  one of Baghdad’s biggest internal successes seems to be coming unravelled. Late in 2017, the relationship between the Iraqi federal government and authorities in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan soured when the region held a referendum on independence – that is, they voted to secede from the rest of the country.

The Iraqi government sent troops north to ensure that this didn’t happen, setting off a relationship breakdown that would have ongoing financial and political repercussions for the whole country and the Kurdish region. The new government managed to come to an agreement with Iraqi Kurdish authorities and sent the region’s share of the federal budget for the first time in months, allowing the payment of Kurdish government employees, among other things.  

However a few weeks ago, Iraqi MPs began criticizing the deal, threatening not to renew it in next year’s budget if the Iraqi Kurdish didn’t pay their oil revenues into the national coffers (from where the federal budget is drawn). Negotiations over territory disputed for years – places like Kirkuk, which the Kurdish say belong to their region but the Iraqis believe are part of Iraq proper – did not progress either. Thanks to pressure from Arab politicians, a potential negotiation that would have replaced an Arab governor in Kirkuk with a Kurdish one fell apart.

If that wasn’t enough, the Iraqi government has also recently been dealing with reports that foretold a grim economic outlook for Iraq, suggesting that a financial crisis must hit next year. The destruction caused by the security crisis, battling the extremist group known as the Islamic State, has been expensive – money was spent on fighting the extremists and must now be spent on reconstruction in affected areas like Mosul, Anbar and Salahaddin as well as on housing the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced as a result of the fighting.

Reports suggest that there has been a significant decrease in revenues coming into Iraq’s federal coffers, from oil revenues and non-oil incomes, MP Inam al-Khuzai has said, with non-oil revenues reduced by over half between August 2018 and this August.


source: Niqash

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In Diwaniyah, As Temperatures Rise, So Do Drowning Deaths

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The local man, a 17-year-old who worked at the market in Diwaniyah, simply wanted to go for a swim after a day in the summer heat. So he just stripped and jumped into the Diwaniyah River. After just a few minutes though, he was gone – drowned. His body was found a few days later and an autopsy found that he had fainted while swimming because he had high blood pressure.

The river swallowed the teenager the same way it has swallowed many others here.

Penalties and punishments are the only way to control this, the councilor says. 

The river, often called the Shatt al-Diwaniyah, is a branch of Iraq’s Euphrates river. It passes through the centre of the Diwaniya, going through several districts on the way.  There are a number of possible swimming spots throughout the city.

Mohammed al-Waeli, a 33-year-old local, has survived the river several times. After feeling faint in the water he was helped out by other locals swimming nearby. And, he adds, it’s often the younger people here who are in danger of drowning.  They don’t want to go to public swimming pools because these are too distant or because they cannot afford the cost of entry.

According to local authorities, 153 locals drowned in the river between 2017 and 2019, the majority of them males.

 

To try and prevent such accidents, the local police established a river policing department in 2014. Officers are deployed around the city to monitor parts of the river daily, explains the head of this department, Ismail Lafta Mahdi. Despite a lack of resources, they work long hours. His officers sometimes try and prevent people from swimming if they feel the situation is dangerous. But this can be difficult, he explains, because there is no law that allows them to stop anyone; so sometimes they use the excuse of infringements against public morality to stop locals from jumping in. 

A member of the local council, Nawras al-Adly, thinks that the council should create a new bylaw that would allow fines to be imposed on swimmers. The same thing is done in neighbouring provinces, she says, adding that, in her opinion, “penalties and punishments are the only way to control this.”

“The council had followed up on this issue of adolescents going swimming in the river and the dangers of that – especially when it comes to those working in the markets or the herders who swim at noon with their animals,” al-Adly continued. Letters have been sent and questions asked but unfortunately nothing has really happened, she noted.

Another member of Diwaniyah’s provincial council, Jaffar al-Moussawi, believes that there should be signs erected around the river warning would-be bathers of the dangers. But as al-Adly points out, a lot of the local teenagers going swimming during the day are from lower-income families and often cannot read.  

And there is yet another reason not to swim in the Diwaniyah River. There’s a lot of pollution in there, says Haider Amaj, an environmental activist in the city. “Businesses are pumping pollutants into the river and hospitals and factories put their waste in there too,” he said. “Ordinary people also dump rubbish in there and that includes the corpses of dead animals.”

 

 


source: Niqash

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In The Deserts of Anbar, US And Pro-Iran Forces Jostle

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Ever since the extremist group known as the Islamic State was driven out of the central Iraqi province of Anbar in late 2017, it has become somewhat of a military zone. There are a wide variety of different Iraqi military forces deployed in Anbar’s cities and in its large desert, a well-known hiding place for extremists. These forces include the mostly Shiite Muslim semi-official militias as well as militias formed by mostly Sunni Muslim local tribes and the official Iraqi army. In terms of equipment and training, the semi-official militias are far better supplied than the local fighters. There are also around 5,000 US troops on the ground here in two bases, Ain al-Asad and Habbaniyah. The former is perhaps the most important of the US bases in Iraq.

Nobody would dare to oppose the things that the pro-Iran militias do here in Anbar – except for the Americans.

All of these forces share responsibility for Anbar’s security but they all also take advantage of the patchwork of jurisdictions and the absence of any central command to pursue their own interests.

American troops are seeking to secure their bases and to impose their presence by aerial surveillance of the desert. Meanwhile the Iraqi military and militias mostly undertake campaigns on the ground; these often involve the pursuit of fighters from the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group, who are taking refuge in the backcountry.

“Security forces in Anbar have terrible coordination with one another,” Khamis Hamid, one of the leaders of the local Sunni Muslim tribal militias told NIQASH; he spoke under an assumed name because of the sensitivity of the topic. “Each group or command defends its own personal or partisan interests. That includes the [Shite Muslim] militias, who play an important role interacting between Iran and Syria.”

 

Iraq’s semi-official militias in Anbar.

 

Most recently the growing tension between the US and Iran has made the position of the  Shiite Muslim militias here even clearer, Hamid said. “They’re trying to protect the corridor between Tehran and Damascus, demonstrating that they are a strong ally that can provide a safe environment for the transport of supplies and aid into Syria,” he suggests.

Controversial Israeli attacks on weapons depots belonging to the militias who are loyal to Iran has only intensified the militias’ need to prove themselves in Anbar.

“Nobody would dare to oppose the things that the [pro-Iran] militias do here in Anbar – except for the Americans,” an officer at Anbar Operations Command, the post run by the regular Iraqi army, told NIQASH on condition of anonymity. “The US troops limit the militias’ movements in the desert because of their drones and their air patrols, which target anybody who tries to infiltrate or go beyond the US’ red lines. They make everyone stick to those borders,” he noted.  

“The threats that militias are making against the US forces right now are not just related to the [Israeli] attacks against them,” the officer continued. “These are political actions expressed through the militias because they have realised there is a move afoot to target Iran’s allies inside Iraq,” he concluded.

 

Militia members in Anbar.


source: Niqash

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Shiite Moderates In Iraqi Politics On a Losing Streak

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Iraq’s victory over the extremist group known as the Islamic State at the end of 2018 led to a rare sense of unity in the country. Iraqis came together to celebrate their military, mourn their dead and – in many ways – reject the idea of the sectarianism that divides their communities. In some cases, they were even questioning the role of religion in the country.  

Iraq’s political class also reacted to those sentiments, forming surprising, cross-sectarian alliances as well as unusual partnerships within established sectarian blocs. However making these last has been far from easy. Today, partnerships inside the Shiite Muslim political bloc are fraying and Sunni Muslim politicians continue look leaderless and in disarray.

Instead the opposite has happened. Outrage over the Israeli bombings has made Shiite Muslim extremists stronger. Policies of openness toward other nations and neutrality have been criticized as failures.

After the federal elections of 2018, some of Shiite Islam’s most important political movements joined forces in a rare display of unity. The Sadrist movement, led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr came together with the Wisdom block, led by another young cleric, Ammar al-Hakim. The alliance headed by the former prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, was the third partner. The tenets of the alliance were clear: International and regional neutrality in foreign policy, an efficient and effective government engaged in much-needed reconstruction, and a general resistance to outside interference.  

Importantly, the new alliance was also supported by the country’s most senior Shiite Muslim religious authority, Ali al-Sistani.

However, more recently disagreements and divisions have started to emerge between these forces, as a result of both internal and external factors. This has led to a new round of alliances, this time formed according to political self-interest instead of positive nationalist sentiment.

Eleven months after the formation of a government led by a mostly-neutral prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the groups led by al-Hakim and al-Abadi have come to understand that by making way for a technocratic government and not fighting for every high-ranking ministry, they had actually opened the door to Sadrist domination of many senior jobs in government.

And al-Sadr had also gone his own way, choosing to change sides and enter into an alliance with the less neutral Fatah group, headed by politician Hadi al-Amiri, a senior member of the Shiite Muslim militias, who is closer to Iran.

As a result, al-Hakim’s Wisdom group has gone into opposition and recently announced that they were preparing to question as many ministers and senior officials as possible, to ask them why they were failing at their jobs.

Al-Abadi’s group, known as the Victory alliance, has similar concerns about the Sadrists but seems unlikely to join al-Hakim’s declared move into opposition.

On the other side of the Shiite aisle, the party led by another former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is also upset. Al-Maliki is also known to be closer to Iran but he feels that he has been abandoned by al-Ameri’s Fatah group and that the Fatah politicians have taken all the best jobs for themselves. So al-Maliki has been busy criticising the government too.

 

The leader of the Sadrist movement Moqtada al-Sadr during a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, official website of the Sadrist movement

The leader of the Sadrist movement Moqtada al-Sadr during a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, official website of the Sadrist movement

 

None of these internal conflicts have been helped by foreign policy issues on the horizon. The escalation of tensions between two of Iraq’s most important allies, Iran and the US, have weakened pro-Iraq parties, like al-Hakim’s and al-Abadi’s, and strengthened the hand of the pro-Iran parties, like al-Ameri’s.

This was particularly true after the revelation that Israel had attacked weapons depots belonging to pro-Iran militias inside Iraq. Local politicians, no matter whose side they were on, were quick to blame the US – the latter’s forces are de-facto in charge of Iraqi airspace and they were viewed with suspicion, as foreign aircraft would have a hard time flying over Iraq without their knowledge.

The moderate, pro-Iraqi Shiite Muslim alliance was waiting for international and regional support for its position and for its stated aim of bringing an end to the era when Iraq was just a theatre for conflicts between other nations. Instead the opposite has happened. Outrage over the Israeli bombings has made Shiite Muslim extremists stronger.

All of these issues have resulted in difficulty and embarrassment for the moderate Shiite Muslim politicians and alliances. More radical Shiite Muslim politicians have accused them of treason and of being agents for another country (read: the US or Israel). Policies of openness toward other nations and neutrality have been criticized as failures.

Further discontent was sewn last week when Iraqi TV channel, Al Hurra, broadcast a documentary that looked at corruption within the religious establishment in Iraq. There are two organizations connected to the Iraqi government that supervise the financial affairs of mosques on both side of the sectarian divide. Almost all Iraqis are well aware that these organizations – like most other national organizations – engage in dubious practices. But the problem for many was that the controversial TV show also criticized a non-governmental organization affiliated with al-Sistani, the extremely influential religious leader who is generally seen as untouchable. Al Hurra is well known as funded by the US government.

It proved another golden opportunity for pro-Iran forces in Iraq to attack the US government. Even more moderate Shiite Muslim political parties made statements opposed to the US-funded channel.

Similar difficulties are cropping up when it comes to relations between Iraq and Gulf Arab nations like Saudi Arabia. In the interests of neutrality and a new foreign policy, Iraq had been making diplomatic overtures towards the likes of Saudi Arabia. But the thrill of that new relationship also seems to have diminished now. 


source: Niqash

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Fighting Terrorism With Water In Northern Iraq

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It’s been years but in May this year, it was announced that work on the long-stalled Al Jazira irrigation project in northern Iraq would begin again.

The project’s manager and chief engineer Jasim Mohammed Khalaf has said that the newly started work should eventually be able to irrigate around 100,000 dunums (100 square kilometres) of the 240,000 dunums it was supposed to originally – this is because much of the work already done has been damaged by fighting against the extremist group known as the Islamic State.

Khalaf believes the project will also lead to the creation of between 500,000 and 600,000 jobs in the area.

Locals in western and southern Ninawa have been waiting three decades for this project, which they nickname “the giant”. The northern phase of the project was initiated in the early 1990s under Saddam Hussein’s government and at the time, was one of the most ambitious and biggest in the Arab world.

Part of the reason extremist groups were so easily able to hide and train in the desert was because of all the abandoned villages.

But, as a special investigation by Reuters reported, “Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 led to UN sanctions, and foreign firms involved in the irrigation project … left Iraq. Plans for the east and south facilities were abandoned.”  

Most recently the facilities were damaged during the security crisis started by the extremist group known as the Islamic State. It did run intermittently but only at minimal capacity.

When the fighting stopped, much of the irrigation system –  280 canals were out of commission, often filled with debris or explosives, 30 of 38 metal bridges had been blown up and 800 sections of elevated canal were destroyed – was out of action, Reuters wrote.

There were two other phases planned too: the eastern and southern parts of the system. But both of these have also experienced problems.

Designs for the eastern phase were completed in 2009 and a contract signed with a Turkish firm to begin work. However due to a lack of funds, work proceeded very slowly and stopped altogether in 2014. According to the government, the areas that will eventually benefit from the eastern phase are the towns of Hamdaniya and Tal Kaif as well as the districts of Bashiqa, Bartella and Namroud.

The southern phase is even more problematic, especially because some locals further south fear that if the project goes ahead, it will reduce their share of precious water from the Tigris River. In fact, there are not even any real plans for the southern phase, officials claim. They suspect this is due to a lack of funding and the responsible authorities’ reluctance to approve any of the project, even in the short term.

Sources suggest that in 2009, the Japanese government had pledged US$2 million  to help fund the project but withdrew the offer after pressure from the Iraqi government. All this is apparently because locals in the south are worried they won’t get enough water from the all-important Tigris river, especially when recently, Turkey, which is located upriver, has started to block more of the river’s flow.

The fact that the southern phase is held up like this is particularly concerning. Some locals have suggested this phase is the most important because it would bring life back to the area south of Mosul and areas like Tal Abta and Baaj.  There drifting sands have swallowed up villages and destroyed any possibility of agriculture in a region once known for its harvests.

If the irrigation project is not completed this would pose an ongoing threat to the southern parts of Ninawa province, another local engineer Salim Jassim argued. Part of the reason that the extremist IS group found it so easy to convince inhabitants to support them was because they promised to bring prosperity back to the area. And part of the reason extremist groups were so easily able to hide and train in the desert was because of all the abandoned villages. Additionally it was easier for the extremists to take control of the city of Mosul due to the amount of lower-income villagers who had been unhappily driven into the city to find work after their farms failed, due to lack of water; these people are thought to have been more supportive of the IS group.

“An irrigation project will transform the south west of the province into a green area with great economic potential,” Jassim argued.


source: Niqash

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How Iraq Is Standing Up For Itself, After Israeli Attacks

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In Iraq, both politicians, military and the general public have recently been preoccupied by a series of mysterious explosions at weapons storage facilities belonging to the country’s semi-official militias. Iraqis pondered what was causing the explosions: was it the high summer temperatures causing the weaponry to ignite? Or perhaps poorly maintained facilities? And of course, some wondered if the sites were being attacked. However, a recent incident on the Iraqi-Syrian border raised different and more pressing questions about the various explosions.

A leader in the semi-official militias appears to have been targeted by a drone in the area of Qaim on the border of the two countries. In late August, Kazem Ali Mohsen, a senior member of Hezbollah in Iraq, was killed there in a drone attack.

After keeping quiet about the explosions at the weapons storage facilities for weeks, members of the militias declared that it was Israel that had been targeting them. The story only got bigger when reports in the Israeli media seemed to confirm this, noting that it was part of a plan to destroy any militias close to Iran. Hezbollah is one of these.

Iraq has been doing its best to maintain some kind of neutrality, caught as it is between its immediate and very influential neighbour, Iran, and its powerful ally, the US. Iraq did not want to be pushed into a war and wanted to remain neutral, the country’s national security adviser, Falih al-Fayadh, told the New York Times afterwards.

On social media, the tensions were often discussed like this: “Why do these people want to push us towards a new war, when what we really need is development and jobs?”

But the seriousness of the situation did not escape the Iraqi government and a series of high-level meetings were called.

Iraqi president Barham Saleh called for two meetings. The first featured the president, the prime minister and the speaker of the Iraqi parliament as well as leaders of the various militias. The second was for political party leaders. After the two meetings, the Iraqi government issued a statement disavowing any extreme statements about the situation. Only the government should be formulating an appropriate response, the statement said. This was in response to some of the threats and radical statements being made by militias. The government also said it would complain about the incident at the United Nations’ Security Council.

Hours after Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes – he is the second in command of the semi-official militias – issued his own statement, threatening to target US forces in Iraq, his words were contradicted by Falih al-Fayadh, also the chairman of the militias.

 Al-Fayad rejected al-Mohandes’ threats and stressed that the Shiite Muslim militias have long been divided between those groups loyal to Iran and those with more of an allegiance to the Iraqi government.

“This mysterious bombing of the militias isn’t acceptable,” a senior member of the militias allied with cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (who is more loyal to the Iraqi government) told NIQASH under condition of anonymity because of the topic’s sensitivity. “That’s even though these attacks have targeted the militias closer to Iran rather than others. We still demand investigations and we want to know the reason for these attacks. We also want to know if the bombed storage facilities were holding Iranian weapons. And if so, then what were they doing here in Iraq?” he said.

Rumour had it that Iranian weapons were being stored in Iraq in anticipation of any possible aggression against Iran. No officials would confirm or deny this leak – although Ammar al-Hakim, the cleric who leads one of Iraq’s biggest Shiite Muslim political parties, did tell a large audience in Baghdad that, “the country of Iraq is not a storehouse for non-Iraqi weapons”.

Possibly most significant was the public reaction as various factions and militias close to Iran tried to escalate tensions, calling for public demonstrations against US and Israeli interference; these groups also postered the streets with slogans saying things like “no, no, no to America” and “death to Israel”. Many of the supporters of these slogans were very surprised to find a distinct lack of public interest in their machinations.

On social media, the tensions were often discussed like this: “Why do these people want to push us towards a new war, when what we really need is development and jobs?”

And the country’s most senior Shiite Muslim religious leader, Alli al-Sistani, simply ignored what was being said about the attacks. This served to isolate pro-Iranian factions further.

At the same time though, Israel and the US didn’t escape unscathed. Earlier in August, after the first bombings of weapons depots, the Iraqi government said it would be cancelling permissions for foreign aircraft in Iraqi airspace unless they had prior approval. This can be seen as warning to The US because basically they are the ones that really control Iraqi airspace. In effect, this makes the US responsible for any aerial attacks.

Restricting the powers of the coalition [the international coalition in Iraq fighting the extremist Islamic State group] makes our mission more difficult,” an officer from one of the member states involved in the coalition told Niqash anonymously – he is not authorized to make statements to the media. “But it is also true that the coalition should bear responsibility for any air attack in Iraq,” he conceded.

Iraq doesn’t have the technological capacity to control its own airspace and since 2014, when the extremist Islamic State group managed to take control of one-third of the county, the US have been in charge in this realm, via the international coalition. The recent attacks – whether they were carried out by Israel or any other state or group – saw the US forces accused of both failure and of facilitating the attacks.

It’s clear that as much as Iraq needs the US, if political sentiment were to turn firmly against the Americans, there is recurring talk that their troops might be expelled from the country as a result. This would, in turn, allow Iran to increase its influence in the country, something the US – and indeed many Iraqis too – do not want. 


source: Niqash

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The Ambitions of One Politician, Al-Halbusi, Putting a Whole Province at Risk, Locals Say

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Iraq’s Sunni Muslin political leadership remains in turmoil and nowhere so much as in Anbar. Since the extremist group known as the Islamic State were pushed out of the province in 2017, the political dynamic in the city has changed. The balance of power has shifted from well-known, establishment figures – many of whom have fallen out of favour with local voters because they failed to stop the extremists – to a new school of politicians, many of whom emerged after the security crisis.

Over the past few days, this change has been writ even more clearly on the province, as a number of officials have been dismissed and replaced by others closer to one of the leaders of this new school, politician Mohammed al-Halbusi – the latter is also the Speaker of the Iraqi parliament, which makes him the highest ranked Sunni Muslim politician in Iraq.

All the manoeuvring in Anbar is making locals nervous. They fear that security gains will be lost.

Any senior official who isn’t allied with al-Halbusi should watch their back : That’s the word on the street and in the corridors of power. 

The most recent dismissal was of the mayor of the city of Fallujah. Mayor Issa al-Sayer was surprised to hear the news of his firing from security forces on August 29 – he was being dismissed on the orders of the province’s governor, Ali Farhan, apparently because of electoral irregularities when he was voted into office three years ago. But al-Sayer believes his removal from the post is part of a longer-running campaign to ensure that only certain political parties are in control of the province.

Al-Sayer is a member of one of Iraq’s largest, established Sunni Muslim political parties, the Iraqi Islamic Party – that is to say, one of the old school parties. Up until recently Anbar had been one of the party’s strongholds but now, its members are being side-lined by other politicians affiliated with al-Halbusi.

Al-Halbusi started in politics in 2014 and within a fairly short time, became extremely popular with voters from his own sect while at the same time gaining the trust of Kurdish and Shiite Muslim politicians. Before he even turned 40, he had been voted in as the Speaker of the Parliament, a position traditionally reserved for the country’s most senior Sunni Muslim politician, according to Iraq’s unofficial political-quota system. The ambitious politician managed to do this at the expense of older hands in the Sunni political system, like Osama al-Nujaifi and Sunni-businessman-turned-politician, Khamis al-Khanjar.

Now that al-Sayer has been dismissed, that leaves two other prominent opponents for al-Halbusi: al-Khanjar and Jamal al-Dari who both belong to the same party. Whether al-Halbusi can outmanoeuvre them too remains to be seen.

What is certain is that all the manoeuvring in Anbar is making locals nervous. They fear that security gains made after the defeat of the extremist Islamic State group will be lost as a result. If there is any kind of power vacuum, they believe that the armed groups that still exist undercover in Anbar will try to exploit this and return.

“The tribal council of Fallujah rejects this politics of exclusion and opposes the dominance of any single group, which could result in political conflicts that make the province vulnerable,” Abdul-Rahman al-Zuwaibei, head of the tribal council of Fallujah, told NIQASH. “As things are getting worse, after the dismissal of Fallujah’s mayor, our council is playing a role to try and bring the situation back to normal and to reconcile the fighting parties,” he said.

Some locals are not as worried. Independent politician Haitham al-Hiti says that the whole situation will only show up the problems with Sunni Muslim politicians and parties who claim to own Sunni votership. “This situation will reveal their real goals to the Iraqi people,” al-Hiti suggested. “Sunni Muslim society needs real leadership,” he stressed. “But that’s not happening, mainly because the current ranking figures don’t have balanced rhetoric or good international relationships.”


source: Niqash

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The Ambitions of One Politician, Al-Halbusi, Putting a Whole Province at Risk, Locals Say

https://ift.tt/1JO4keG

Iraq’s Sunni Muslin political leadership remains in turmoil and nowhere so much as in Anbar. Since the extremist group known as the Islamic State were pushed out of the province in 2017, the political dynamic in the city has changed. The balance of power has shifted from well-known, establishment figures – many of whom have fallen out of favour with local voters because they failed to stop the extremists – to a new school of politicians, many of whom emerged after the security crisis.

Over the past few days, this change has been writ even more clearly on the province, as a number of officials have been dismissed and replaced by others closer to one of the leaders of this new school, politician Mohammed al-Halbusi – the latter is also the Speaker of the Iraqi parliament, which makes him the highest ranked Sunni Muslim politician in Iraq.

All the manoeuvring in Anbar is making locals nervous. They fear that security gains will be lost.

Any senior official who isn’t allied with al-Halbusi should watch their back : That’s the word on the street and in the corridors of power. 

The most recent dismissal was of the mayor of the city of Fallujah. Mayor Issa al-Sayer was surprised to hear the news of his firing from security forces on August 29 – he was being dismissed on the orders of the province’s governor, Ali Farhan, apparently because of electoral irregularities when he was voted into office three years ago. But al-Sayer believes his removal from the post is part of a longer-running campaign to ensure that only certain political parties are in control of the province.

Al-Sayer is a member of one of Iraq’s largest, established Sunni Muslim political parties, the Iraqi Islamic Party – that is to say, one of the old school parties. Up until recently Anbar had been one of the party’s strongholds but now, its members are being side-lined by other politicians affiliated with al-Halbusi.

Al-Halbusi started in politics in 2014 and within a fairly short time, became extremely popular with voters from his own sect while at the same time gaining the trust of Kurdish and Shiite Muslim politicians. Before he even turned 40, he had been voted in as the Speaker of the Parliament, a position traditionally reserved for the country’s most senior Sunni Muslim politician, according to Iraq’s unofficial political-quota system. The ambitious politician managed to do this at the expense of older hands in the Sunni political system, like Osama al-Nujaifi and Sunni-businessman-turned-politician, Khamis al-Khanjar.

Now that al-Sayer has been dismissed, that leaves two other prominent opponents for al-Halbusi: al-Khanjar and Jamal al-Dari who both belong to the same party. Whether al-Halbusi can outmanoeuvre them too remains to be seen.

What is certain is that all the manoeuvring in Anbar is making locals nervous. They fear that security gains made after the defeat of the extremist Islamic State group will be lost as a result. If there is any kind of power vacuum, they believe that the armed groups that still exist undercover in Anbar will try to exploit this and return.

“The tribal council of Fallujah rejects this politics of exclusion and opposes the dominance of any single group, which could result in political conflicts that make the province vulnerable,” Abdul-Rahman al-Zuwaibei, head of the tribal council of Fallujah, told NIQASH. “As things are getting worse, after the dismissal of Fallujah’s mayor, our council is playing a role to try and bring the situation back to normal and to reconcile the fighting parties,” he said.

Some locals are not as worried. Independent politician Haitham al-Hiti says that the whole situation will only show up the problems with Sunni Muslim politicians and parties who claim to own Sunni votership. “This situation will reveal their real goals to the Iraqi people,” al-Hiti suggested. “Sunni Muslim society needs real leadership,” he stressed. “But that’s not happening, mainly because the current ranking figures don’t have balanced rhetoric or good international relationships.”


source: Niqash

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In Southern Ninawa, Trading Water for Votes In A Thirsty Town

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For the people of Tal Abta, it has been a problem for years. The district, in the northern province of Mosul, is only 73 kilometres away from the city of Mosul and it’s Tigris river. But the 50,000 locals here don’t see much of the water that irrigates the provincial capital – they are more likely to be waiting for the four government tankers that bring them drinking water. They have been thirsty for decades, they say.

More recently, local politicians here have been exploiting that need. One of the parties headed by leading Sunni Muslim politician, Khamis al-Khanjar, has launched a campaign named “We Won’t Go Thirsty”. It is supervised by Ayad al-Luwaizi, a member of Ninawa’s provincial council, and sees more water tankers coming to Tal Abta. They roam the streets decorated with signs that indicate which politician is sponsoring this benevolence.

Tal Abta residents are well aware that the politicians are trying to buy their votes. “Politicians thrive when we have problems and it’s actually in their interest not to find us any lasting solution,” one local, Massoud Fadhil, argued. “This means that we will always need them and they can supply us with what they consider to be favours. In fact, these are really just the most basic services and the state should be providing them.”

Politicians thrive when we have problems and it’s actually in their interest not to find us any lasting solution.

Drinking water is the biggest problem for his administration, conceded Mohammed Kanaan, mayor of Tal Abta. But it’s not a new problem. It started with the creation of the sub district in 1958, he noted. Before the security crisis sparked by the extremist group known as the Islamic State in this province, there had been 24 tankers regularly bringing water here, Kanaan continued. Those numbers fell dramatically. But even after the situation with the extremists was resolved in 2016, only four tankers still come here and it’s not enough for everyone, Kanaan said.

The tankers belong to the government – “but the people of Tal Abta are paying for their fuel,” Kanaan said. “The local government, and local and international organisations have turned a deaf ear to our demands for a solution.”

In Tal Abta, the better off inhabitants buy bottled water. Lower income families have to wait for the arrival of government tankers. The only thing that officials have ever done is to sell water to people on the tankers for between $4 and $8 for 1,000 litres, they complain

“We’re not responsible for paying for the fuel in the tankers but we do it so that they come more regularly,” says Khaled Abu Walid, a Tal Abta farmer. “We sometimes wait for them for ten days but we really need them to come every five days.”

A field study conducted by Ninawa municipalities together with UNICEF confirms the problem. It found that 36 percent of Ninawa’s population is not served by the existing water network, and that these people turn to other sources for their water.

Ninawa’s director of water supplies, Nielsen Falbas, explains that there is no suitable source for drinking water in the Tal Abta area, adding that even artesian wells here don’t help.

 

Mosul water

Water tankers have signs so that locals know who to thank for their supplies.

 

A study by researchers from the universities of Tikrit and Mosul that looked at 27 artesian wells in southern Ninawa concluded that around 37 percent of the well water wasn’t suitable for agriculture, let alone human consumption. The quality of the groundwater continues to deteriorate, they said.

Falbas’ department has started a project to expand water networks south of Mosul but he admits that this won’t be completed for at least another two years. It was already long delayed due to the security crisis.

“Other than the current solution [the tankers] there is nothing to be done,” Falbas said. There could be more tankers in service and the plan to increase the water network has been included in the regional development plan for 2019, he noted.

For the inhabitants of Tal Abta, these may sound like encouraging words. But the plan Falbas is talking about was also part of the 2012 regional development plan. Work started on it in 2013 and according to the provincial water suppliers, about 3 percent of the project was completed before work was interrupted by the security crisis and the arrival of the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group. The plan still exists today but only on paper and nobody knows what happened to the equipment and materials bought to use on the first stage of the plan in 2013.

And this is far from the first such plan to bring back water – and therefore, life – to the Tal Abta area. During the 1990s, when former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was in charge, the government wanted to begin a massive irrigation project in this region, which would have seen plenty of water come to Tal Abta too. However a succession of wars and crises have stopped these plans from coming close to any sort of fruition.

For the locals of Tal Abta, they don’t care who supplies them with water. They just want more of it – which is why when the dust rises heavily on the road, a sign that the water tankers are coming, they run happily to the road, containers at the ready.


source: Niqash

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Drama On Iraq’s Councils After Provincial Elections Are Cancelled Again

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In the weeks before the end of the year, Iraq’s provincial councillors saw plenty of drama. There were attempted dismissals of various governors, actual dismissals and political coups and in-fighting among state-level politicians.

In mid-December, a new governor was chosen for Baghdad by councillors representing parties at federal level. But then other councillors, representing opposition parties at federal level, chose a completely different new governor. Members of two groups – the Sairoun alliance led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the National Wisdom party, led by another cleric, Ammar al-Hakim – chose the first new governor. Then, provincial councillors from the parties that oppose those two groups stepped in and selected another candidate from their own ranks instead.

Sairoun alliance: We refuse to allow the current provincial councils to carry on working.

At this stage, the Iraqi president, Barham Saleh, intervened, refusing to ratify either candidate and referring the matter to the courts.

A similar situation arose in Basra where provincial council members who tried to elect a new governor were prevented from doing so by protestors outside the council buildings, who supported the sitting governor. The involvement of security staff meant that a vote could not be held. And in Najaf, the sitting governor there was also dismissed. More firings are expected in other Iraqi provinces too.

Why the drama? Because the country has not held provincial elections since 2013 and in many areas, the current provincial council does not reflect the contemporary political realities brought about by federal elections last year.

By rights, provincial elections to select local councillors should have been held in 2017. However the ongoing security crisis and the fight against the extremist group known as the Islamic State meant this was impossible. The federal government then decided to combine provincial elections with federal ones, to be held in May 2018, but again failed to do this.

 

Fiddling with the councils: The alliance, of which Ammar al-Hakim (third from right) is part of.

 

The next date for the provincial elections was supposed to be December 22, 2018, but yet again the federal government – this time the new one headed by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi – decided not to hold them. A new date was not set and election authorities say it will be too difficult to hold provincial elections in 2019.

The Independent High Electoral Commission, or IHEC, has not been working properly for the past few months because, ever since the May 2018 federal elections, there have been all sorts of other concerns, explains Hazem al-Rudaini, a member of IHEC. “The debate about the integrity of the federal elections, the various appeals and the recounts overseen by a judicial authority,” al-Rudaini listed the reasons. “All of this has impacted on the Commission’s work and makes it impossible to hold the provincial elections anytime in the coming six months at least.”

Amendments to the laws and rules around provincial elections are being discussed by IHEC and relevant federal authorities and politicians, al-Rudaini said, but “all that will take time”.

In fact, senior members of IHEC have been summoned to parliament to discuss this issue because some of the provincial appointments are now unconstitutional – for example, a governor cannot be a sitting MP at the same time yet some are. Additionally, the provincial councils hardly reflect the outcome of the federal elections, which saw the al-Sadr-backed Sairoun alliance win the most votes. In fact, that is part of what has caused the recent problems: The winning political parties are forcing through new alliances at provincial level, that allow them to remove the sitting governors who belong to other now-less-popular parties.

“We refuse to allow the current provincial councils to carry on working,” Rami al-Sukaini, an MP for the Sairoun alliance, told NIQASH. “There are proposals now that allow them to keep working for the next six months, and others to remove them and give parliament the power of supervise provincial councils, until provincial elections can be held.”


source: Niqash

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