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Update No: 031- (28/11/05)

More elections coming
As the elections to the new Iraqi parliament approached, parties and political groups started to realign to form new coalitions. Only the Kurdish-dominated alliance almost stayed the same, except for the defection of the Kurdish Islamists, who after doing well in the provincial elections earlier this year decided to stand on their own. The Shiite alliance instead changed significantly, with the split of Ahmad Chalabi, who was leading its secular component, and the incorporation of the group of Muqtada al-Sadr. The alliance has now an even stronger religious leaning. Prime Minister Jaffari appears to have been instrumental in bringing in the ambitious firebrand and vigorous opponent of the coalition, Muqtada al-Sadr, possibly in an effort to recover support following the lacklustre performance of his cabinet. For a while it even looked as if the alliance might have collapsed altogether, not least because its third major component, SCIRI, is on bad terms with Muqtada. In the event, all three groups have agreed to a share of 30 candidates each on the joint list, a significant recognition of Muqtada's lasting popularity in the south and in Baghdad. In the previous elections, some of his supporters were also on the list, but without an official role. On the Sunni side, the fragmentation of the January elections is no longer there and two lists, an Islamic one and another secular nationalist, will try to attract the Sunni Arab vote, even if parts of the clergy still favour a boycott of the elections. Another important development is that most secular groups have now allied around the group of former Prime Minister Allawi, including the left. Allawi's only real alternative among secularists is Chalabi's alliance, which is more moderate and includes some of the monarchists. Chalabi, who used to be a key ally of the Bush administration until his links to Iran emerged, appears now intent on positioning his alliance once again as the best option for the US. He recently spoke out against a withdrawal of foreign troops and against the involvement of religion in politics. 

Different views on oil industry
Oil experts are issuing increasingly critical statements of the government's plan to boost oil production and export. The International Energy Agency (IEA) does not expect production to reach 3.2 million bpd before 2010, which would allow Iraq to export 2.5 million bpd, whereas the government claims it will be 6 billion bpd. The government still maintains that output will reach 2.5 billion bpd by the end of 2005, while the IEA expects the figure to be a much lower 1.9 billion bpd. During November sabotage attacks continued to exact a heavy toll from the oil industry, which indicate how the IEA forecast might be closer to the truth. This year the government has decided to abandon the unsuccessful tactic of recruitment of tribal militias to protect the pipelines and is now recruiting an ad-hoc force, which however will take time to train and deploy. 

Manoeuvring for a withdrawal
It appears increasingly obvious that the leaders of the Shiite alliance are beginning to manoeuvre to create the condition for a partial withdrawal of foreign troops. In particular, they would like to see the international force leave the south of the country, which is their main stronghold and which they would like to control without hindrance. They have already occupied local institutions and security forces and are confident that no external help is needed there any more. They are ready to accept US presence in the Sunni heartlands for longer, as long as they work to crush a largely anti-Shiite insurgency. The latest statement pointing in this direction was in November the Prime Minister's spokesman, who stated openly that Australian troops are no longer needed. Previously it had been claimed that British troops would no longer be needed next year.


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