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Books on Iraq

Update No: 119 - (26/03/13)

Summary: The world needs Iraqi oil to keep international prices down, so one should expect American, European and Chinese powers to do their best to maintain a degree of stability. But the game in Iraq is not being played by world powers: it is a regional game for supremacy, over which the rest of the world has little say.

Efforts by most Kurdish and Sunni political groups to bring Maliki down are not being successful, while Maliki becomes more and more aggressive. Perhaps his ‘salami’ tactics are really working? But al Qaida is peering back from across the Syrian border.

Maliki sails on, for now
The Sunni Arab and Kurdish blocks in the Iraqi parliament are trying to forge an alliance to bring Maliki down; the problem is that some Sunni Arabs have allied with Maliki and that the rest fear Maliki’s retaliation, which could even be violent as a growing number of Sunni Arab leaders are being threatened with arrest. At a time when the Syrian insurgency is increasingly spreading across the border into Iraq, Maliki’s approach could be seen as adding fuel to the fire, even if he would probably describe it as a pre-emptive strike. One splinter group of the Iraqiya alliance, called Li Haal, has allied with Maliki. There are divisions among the Sunni Arabs, which Maliki is exploiting to play divide and rule. The latest target of Maliki’s wrath is former Minister of Finance Issawi, who is now under the protection of Sunni tribes around Al Anbar. Other tribes, however, are collaborating with Maliki in chasing him down. The Shiite Arabs are also divided, but Maliki has so far been able to prevent factions hostile to him from allying with the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs. For a while the Sadrists seemed to be about to link up with the latter two, but Sadr withdrew his offer to collaborate in the removal of Maliki at the last minute, possibly having come under pressure from Iran. The other main Shiite group, led by Jafaari, is no friend of Maliki either, but does not seem likely to agree to his removal, probably for the same reason as the Sadrists. The confrontation is leading to ever escalating tension between Baghdad and those Sunni governments in the region; after Turkey, Qatar has been recently accused by Baghdad of interference in Iraq’s affairs. Regional politics does not help either: Iran is being drawn deeper and deeper into the Syrian civil war, playing a key role in the formation of Shiite militias allied with Assad but trained and advised by the Lebanese Hizbollah and the Iranian Pasdaran.

An increasingly fragmented political scene
The forthcoming provincial elections show how the old political blocs are fragmenting internally, but the main sectarian divides remain alive and well. The Shiite parties, for example, will compete against each other in all the Shiite dominated provinces, whereas in the past they had formed Shiite coalitions. In the mixed provinces, though, they will again form Shiite only coalitions, as will their Sunni rivals and the Kurds. The latter are furious with Maliki after the new budget did not allocate enough funds for paying the oil companies operating in the Kurdistan region. This might force the Kurds either to reconcile with Baghdad in Maliki’s terms (that is reduced autonomy) or start exporting oil directly, without the government’s authorisation. There are about 50 foreign firms now involved in the Kurdistan oil sector, with investments worth US$15-20 billion.

International realignment goes on
After some hesitation, Maliki has also decided to go ahead with his Russian arms purchases (helicopters and missiles). This can easily be interpreted as a move towards re-aligning further away from Washington and closer to US rivals in the region and beyond (Iran in particular), although the immediate cause was Washington’s refusal to sell the equipment itself. Iraq is also targeting Saudi Arabias’s oil market share, with an aggressive pricing policy which is aimed at securing new clients. For now the competition has been relatively subdued as declining Iranian exports have made enough room for Iraq’s oil, but if Iraq were to increase production as planned, the competition could only intensify. The Saudis have already been offering discounts on their oil in response to Iraq’s aggressive pricing. Iraq’s market share on the Chinese market has already doubled and is rising in India as well. More to the point, some Indian importers are planning to reduce imports from Saudi Arabia and switch to Iraqi oil.

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