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Books on Iraq

Update No: 120 - (26/04/13)

Summary: Maliki is still around despite being surrounded by enemies: Kurds, Sunni Arabs and even some Shiites. His party is expected to do well in the April provincial council elections as Maliki casts himself as the only protection against chaos. The positive economy trend (despite the inefficient state machinery) also helps Maliki to gain consensus.

A Turkish-Kurdish axis of oil wealth
The plans of the Kurdish regional government to export oil towards Turkey have reignited the confrontation with Baghdad. Deputy prime minister Shahristani has stated clearly that if The Kurds start direct export of oil, that would be considered as ‘smuggling’ and that legal sanctions would follow against both the Turks and the Kurds. Baghdad is worried about the ever intensifying economic links between Turkey and the Kurdistan region. Now Iraq is Turkey’s second trading partner after Germany, but 70% of that trade goes to the Kurdistan region alone. The Turkish government, whose AK party is particularly close to Turkey’s oil firms, is working actively to finalise a deal with the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq over the Kurdistan-Turkey pipeline, which would greatly help Turkey diversify its sources of supply. Among Iraq’s Shiites there is a growing body of opinion which favours Kurdish independence – not out of sympathy but because without the Kurds controlling Arab Iraq would be much easier for them. The realists among the Iraqi Shiites realise that they might not overcome a Sunni Arab-Kurds coalition. Add in the deteriorating Turkish-Iraqi relations and the prospects for the Kurds and Baghdad growing further apart seem quite strong.

Sadrist noise
Prime Minister Maliki is in the meanwhile getting another bad headache because of the deteriorating relations with the Sadrist movement. Muqtada As-Sadr has been threatening for a while to withdraw his ministers from the cabinet for good and vote against the government, a move which would deprive the government of its majority, as Kurds and most Sunni Arabs have already walked away. Commentators hint that Muqtada As-Sadr might be motivated by the fear of a poor electoral show in the late April local council elections; Muqtada would in this interpretation be making some noise to attract attention, but would not be seriously planning to opt out.

The growing pressure has probably played a role in Maliki’s decision to ease pressure on at least one front: at the end of March he agreed to meet the demand of the Sunni Arab demonstrators in various provinces, which included amending arrest procedures, amnesty for prisoners, the release of female detainees, amending de-Baathification and direct negotiations with a delegation representing the protesters. It is not yet clear, however, whether this move will be enough to defuse the situation and whether it hails some kind of Sunni-Shiite détente.

Maliki gains in popularity
As the provincial elections started, there were signs of weariness among voters and turnout was initially estimated at 34%. Maliki has been given up for finished several times in the past, but the man is resourceful! Maliki’s State of Law electoral alliance has been expanded to include Shiite nationalists and former Shiite militia groups and the party expects to strengthen its position in the provincial councils. In addition, the new campaign of violence by Sunni extremists appears to be pushing the Shiites towards Maliki, whose popularity is on the rise. Regional politics, with growing Sunni-Shiite confrontations, also plays in Maliki’s hands: many believe a strongman at the top might be necessary for Iraq to survive. The main adversaries of Maliki (apart from the Kurds) have been marginalised (like Muqtada As-Sadr) or split internally by Maliki’s shrewd manoeuvring. If ‘State of Law’ effectively gains ground, Maliki’s consolidation of power will receive a new boost.

If Maliki stays on, he will increasingly benefit from positive economic news. At least the economic forecast is positive. The IMF expects oil output to rise by 10% this year, to 3.3 million bpd. Inflation, a modest 6% last year, is expected to fall this year. The reserves of the Central Bank have already reached US$70 billion last year and GDP growth, already 8% last year, should reach 9% this year.

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