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Update No: 032- (01/01/06)

The implications of higher participation
At the time of writing only very preliminary and unofficial results of the parliamentary elections of December were available. The main change compared to the previous elections was Sunni participation, which, apart from pushing overall turnout to at least 67% (up from 58% in January), will impact negatively on the percentage obtained by the Shiite and Kurdish lists in January, even if these lists were going to maintain their level of support unchanged within their respective communities. This trend might be exacerbated by the fact that participation in some Kurdish and Shiite areas could be somewhat lower than previously, due to a certain degree of disenchantment with the process. Otherwise, it does not look as if the balance of power in the parliament will change much. Indications are that the Shiite list will maintain a strong plurality in the new parliament, losing maybe 20-25 seats out of 145 that it had. Since the list has in the meanwhile lost its minority secular and Sunni component, the actual strength of Shiite religious parties in the new parliament could actually remain roughly the same. With one of the two main Sunni lists also being a religious one, the strength of secularist groups might actually be reduced after the vote. The leaders of the Sunni Islamic alliance have hinted that they might consider joining the Shiite alliance and form a government, but this does not look very likely even if the two groups had enough seats in the parliament. 
It also remains to be seen whether the participation of the Sunnis in the vote will pave the way to pacification. Most insurgent groups observed a truce during the voting, but they will wait to see the composition of the next government before deciding whether to start a peace process or not. 

Factionalism will last
Despite the greater ideological homogeneity of the Shiite coalition, strong divisions remain between the followers of Al-Sadr and SCIRI, but also between Dawa and SCIRI, whose leader Al-Mahdi hopes to replace Dawa's Jafaari as prime minister. At the same time, harassment of secularist candidates has been quite widespread in the south, which is dominated by the religious parties. This is creating bad feeling between the Allawi list, which is the main secularist force, and the Shiite union. Now the members of the Allawi list dream of forming a coalition with the Kurds and the Sunnis, but it is difficult to imagine the Shiite list being excluded from government without compromising the stability of the south. At the same time, the Shiite list campaigned strongly in favour of the intensification of the counter-insurgency effort, which places it at odds with the Sunni lists. Tensions between the Kurds and the Arabs, Sunni and Shiite, was on the other hand exacerbated as at the end of November the Kurdish regional government started drilling for oil in the village of Tawuke. The Arabs argue that the regional government is not entitled to do that. Then on 1 December Barzani, president of the regional government, announced that the Kirkuk governatorate will join the autonomous region in 2007, with its large oil reserves, irritating the Arabs even more. Next year a referendum will have to be held in Kirkuk, in order to decide whether it joins the Kurdish Regional government or not and evidently Barzani assumes that the result will be favourable to the Kurds. The Turks and their proteges, the Iraqi Turkomans, are also fuming at this prospect. 

Oil production declined in 2005
Despite all the efforts to mask the facts, recently released figures show that oil production declined in 2005, when it averaged 1.8 million bpd, down from 2 million in 2004. The state of the infrastructure is said to have worsened rather then improved. Production is declining not just because of sabotage, but also because the southern fields appear to have been overexploited in order to compensate losses in production in the north. Investors are deterred from investing not just by the awful security situation, but also by disputes such as that between the Kurdish regional government and Baghdad over the control of oil resources. 

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