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IRAQ


 



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Area (sq.km)
437,072

Population

24,001,816 (July 2002 est.)

Capital
Baghdad

Currency
Iraqi dinar (IQD)

President



Update No: 042 - (26/10/06)

Hydrocarbon law nearer?
Iraqi oil production continues to fluctuate wildly, due to sabotage and infrastructural problems. In August it had reached 2.2 million bpd, but preliminary data for September showed an average of 1.7 million bpd only. The new hydrocarbon law is now expected to be approved by the year's end, but in reality the issue of the role of regional government in controlling oil revenue has not been sorted yet. By the end of September the Iraqi autonomous government was going as far as threatening secession over the refusal of the central government to agree to the Kurdish authorities' right to sign oil contracts. The Kurds exploit the ambiguity of the constitution with regard to the control over newly signed oil contracts (as opposed to existing ones) and claim that Kurdistan is the only region to have attracted any investment in the oil industry since 2003 (about US$100 million). The local authorities estimate reserves within the Kurdish region at around 45 billion barrels of oil and 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. 

Cleaning up the house
Official efforts by the Iraqi authorities to check the spread of corruption peaked up in October, when the Commission on Public Integrity issued arrest warrants against 15 current and past ministers. The enquiry is also revealing the existence of many thousands of ghost state employees, of public servants who have conflicts of interests because they hold two public positions and other improprieties. According to the Commission, there are 1,200 pending cases of corruption and US$7 billion are estimated to have been embezzled. The Commission accuses US and British authorities of doing little to help the investigation. It is not clear whether this is because some of their protégés are involved too, as implied by the Commission, or because, as several observers believe, the anti-corruption drive might be an expedient to rid key factions in the government of political rivals.

Confrontation with the militias and death squads underway
After much hesitation, during October finally the Iraqi government began to tackle the issue of rogue elements of the security forces pursuing their own private war against rival groups. Several high ranking police officers were removed and whole units suspended as part of an assessment of the performance of the forces of the Ministry of Interior. At the same time, efforts to disarm non-state militias were renewed, leading to bloody armed clashes in particular with Muqtada as-Sadr's men in a number of localities. However, in this case too there are widespread suspicions that what is really going on is the replacement of one faction with another. After the Sadrists broke with the government, they were singled out for a purge, while many Shia parliamentarians accuse the Minister of Interior Bolani of being intent on filling the police with old Baathists. 

A federal Iraq
On 11 October the Parliament approved with a slim majority a law which divides the country in three regions and allows each of Iraq's governatorates to hold referendums about which region to join. A compromise with the Sunni leaders was achieved in September, on which basis the creation of the autonomous regions will be postponed until 2008, although that did not prevent the Sunnis from boycotting the voting of the new law. Federalism was approved with the support of the Kurds and the Shia factions, except for the two Sadrist groups in parliament. Secular non-ethnic groups also opposed the law. Sunnis seem now to accept some form of autonomy at last for the Kurds, but remain hostile to the idea of a Shia region in the south. They still seem to hope to be able to introduce amendments to the law to dilute federalism, possibly through popular referenda, but their chances of success appear slim. This issue will now dominate the formal political spectrum, as some limited form of salvation is perceived compared to the anarchic situation that prevails. 

There is an upside, perhaps the only one available, in that the sectarian violence should eventually diminish, insofar as it is about jockeying for position, (as opposed to al Qaeda strivings for sectarian war against the infidel Shi'a - and their inevitable reprisals). Once the different communities have their own region, then the customary violent struggle for power, wealth, and influence within that community can resume, with perhaps Saddam Hussein 'look-alikes' - strong men at any rate, scrambling to the top. But if the three or more regions are formed and it could only be on ethnic (Kurds) and religious distinctions (Shi'a and Sunni), with perhaps a federal capital, then the existing horrors would before that be subsumed into ethnic cleansing, to evict the 'wrong' residents. 

Central Iraq, which is substantially mixed, is likely to be the greatest problem. Kurdistan, no problem at all. Southern Shia Iraq, will have a Shia government but what militia will dominate which cities, and which warlord will triumph, is not yet clear and the Iranian dimension is an additional factor here.

If federalism is to happen, better before the ethnic cleansing, that the removal of communities were done whilst the western armies are still there, to at least try to protect the civilians. All the indications now are that their presence will not last very much longer. If the inevitable relocations are not protected by the western forces, such is the ubiquitous fear and hatred, then a re-run of the horrors and civilian massacres of 1947 when India and Pakistan had their partition, could well once more besmirch the pages of history. 

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