Renewed Violence Threatens an Undetermined Future in Iraq

According to the U.N., 761 people were killed in militant attacks in Iraq this month, down from May’s 1,045, a multi-year record high.  With this streak of steady terrorist and sectarian militant attacks, as well as amplifying regional tensions, many have predicted that Iraq is headed toward civil war. Yet, Iraq’s economic prospects also present the chance for significant development. Will a young and still budding Iraqi state prove itself in times of domestic and regional hardship or will it fall victim to sectarian divide?

Following the departure of American forces in 2011, Iraq faced a precarious political and security situation.  The federal government, under Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was operational, holding free and fair elections, but relied on a delicate cooperative balance between political powers in the nation.  To exacerbate the turbulent political environment, regional and domestic issues have made this balance increasingly unsteady.  The government struggles to foster accountability to its divided population, as the Sunni, Kurdish and even other Shia sects develop harsh critiques of Maliki’s government.  Although on the surface the present Shia Prime Minister, Sunni Speaker of the Council of Representatives, and Kurdish President of Iraq would appear to provide sufficient sectarian representation, reality presents a tumultuous state of affairs not easily maneuvered by self-interested parties.

What challenges prevent the successful political navigation of such a crucial time for Iraq?  While the nation has always dealt with a domestic atmosphere tense with sectarian issues, this specific uptick in violence has particularly strained the state of affairs and progress in the political arena.

Perhaps the most frustrating result of increased regional and domestic pressure is the reemergence of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI or The Islamic State of Iraq).  Following years of brutal al-Qaeda operations, by 2007 Iraq was all but unified against al-Qaeda with the efforts of U.S. forces, the ISF, and the U.S.-backed Sunni Awakening Movement.  This coalition, coupled with independent Shia militias who, in addition to targeting U.S. troops, also fought al-Qaeda militants.  However, with the departure of U.S. Forces and growing minority discontent toward Maliki’s Shia-led government, al-Qaeda has benefited from a resurgence in violence.  This renewal of strength pulls from simultaneous goals of fighting both the Syrian and Iraqi governments.  Al-Qaeda in Iraq has publicly associated and claimed partnership with parts of the Sunni opposition in Syria, most notably its questionable merger with Jabhat al-Nusra.  The spillover of Iraqi al-Qaeda fighters into Syria and vice-versa, as well as similar practices among Shia militias, has threatened a short-lived lull in sectarian violence.

However, fresh terrorist violence is not the only confrontation to Iraq’s political stability.  In order to briefly address the dwindling security situation in Iraq one must consider Iraq’s place in a region of conflict.  Historically sandwiched between neighbors that all see great value in promoting their respective opinions in Iraq, regional actors play a significant role in Iraq’s security, economic, and political affairs.  While past decades saw meddling on the part of Turkey and the Gulf nations, the most substantial external influence now comes from other actors.  Cradled between the ongoing Sunni uprising against Bashar al-Assad in Syria and strong, yet unpredictable Shia neighbor Iran, Iraq must deal with an international presence in its domestic affairs.

While sectarian hardships have stifled progress in the political and security realms, there have been significant economic developments and accomplishments in Iraq since the U.S. withdrawal.  Iraq has experienced rapid growth: 10.2% in 2012 and estimates of 9.4% annually through 2016.  With these kinds of promising economic prospects Iraq is viewed by some as a market of the future; Citigroup recently opened in Iraq this week as its first new market since 2007.  However, in the eyes of other interested investors, such as HSBC who is considering a pullout from Iraq, the situation is not so bright.  In a recent program note on Iraq, the IMF reported the powerful effect oil has had on the Iraqi economy, bringing in $90 billion in revenue in 2012, but also emphasized that Iraqi economic prospects are subject to “significant risks, deriving mainly from institutional and capacity constraints, oil prices volatility, delays in the development of oil infrastructure, and an extremely fragile political and security situation.”

Due to this potential for remarkable gains or equally damaging regressions, Iraq is at a significant turning point in plotting its future course. U.N. Special Envoy to Baghdad Martin Kobler concernedly discussed this crossroads, noting that Iraq could experience a collapse of the federal state into sectarian-defined regions or it could blossom into a regional economic power with political stability.  Whether or not increasing oil revenues can lead to comprehensive economic prosperity and development for Iraq will be greatly decided by the ability of the country to advance past the recent period of political and sectarian conflict.


Formation of the Fifth Iraqi Government

List compiled by Dhafra al-Azzawi and Scott Weiner


Prime Minister: Nouri al-Maliki (SLC – Dawa)

Deputy PM – Rouz Nouri Shawees (KA – KDP)
Deputy PM – Hussein al-Shahristani (Shia – Independent)
Deputy PM – Salih al-Mutlaq (Iraqiya – Iraqi Front for National Dialogue)

Head, National Council for Strategic Policy – Iyad Allawi (Iraqiya – al-Wifaq al-Watani)

President – Jalal Talabani (KA – PUK)
Vice President – Adel Abdel Mahdi (INA – ISCI)
Vice President – Tareq al-Hashimi (Tajdeed)

Parliament Speaker – Osama al-Nujaifi (Iraqiya – Iraqi Front for National Dialogue)
First Deputy Speaker – Qusay Abd el-Wahid el-Suhail (Sadrist)
Second Deputy Speaker – Aref Tayfour (KA – KDP)

Ministries – Total: 42

Interior – (acting – PM Maliki)
Security – (acting – PM Maliki)
Defense – (acting – PM Maliki)


Ministry of State – Ali al-Dabbagh (SLC – Dawa)
Government Spokesman – Ali al-Dabbagh (SLC – Dawa)
Higher Education – Ali al-Adeeb (SLC – Dawa)
Ministry of State for Foreign Affairs – Ali Abdullah al-Sajri (SLC)
Oil – Abdul Karim al-Lua’ibi (Shia)
Ministry of Electricty – Hussein al-Shahristani (Shia- independent) (acting – position assigned to Iraqiya)
Youth and Sports – Jasim Mohammed Ja’afar (Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkomen)
Human Rights – Mohammed Shayaa al-Soudani (Sadrist)
Ministry of State – Hassan Radhi al-Sari (SLC)


Labor and Social Affairs – Nassar al-Rubaie (Sadrist)
Planning – Nasser al-Rubaie (Sadrist) (acting – position assigned to SLC)
Reconstruction and Housing – Mohammed Sahib al-Darraji (Sadrist)
Municipalities and Public Works – Mohammed Sahib al-Darraji (Sadrist) (acting – position assigned to Sadrists)
Ministry of State- Abd el-Mehdi Hassan al-Matiri (Sadrist)
Justice – Hassan al-Shimmari (Fadila)
Ministry of State  – Bushra Hussein Saleh [female] (Fadila)
Transportation – Hadi al-Ameri (Badr)
Tourism and Antiquities – Lua’ Smeesim (Sadrist)
Water Resources – Muhanad al-Sa’idi (Shia – position assigned to Sadrists)
Ministry of State for National Reconciliation Affairs – Ali al-Adeeb (acting – position assigned to al-Mihrab)
Electricity  – Hussein al-Shahristani (Shia- independent – acting – position assigned to Iraqiya)
Ministry of State – Thia Najim al-Assadi (Badr)
Ministry of State for Parliamentary Affairs – Safa’ al-Din al-Safi (Shia)

*Sadrist Ministries of State are: Marshes, Foreign Affairs

IRAQIYA LIST – 9 Ministries

Finance – Rafaie al-Issawi (Independent Patriotic Gathering)
Education – Mohammed ِAli Tamim (Iraqiya )
Agriculture – Az Adin Abdullah al-Doula (Iraqis Gathering)
Communication – Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi (al-Wifaq)
Science and Technology – Abdul Karim al-Sammraie (al-Tajdeed)
Ministry of State – Salah Muzahim Darwish al-Jubouri (Iraqiya – Iraqi Front for National Dialogue)
Culture – Saadoun al-Dulaimi (Iraqiya – al-Wifaq)
Industry and Minerals- Ahmed Nasr Dali (Iraqiya )
Ministry of State for Provincial Affairs – Turhan Muthhar Hassan (Turkomen)
Ministry of State for Tribal Affairs


Foreign Affairs – Hoshayer al-Zebari (KA – KDP)
Health – Majeed Hamid Ameen (KA)
Migration and Displaced Persons – Dindar Najman Shafeeq (KA)
Ministry of State for Civil Society Organization Affairs – Dindar Najman Shafeeq (acting)
Women’s Affairs – Hoshayer al-Zebari (KA – KDP – acting)
Trade – Rouz Nouri Shawees (KA – KDP – acting)

Other – 2 Ministries
Environment – Sargun Slayuh (Christian)
Ministry of State – Yassin Hassan Muhammed

*Ministry of State is not a portfolio in and of itself, and is therefore not included in ministry counts.


Bowen and Biddle: Corruption Causes COIN Complications

On November 2, 2010, the Elliot School of International Affairs at The George Washington University hosted a panel on corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In attendance were Stuart W. Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) and Dr. Stephen D. Biddle, Roger Hertog Senior Fellow for Defense Policy and the Council on Foreign Relations.  In his prepared remarks, Bowen pulled no punches on the importance of defeating corruption.  He referred to it as “the second insurgency” in Iraq, and said “corruption has like a cancer spread” in the country.  Iraq’s oil and gas resources are government owned, allowing only a privileged few to benefit, and to skim profits off the top.  He pointed to a lack of services and corruption as the major reasons Iraqis lack confidence in their government.

Dr. Biddle discussed corruption as it relates to Afghanistan and emphasized the role of the US to combat it.  When Afghan farmers are being preyed upon by corrupt government leaders and see the US aiding the government, they often turn to the Taliban as the only body that will protect them from corruption.  Biddle emphasized good governance as key to successful counter-insurgency, and characterized corruption as the “hydraulic fluid” making the machine of Afghan government run.  He proposed a pragmatic middle-ground solution in which corruption would not be defeated completely but rather brought down to a “reasonable” level.

Both Bowen and Biddle advocated greater unity of effort in the US government to fight corruption.  Bowen called for unifying anti-corruption agencies.  Biddle urged “cooperation among a variety of government sectors,” noting that this is “unusually hard in COIN” because of the complex environment.  Nonetheless, Biddle pointed to the cooperation during the Iraqi troop Surge of 2007 between Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus as a successful model of the unity of effort.

Both speakers hit on a key point, which is that support (which includes the perceptions) of Iraqi and Afghan citizens are critical in America’s ability to win the fight in both theaters.  Counterinsurgency is not only a military campaign for security, but a political campaign for confidence and trust.  The appearance that the US is indifferent to or complicit with regard to corruption activities not only damages morale, but is a strategic liability in the war effort.  As Dr. Biddle succinctly put it, “If we fail in this…we lose the war.”

One lingering question after the event, however, is the role that cultural differences play in this issue.  Many practices considered here in the US to be corrupt are well-accepted as legitimate in counterinsurgency theaters.  These are cultural differences with which commanders on the ground are forced to pragmatically deal.  Achieving the kind of tolerable corruption which Dr. Biddle advocates will require understanding the cultural norms surrounding corruption in COIN theaters, and dealing with them in ways that most successfully enable our troops to accomplish the mission.


Al-Manar: Hizbollah’s Version of Must-See TV

“If it was not for Al-Manar, the victory would not have been achieved.”[i]

- Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah commenting on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Southern Lebanon in May 2000

One of the most important weapons that the Lebanese terrorist group Hizbollah has in its arsenal for its struggle against its adversaries is not a rocket launcher or an anti-tank missile or a suicide bomber.  It is a TV station called al-Manar, which is Arabic for “the beacon.” Al-Manar serves as a platform for the group to disseminate its views to the people of Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.  Al-Manar has been so successful at reaching Hizbollah’s target audiences that it seems to have become a model for extremist Shia groups in Iraq which have launched copy-cat versions of al-Manar.

A screenshot from an al-Manar TV clip. Note the Hizbollah logo in the top left of the screen and how it appears to be co-equal with the al-Manar logo in the top right.

Hizbollah launched al-Manar TV as a small terrestrial TV station in 1991, just as the group started becoming active in Lebanese politics.  The station initially focused on programming that helped Hizbollah make a political issue of the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.  Since then, its reach and its content have expanded significantly.  It is now a major satellite station with significant viewership not just in Lebanon, where it is generally believed to be the third most-watched station in the country, but other parts of the Middle East.

Al-Manar resembles other major Arab satellite TV stations in its broadcast of a variety of content, including news programs, sports, entertainment shows, family programs, and talk shows.  But the station also displays a very clear bias reflective of Hizbollah’s political outlook.  For example, it is strongly anti-Israeli and anti-US; it is openly supportive of Hizbollah’s fighters and military operations; it openly promotes “resistance” to include violent attacks in response to Israeli control of the Palestinian territories and the US military presence it Iraq.[ii]

Programs that Al-Manar has aired in recent years include The Spider’s House, an anti-Israeli talk show which emphasizes how Israel can be defeated over time through a combination of low-intensity warfare and population growth in Arab communities. Returnees is a program dedicated to the issue of Palestinian refugees. Terrorists is a weekly documentary highlighting what the station refers to as “terrorist acts” that Israel has committed against Arabs. My Blood and the Rifle is a documentary series that glorifies Hizbollah fighters.  The station also airs “filler material” which come in the form of short segments aired during commercials, like this one which glorifies Hizbollah fighters.

Al-Manar’s primary target audience is the people of Lebanon, particularly Lebanese Shia Muslims, but the station also makes an extensive effort to appeal to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  Since 2003, the station has also devoted significant broadcast time to commenting on the US military presence in Iraq.  The station regularly rails against the continued US military presence, accusing the US Forces of committing a variety of abuses and atrocities in Iraq.  The station also openly calls for violent resistance to US Forces in Iraq and airs video clips of attacks against US Forces circulated by Iraqi Shia extremist groups, like Kata’ib Hizbollah (Arabic for “The Hizbollah Brigades in Iraq”) and the Promised Day Brigade, which is the successor to Muqtada al-Sadr’s now-defunct Mahdi Army.[iii]

The growth and success of Al-Manar TV may have provided inspiration for the emergence of at least one relatively new outlet:  Iraq’s al-Ahd TV.  the station’s programming reflects very strong political opinions, one of the most notable of which is strong opposition to the US presence in Iraq.

The picture on the left shows a female broadcaster on al-Manar TV, the one on the right shows a male and female broadcaster from al-Ahd TV.  Note the similarity in the dress of the two women from al-Manar and al-Ahd, which is an indication that both stations embrace relatively conservative social mores and anti-Western political views.  Contrast this with the picture in the center of Al-Arabiya TV correspondent Rima Salha, who is dressed in Western-style clothing, which is much more typical of female correspondents who appear on major Arab TV stations.

While no firm evidence currently exists to suggest that the launching of al-Ahd TV was inspired by al-Manar TV, there are at least on the surface there are some noticeable similarities between the programming of the stations.  These similarities seem to be based on similarities in the political and social views of the forces behind the two stations (see the pictures below for an example of how the social views of the people who control these two TV stations seem to appear on-screen), which may have formed entirely independently of one another, but the creators of al-Ahd TV may have taken inspiration from al-Manar TV as an example of how to use television as a platform to spread their political messages.

The growth of al-Manar and its potential to influence/inspire the creation of copy-cat stations like al-Ahd TV represent a significant challenge for US strategic communications initiatives in the Middle East and the Islamic world.  US policymakers need to be able to monitor the types of messages and themes that stations like al-Manar TV disseminate so that the US can adjust its to account for the impact of such messages if US strategic communications efforts in the Middle East are to be successful.

[i] Zahera Harb, “Aiming at Liberation:  Al-Manar Media Campaigns Against the Israeli Occupation of Southern Lebanon (1998-2000)”, Middle East Journal of Culture and Communications, Volume 2, Number 1, p. 55-56.

[ii] Beacon of Hatred:  Inside Hizballah’s al-Manar TV by Avi Jorisch (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2004).

[iii] Muqtada al-Sadr announced the disbanding of the Mahdi Army in 2008 and that the group was being replaced by two new organizations:  the Momahidoun, which he stated would be a political, social, and religious organization, and the Promised Day Brigade, a military group which would conduct attacks against US Forces in Iraq to liberate the country from US occupation.  It is believed that the Promised Day Brigade is smaller much more tightly organized than the old Mahdi Army, thus giving al-Sadr greater controller over the group than he had over its predecessor, and that he disbanded the Mahdi Army organization and created the two new organizations at least in part for this reason.