Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Some Background on Iraq's Outstanding Issues

In light of tonight's visit by esteemed historian of modern Iraq, Professor Charles Tripp, I thought it would be a good idea to kick off the week by briefly touching on some of the salient issues in Iraq today.

Sectarian versus issue-based politics. A logic of sectarianism as political ideology has largely governed power relations in Iraq since the first elections there in January 2005. Governing institutions were created based on ethnosectarian quotas. As a result, substantive issues have time and again fallen prey to identity politics. In early 2009, there were signs that a more issue-based political dynamic was beginning to emerge. PM Minister Maliki's party had fared exceptionally well in the provincial elections running on a platform based on issues like the rule of law and a strong central government. Building off that success, Maliki broke from the dominant coalition of Shia parties to run separately in the national elections in March 2010. Though he tried to reach out across the sectarian divide and form a transectarian alliance, he ultimately failed in that regard.

Politics are still mired in the logic of identity politics. The current government formation process (now over seven months old) has seen the desire to form an "inclusive" and "representative" government at the expense of one that is ideologically coherent.

The Insurgency. The state of the insurgency has attracted some attention as of late due to the recent New York Times article reporting that substantial numbers of Awakening group members have been deserting their posts and returning to their original role as insurgents. The original deal was that the in exchange for policing their neighborhoods and rooting out elements of the insurgency, the federal government would incorporate these unofficial policemen into its own security forces. Those that weren't given jobs in the security forces would be given jobs in the public sector. On the one hand, it was always going to be difficult to find 91,000 jobs for these individuals - especially given the 2009 budget cuts that the fall in oil prices necessitated. As a result, only a small portion of the 91,000 Awakening group members have been given official positions.

This recent controversy aside, the insurgency is not - and likely will not - be capable of controlling whole neighborhoods and cities like it used to prior to 2008. The government's security forces have grown and improved substantially. As a result, the insurgency is limited to the occasional high-profile car bomb.

Tensions between the Kurdish Regional Government and Baghdad. Because the Iraqi constitution is vague on federal and regional powers, Baghdad and Irbil have locked horns on a number of issues. The most prominent of these are those dealing with territory and hydrocarbons. The two are intertwined, as the struggle for Kirkuk demonstrates. The KRG is pushing for the implementation of article 140, which calls for a referendum to be held in Kirkuk to determine if that province joins the KRG or remains governed by the federal center. The federal government has consistently dragged its feet on this issue, since a referendum would be highly polarizing and could risk the outbreak of violent conflict.

The dispute between Irbil and Baghdad over who has the right to sign oil contracts is also a high-stakes game. The KRG claims it has constitutional authority to sign oil contracts independently of Baghdad. For its part, the central government is adamant that it is the only body legally authorized to sign such deals. It fears that the KRG seeks to rapidly exploit its hydrocarbon resources in order to build an economic infrastructure that will pave for the way for its eventual secession from Iraq. This is the sticking point, not disagreements over "revenue distribution between sects" as is often reported.

So there you have it. Hopefully this will add some context and background to a talk tonight that is sure to be enlightening and insightful.

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