Iraq: Western Fire and Northern Wind

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Iraqis inspect the damage following an explosion in the Kamaliya area of eastern Baghdad on 20 May 2013. (Photo: AFP - Ali Al-Saadi)

By: Elie Chalhoub

Published Thursday, May 23, 2013

The current wave of bombings in Iraq, which took hundreds of lives in just a few days, seems to be more closely related to what is happening on its borders. However, its motivations and enabling environment were already there, in light of the unprecedented tensions in the country.

As of yet, information on the identities of the perpetrators is not serious or reliable. The reason is simple, Iraq does not yet have a serious security service. Its structures are infiltrated on all levels by sectarian components, as witnessed in the past few weeks. Responsible authorities keep repeating one mantra: Baathist, takfiri, and terrorist groups.

"Maliki must be convinced to change those in charge of the services," sources in the National Iraqi Alliance, Maliki's political bloc, tell Al-Akhbar. "This demand was the constant in all the meetings of the alliance held during the deteriorating security situation."

Regional sources concerned with this dossier say, "There is information concerning hostile networks inside the security services and the infiltration on the leadership level is significant. The bombings in Iraq will not abate unless the problem of these services – the quality of officials, their political affiliations, and historical record – are solved.”

However, Iraqi politicians are divided over the roots of the recent attacks. Some believe they are reverberations of the situation in Syria. Others say that the bombings can be attributed to "the volatile situation of the Iraqi Sunni street, whose uprising was quashed and political dialogue blocked in parliament.’

There is also a third side that agrees with all of the above, as well as “the anger sweeping the Shia street due to the aggression on their religious sites in Syria."

Yet the conclusion is one: The confessional civil war has reared its head once again in Iraq. The latest spate of bombings hit targets and areas from both sides.

The regional dimension is also present. Baghdad accuses Ankara of being the main sponsor of Iraqi opposition groups, offering political, military, and security assistance. The clash has become personal between Maliki and Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who welcomed former Iraqi president Tariq al-Hashimi in his country.

As for Doha, Maliki's government accuses it of being the main donor to the opposition. Information attributed to Iraqi military and security sources claims that the deployment of the Tigris Operations Forces deployed in Salahuddin province east of Tikrit, which led to clashes with the Kurdish Peshmerga at the end of last year.

Fire and Ash

It is false to summarize the crisis in the western region of Iraq as being an outcome of an internal formula. The external factor had the upper hand in setting the frame and dynamics of the events.

The most convincing hypothesis, here, links the eruption of the demonstrations and their concentration on the roads and junctions linking Iraq with an attempt by opponents of the Syrian regime to cut off suspected land routes used for reinforcements.

This also explains the "huge explosion" in Hawija, across from Syrian al-Hasaka region, the stronghold of al-Nusra Front, the most powerful armed group in Syria.

Most importantly, this hypothesis associates the ending of the uprising through a regional-international decision imposed by military advances by the regular Syrian army on several fronts in Syria. According to this hypothesis, any uprising in the western region will not be successful if it remains isolated, due to the balance of powers inside Iraq.

However, Maliki seems to be satisfied with two approaches. The first is getting closer to Sunni tribes and trying to entice them. The second is going ahead with the security and military operations in the western regions against takfiri groups considered an extension of al-Nusra Front.

Kurdish Winds

This is on the level of security. Politically, the calamity is greater. The health situation of President Jalal Talabani is not a small matter. Baghdad is set to lose big, primarily because it has benefited greatly from Talabani's consensus personality.

Conversations in political salons in Baghdad indicate that Talabani's illness calls for his exemption from the presidency. As a result, political tensions are rising among Kurdish groups as a successor is scouted.

Massoud Barzani does not intend to run for the presidency of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) again, but instead for the presidency of Iraq. However, there are still questions about the willingness of Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) to give up the leadership of the region to the PUK without conditions.

For Maliki, who is glad that his colleague in the alliance, Vice President Khodair al-Khuzai, is currently handling presidential affairs, the danger in such a proposal is that the president can request that parliament holds a vote of confidence for the prime minister, which is something that Talabani rejected. However, Barzani would not abstain if he became president. The prime minister's neck will be in his hands.

This might explain the pressure from Baghdad, under the title of the great sacrifices Talabani made for Iraq, to put an end to the search for a successor. They prefer to wait for his recovery while he is being treated in Germany.

It is important to note here that KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani's latest visit to Baghdad was crucial in sidelining the Kurds, albeit temporarily, from the immediate conflict in Maliki's government, after the Kurdish ministers withdrew due to objections on the 2013 budget.

However, the more important factor, added to reports of pressure by the US and Iran to calm the situation in Iraq, points to fears by the Erbil government that the takfiri groups will return to western Iraq. The oversensitivity of Kurdish authorities to issues of security in the region is well-known. This could explain the deployment of the Peshmerga around Kirkuk.

The meeting between Maliki and Barzani was subject to heavy criticism. The latter’s position as prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan is no higher than that of a city governor. Therefore, he should have met someone with a parallel position in Baghdad and not the prime minister of Iraq in person.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


First: this paragraph is missing something: "As for Doha, Maliki's government accuses it of being the main donor to the opposition. Information attributed to Iraqi military and security sources claims that the deployment of the Tigris Operations Forces deployed in Salahuddin province east of Tikrit, which led to clashes with the Kurdish Peshmerga at the end of last year."
I embrace the theory that Iraq is being targeted by takfiri forces outside the country because Maliki is supporting Assad. I had already suspected such involvement simply from the idea that bombings, especially suicide bombings, cost money, and who has money in the region, given that there is no overt foreign occupation in Iraq to stimulate such bombings indigenously?

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