10 Jan 2012


The rate of Iraqi civilian deaths is dramatically down, 7% of the civil war high. However it has been stuck in a plateau since 2009. Indeed it slightly increased in 2011 over the preceding year by some calculations. This plateau is the result of changing trends in violence on the eve of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, some positive and others different but equally negative and dangerous. Flashpoints for conflict in the post-withdrawal environment include the foreign-origin questions of the Turkish and Iranian bombing of Iraqi Kurdistan, Camp Ashraf, and overflow of the Syrian crisis into Iraq. The main threat to Iraqi stability in 2012 however is not from without but rather from within, notably the still weak checks and balances in Baghdad.


Changing Nature of Domestic Violence

The full-fledged insurgency appears to be over. In 2007 3,800 individuals were being killed monthly. At the formal completion of the mission of U.S. troops in December 2011 the rate was less than a tenth of that figure.   Nevertheless the killing of over 300 civilians a month is hardly stability. Moreover high profile targeted assassinations are on the rise.


Assassinations particularly target security officers, government officials, journalists and some protest organizers. The parties carrying out the attacks may be divided into two primary categories. The first are groups outside the parliamentary process attacking government targets. The second are members of various political parties within the parliamentary process either carrying out assassinations against members of other parties in the parliamentary process or independent non-violent critics from civil society.


Violence against journalists and protest organizers increased notably during the last year, despite the dramatic drop in the killing of Iraqi civilians in general since 2007. Indeed the assassination and attack rates increased by 50% and 80% respectively in the first half of 2011 over the monthly averages of the previous year. The rise in violence corresponded precisely with the period of the Iraqi Spring which sought peaceful reform of the government in general and the ruling coalition in particular. Practitioners of non-violent political criticism are also the particular targets of legal harassment by leading government figures using Saddam-era legislation, new legislation with troubling loopholes passed in the last two years, and executive orders. Legal harassment includes crippling fines for the ‘insult’ of leading politicians, the closure of publishing houses, and the non-issuing of permits to protest.


This timing and targeting therefore point to a worrying trend in Iraqi politics where members of government rather than random civil war violence are becoming the primary threat to freedom of speech and organization in Iraq. Moreover the three provinces under the semi-autonomous rule of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) witnessed rates of physical and legal harassment of practitioners of freedom of expression and organization just as high as the other 15 under Baghdad’s direct control. This fact casts doubt on the frequently made assumption that that the KRG’s far lower rates of overall violence than the rest of the country have led to far higher rates of respect for civil and political rights.


The clear assistance of government insiders at all levels of security breaches indicates the limits of much-improved state control, geographically and institutionally. Monthly prison breaks of high-value terrorists carried out with insider assistance are one example. The heavy use of government-issued IDs and silencer weapons, are among the continuing evidence of the assistance of ranking members of government in the wave of assassinations as well. Public evidence reached the level of provoking frank acknowledgement of the problem by officials ranging from the head of the Baghdad Operations Command, up to the Prime Minister himself in late Summer 2011. Indeed, in August, the Baghdad Operations Command formally announced that it had issued orders for all guards and police in Baghdad to turn in their Glocks because most of the assassinations in the capital had been carried out using government-issued guns. A crackdown in Baghdad following the scandalous revelations showed some signs of success. But it also pushed many of assassinations outside the capital into neighboring provinces.


Geographically, the brunt of violence overall will remain in the provinces with the heaviest ethno-sectarian mix and those containing the disputed territories.The last year’s distribution of violence and current political tensions support this contention. During the last year and into 2012 the nine provinces farthest north and south, half the country, represented a mere 4% of national violence.   The three northernmost provinces making up the semi-autonomous KRG (Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniya) represented 1% of national violence. The southernmost six provinces (Basrah, Dhi Qar, Muthanna, Maysan, Najaf, Qadissiya) represented a mere 3% of national violence. Much publicized Iranian and Turkish attacks into the KRG have been limited to a slim strip of land by the borders themselves, which is mostly rural, leading to comparatively few deaths in reference to the rest of the country. By contrast the central provinces (the most heavily mixed provinces plus Sunni-dominated Anbar and the Shiite religious center of Karbala) continued to bear the brunt of national violence. The provinces of Ninawa and Kirkuk alone accounted for 25%; Anbar, Babil, Diyala, Karbala, Salahaddin and Wassit 34%; and Baghdad 37%. A look at the domestic and transnational political factors indicate why the above enumerated trends in violence are likely to continue into the near future.


Sectarian Questions

The Prime Minister’s apparent disregard for the repercussions of measures easily read in a sectarian light – the recent crisis following his threat to remove all 9 MPs of the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya Bloc (which won the plurality of parliamentary seats in the last election) including the two highest ranking Sunnis in government from cabinet (personally undertaken by the Prime Minister), the continuation of a politicized de-Ba‘athification process and arbitrary detentions (more generally undertaken by Baghdad) – is worrying given the continuing fragility of the democratic process in general. In specific, it is of concern given the importance of the return of Sunnis in particular to the polls after a 2005 boycott leading into the height of the civil war in 2006-2007.


A notable intensification of large-scale al-Qaeda type attacks immediately followed the provocative maneuvers. These were among the deadliest coordinated attacks in Iraq of the past year.   This indicates the dangers of the violent alternatives when a large sector of society feels disenfranchised from the democratic process.


However if such measures are often given a sectarian reading in both popular Iraqi and international analyses, and by virtue of this perception alone can give rise to sectarian violence, the roots of the ‘sectarian’ provocations are as, if not more, justly seen as a piece of a larger pattern of equal concern -- the broken checks and balances in the federal government in Baghdad.

Broken Checks and Balances in Baghdad

In 2011, for the first time in several years, Iraq moved in a positive direction on international transparency indexes. Regardless of the move from 4th to 8th most corrupt country in the world, such a title remains a highly negative indicator of Iraqi governance.


Interior and defense ministers remain un-appointed 22 months after elections. Instead these key ministries are headed by temporary personal appointees, and loyalists to, the Prime Minister. These appointments entirely circumvent the parliamentary process since all ministers according to the Constitution should be confirmed by a parliamentary vote. Likewise, the Integrity Commission, a key check on government corruption, recently lost its latest head, who like all his predecessors, was either fired for investigating too deeply, or quit as a result of parties’ stone-walling of the Commission’s attempts at prosecuting well-connected members of government.


Federalization attempts, like the more extreme example of explosions, may be considered outcroppings of protest against the failings of the central government. Protesters and Provincial Council representatives in favor of federalization in Sunni-dominated provinces have frequently cited in particular patterns of arbitrary detention by federal security forces, in addition to feelings of disenfranchisement from a meaningful role in politics at the national level as reasons for desiring the status of region for their provinces.   But provinces dominated by populations of the same Shiite Arab background as the core of the ruling coalition in Baghdad have also at various times put forward federalization proposals, many for the first time in Iraqi history. This indicates that the intense frustration with the central government is hardly limited to a single sect.


The sub-party level also indicates problems in the balances of power.Despite fierce interparty competition in the political (and indeed at times physical) realm, intra-party democracy is still greatly lacking. The law can and has allowed voters to modify the order of parties’ seat allocations, but cannot force the removal of leader. Intra-party disputes end more frequently in a splinter group than a vote.


The Disputed Territories and Erbil-Baghdad Relations

At the core of the dispute between the regional administration of the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (the KRG) and the federal government at Baghdad, is the lack of a final division of legal authority over people and resources.Currently negotiations on the status of the disputed territories, a hydrocarbons law, a revenue-sharing law, provincial elections in Kirkuk and a national census are all suspended, leaving a legal vacuum regarding chains of authority on a range of political, legal and military aspects of conflict between Erbil and Baghdad.


The physical location where tensions between Erbil and Baghdad are most explosively played out on the ground is the Disputed Territories.These are the territories in the provinces of Kirkuk, Ninewa, Salah ad-Din and Diyala with substantial or historic Kurdish populations, authority over whom is disputed between Erbil and Baghdad.Many, notably Kirkuk, also contain the KRG’s only hope of meaningful hydrocarbon reserves. For the last three years, the four provinces which contain disputed territories have quite simply been the four provinces with the highest levels of violence per capita of all eighteen.


The U.S. military withdrawal has a genuine chance of destabilizing the situation further because of this military’s particular and now discontinued role in the security frameworks in these territories, namely the trilateral patrols.Forces made up of elements of the federal Iraqi army, the local police forces and Kurdish peshmerga were assembled into joint patrols in 2009-2010 in the Disputed Territories with the aim of facilitating communications and providing early-warning between parties to the conflict. Such units have undertaken raids targeting insurgents’ hideouts and are deployed at 22 checkpoints across the Territories. They have widely been considered effective, and have witnessed nearly no internal conflicts in carrying out their coordinated missions. However their numbers are a fraction of the overall forces deployed in the disputed territories -- only about 1,200 persons overall. By comparison, the Iraqi security forces there number more than 600,000, and the peshmerga 100,000 under their respective, separate, command structures. Both political backing and even funding for the continuation of the joint patrols and their expansion are already suffering. Moreover there is little prospect of the acquisition of a comparatively neutral armed third party, such as NATO or a U.N. force, to serve as a monitor in joint patrols in the wake of U.S. withdrawal since both have already quite clearly declared they are uninterested in partaking in such missions.


Status of Forces: Statistics, Soldiers, and Contractors

Months of debate have indicated that while the Iraqi public was and continues to be strongly pro-withdrawal, many in the governing coalition had concluded that some U.S. and/or NATO troops should remain, though under a more diplomatic title such as ‘trainers’. Without being able to convince foreign governments, notably the U.S., to concede the immunity of their forces however, no agreement could be reached.


Nevertheless a considerable number of foreign security forces will remain, mostly as contractors. The U.S. Department of State demands at least 5,000 security personnel to guard the 16,000 civilians remaining as part of the U.S. mission in Iraq, the largest American diplomatic mission in the world. This is only 3% of the size of peak levels of foreign security personnel in the country since the invasion of 2003. Yet their indeterminate status is certain to cause controversy, if not violence. Security contractors are not regular troops (although the Geneva Conventions do have some provisions for ‘mercenaries’ as they are anyway termed in popular Iraqi political parlance). Their subjugation to a diplomatic mission makes little difference, legally or popularly. The massacre and ensuing scandal which made the security contracting firm formerly known as Blackwater, and the contracting business in general, household words were committed while that firm was working in precisely the capacity of diplomatic protection. Indeed Blackwater itself, having gone through a series of name changes seems set to return to win such contracts in Iraq personally.


Moreover figures such as Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of one of the most important ‘resistance’ militias in the country, have at various times declared that their forces will consider all private security contractors, like regular uniformed military, occupying forces and therefore valid targets for violent attacks.


At the same time contractors are limited from the more useful aspects of the former mandate of the army, notably the participation in trilateral patrols in the Disputed Territories, where security contractors will have no role.


Syria, Rebels and Refugees

With the death-toll of the Syrian Spring already over 5,000 individuals in a matter of months, the Syrian question has become a concern for Iraq on a geo-strategic as well as humanitarian level.   The heads of the ruling coalitions in Iraq are nearly to a man heads of former underground resistance organizations to oppressive rule. They are therefore less than thrilled to be seen as directly supporting another oppressive regime. However geo-strategic considerations of the effect of attempts at regime change in Syria on the stability of Iraq have taken precedence in their actions.


Syria was not long ago a major transit point for insurgents into Iraq, particularly of a takfiri variety. It took both the political will and organization of the Syrian government to stop this trend. Iraqi politicians reasonably believe that any attempt at regime change (internally or externally forced) in Syria would increase the chance of ensuing chaos or civil war in Iraq because of Syria’s internal and regional dynamics. Whether deliberately as revenge on Iraq for pushing for regime change in Syria, or as a natural result of the Syrian government’s loss of control, the return of the Iraqi-Syrian borders to the previous porous condition they witnessed at the height of the Iraqi insurgency and civil war is considered a serious threat by the Iraqi government.


Refugees are a second fear. The Iraqi Government does not want to deal with a sudden return of the vast numbers of Iraqis currently residing in Syria, the host country to the largest number of Iraqi refugees in the world. They want far less to deal with a flood of Syrian nationals looking for refuge. A few have already arrived in Camp Walid in al-Anbar, but agencies such as the UNHCR are monitoring the situation without recording a significant jump in their numbers to date.


For a combination of these geostrategic reasons Iraq abstained from both the 12th of November 2011 Arab League vote to suspend Syria from the League and the 27th of November 2011 vote for sanctions against Syria, and then proposed itself as a mediator between the Syrian government and the opposition. It is simultaneously currently trying to push through legislation mandating much harsher punishments of illegal immigrants into the country, the manner in which most refugees cross borders. The Iraqi government’s conservative position regarding Syria therefore seems likely both to continue and cushion Iraq for the time being from major negative domestic repercussions of the Syrian crisis.

Turkey and Iran’s Bombings of Iraqi Kurdistan

Cross-border bombardments by Turkey and Iran into Iraqi Kurdistan, in pursuit of their respective armed Kurdish opposition groups who find a safe-haven in the mountainous borders between Iran Turkey and the Iraqi North, have left at least twelve civilian dead and thousands of persons displaced in the past year. The coincidence of the bombardments with the short harvesting season, destructions of dunums of land and hundreds of heads of livestock,   have led to accusations that the bombardments specifically target civilians to clear the mountainous border areas where such armed groups operate. As such they are roughly consistent with years past and look to continue at similar levels into the coming year.


However the direction of the attack has changed as a result of the domestic policies of Iran and Turkey, with clear repercussions for Iraqi Kurdistan. Since its rise in 2002, the ruling Turkish party, the Justice and Development Party, has seen a more diplomatic approach to their Kurdish question as a desirable policy both allowing them to win a useful number, nearly half, of Kurdish votes in domestic election cycles, and as a necessary step in E.U. entry negotiations. But with the tangible benefits to diplomacy with Kurdish opposition in Turkey apparently nearing naught in recent years, as E.U. entry negotiations have ground to a halt and negations with the Kurds have themselves witnessed numerous setbacks, the ruling party will have to court the ultra-nationalist Turkish vote, and even a traditional popular base that is demanding a ‘hard’ response to increases in tit-for-tat violence between Turkish and Kurdish forces. The jump in Turkish state violence against Kurdish civilians and military targets at the borders with Iraq at the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 has already strongly supported this trend. By contrast, the frequency of the bombardment of the Iraqi Kurdish North originating from Iran has decreased dramatically since early September 2011. At that time an agreement was rumored to have been reached between the KRG and Iranian authorities to tighten KRG border security in return for a lightening of Iranian bombardments, as well as an apparent cease-fire between Iran and the PJAK, the Iranian armed Kurdish opposition organization counterpart the PKK in Turkey. The durability of the PJAK ceasefire with Iran, and therefore the notable decrease in Iranian bombardment of their mountainous safe-haven in Iraq, is unclear. However, the annual intensification from the Turkish side is unlikely to reverse, indicating that this will be the origin of the main thrust of cross-border bombing violence against the Iraqi North into the foreseeable future.


Camp Ashraf

The fate of the 3,000 inhabitants of Camp Ashraf has come directly into question with the U.S. withdrawal. International law stipulates that refugees whose lives could be in danger as a result of being returned to their country of origin should not be forcibly returned. The dissolution of the camp housing members of an until recently armed Iranian opposition group (the Mojahedin-e Khalq or MEK) present in Iraq since the I980s when they fought with Iraq against Iran in the Iran-Iraq War, is a desire of Iran which the current Iraqi government has so far appeared more than willing to fulfill.


Residents and the UNHCR have called for extending the closure deadline to allow for the full processing of asylum claims and hoped-for resettlement of all former inhabitants. The Iraqi government has so far shown only lukewarm compliance. On December 21st, 2011, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced that the closing of Camp Ashraf would be delayed for six months if the MEK agrees to a Memorandum of Understanding for the relocation of the Camp Ashraf residents. However, a December 20th statement from the spokesperson of the camp, which also agreed to the transfer in principle, set out conditions that have not been agreed upon. Because of the impasse, the prospect still looms that force could be employed to close the camp.


Even without immediate closure many questions about the treatment of the camp’s inhabitants at the hands of the current Iraqi administration remain. Since the return of authority for guarding the camp from U.S. troops to Iraqi ones in June 2009, two violent incidents involving Iraqi security forces, in July 2009 and April 2011, have led to the deaths of more than 40 Camp Ashraf residents. Likewise allegations of torture have followed questioning of camp residents by Iraqi authorities.



Following the U.S. withdrawal, insurgency is far down. Bombardments from the Iranian side are at least for the mid-term comparatively quiet. State policy towards Syria seems to effectively be keeping Iraq out of the way of negative repercussion of the Syrian crisis for the time being. Turkey’s internal policy, over which Iraqi has little influence, is causing and looks to continue to cause an upward swing in cross-border bombings causing the killing and displacement of KRG civilians. The large and increasing force of foreign security contractors in the country is certain to cause controversy.


However overall international questions are for the time being far less pressing and less dangerous than internal ones. It is the domestic questions, notably the strengthening of checks and balances in Baghdad, and a final settlement with Erbil, that will be required to move Iraq out of the security plateau in which it has been muddling through for the last three years and the dangerous jump in violence in the first month after withdrawal.

03 Apr 2012

Based on the paper “National Funds to Support Civil Society Organizations” published by The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) in July 2010, partnership between the Government and civil society organizations is the key to achieve common goals for the betterment of their country. Governmental Funds or Foundations in several countries are looked at not only as a source of money from the government but as institutions with which civil society organizations (CSOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) can partner as the latter are consulted upon the establishment of the former.


In Iraq however, this partnership requires strengthening. Neither NGOs nor civil society organizations were mentioned in the Federal General Budget Law of 2012, recently endorsed by the Iraqi Government, although some are currently receiving financial support from the government, for example via the Ministry of Education. The Budget, amounting to 100 Billion USD, included an upgrade to social benefits including granting loans to Iraqis for purposes of housing and to farmers to activate the agricultural sector. But there was no mentioning of specific financial support to CSOs or NGOS.


Decrease in International Funding

The peak of donor funding for humanitarian assistance in Iraq reached $3.4 billion in 2003. By contrast only 9% of that yearly funding (316 million dollars) was allotted for 2008 signaling an overall drop in funding for humanitarian efforts in Iraq.  Moreover every year since then the same pattern of steady funding drops has continued across funding fields in Iraq (with yearly funding at 3% of the 2003 high in 2011) except for funding for ‘Civil Society’ work for which some large-scale grants have been set aside by donors such as the European Union for the coming year.

Furthermore there are concerns about the commitment of the members of the former Multi-National Forces in Iraq (MNF-I) to continue their humanitarian funding following the completion of the withdrawal of all foreign forces which occurred at the end of 2011. The United States has put forward a funding opportunity via a USAID grant amounting to up to $75 million for Civil Society projects over a period of three years starting in 2012. However it reserves the right to fund any or none of the application submitted, therefore the precise amount of funding to be distributed is as yet not fully defined.

Iraq remains a violent and unstable operating context. This reduces access on the ground. Millions (an estimated 1.5 million since 2003 - UNHCR Iraq Operation Monthly Statistical Update on Return: November 2011) of Iraqis are still displaced, and humanitarian issues related to health, education, sanitation and security remain throughout Iraq.


While Iraq retains the status as having the 3rd largest reserves of Oil in the Middle East, oil exploitation is currently stunted by insecurity, corruption, a lack of investment, poor technology, and a number of other factors. Meanwhile, an estimated 7 million Iraqis (out of a total population of 30 million) live on less than $2 USD a day.

The Law of NGOs in Iraq – Funding Methods


According to the NGOs Law No. 12 of 2010, Article (13): NGOs' resources consist of: first, members' fees and dues; second, internal or external donations, grants, bequests and gifts; and third, the revenues from their activities and projects. This remains the case despite a growing debate around the issue with many NGOs calling on the government to allocate funds to support and sustain civil society organizations in Iraq.


In the KRG, up until a short while ago, the situation was different where under The Law of Non-Governmental Organizations in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region of 2011, Article 13 Section 4 states the Organization may obtain income from “The Organization's share of any allocation in the Region’s annual budget, and any other grants or assistance provided by the Government in support of the Organizations’ projects.” But mid-2011 this aid ceased. A new law is currently underway with an expected limitation of funding only to NGOs that can present credible project proposals to the KRG Government.


In Basra a draft local legislation was recently set to allocate small loans to mitigate the unemployment issue. Currently NCCI and a number of local NGOs in Basra are lobbying to ensure that national NGOs have access to such loans, despite the calls from a number of NGOs to stress the notion that “NGOs are in need of grants not loans”. The lobbying in Basra has started; more will be stated at a later stage about the results.


The ICNL Paper states that “the key reason to provide institutional support is to invest in the development of CSOs that can become effective partners to the government in implementing its policies… Providing project-based support has advantages as well. Project based support can yield specific results in areas in which the government wants to achieve impact, at the same time strengthening CSO experience and ability to deliver services in that area.”


Most of the debate about governmental grants to NGOs in Iraq centers on how humanitarian needs and developmental priorities can be served without imposing any control on the space of NGOs’ work.


Role of the Private Sector


On March 13th 2012, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Shell Iraq signed an agreement to implement a range of development projects in Southern Iraq. The four year partnership aims to increase the number of local area development activities, promote local small and medium enterprises and provide vocational training to respond to the private sector needs.


This partnership is part of UNDP support for the local network of the Global Compact, which was launched in Iraq in October last year to promote responsible business practices in the areas of human rights, labor standards, environment and anti-corruption. The Global Compact, and these types of partnerships, also provide a useful framework for international oil companies who are operating in Iraq to meet their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) obligations.


During an NCCI Open Space Meeting in Erbil, held on Feb 2012, some of the local NGOs called for lobbying to include articles within the Iraqi investment laws by which investors need to allocate certain funds to assist LNGOs.


Examples from other countries show a certain level of success upon applying such methods. In Vietnam, many Vietnamese, particularly those from the center of the country, gauge their success based on the prosperity of the community in which they reside. One way in which Canadian firms have helped enrich the community around them and improve their reputation has been by meeting with local non-governmental leaders and seeking to understand what the people of the community need, what their personal ambitions are, and what they want for their descendants. With this information, Canadian firms have been able to ensure that their company’s project contributes to the ambitions of the local community.

The death toll of the Syrian Uprising to date is nearly four times greater than that of all of the other Arab Springs combined except Libya – some 11,000 dead in total.[i] Furthermore throughout the Uprising's first year both the rates of violent deaths in Syria, and in parallel refugee displacement therefrom, have been accelerating sharply. Monthly figures of Syrians killed by violence doubled in each of four consecutive periods reaching 2,000 per month by March 2012.   The rate of displacement has accelerated in parallel, doubling in the last two months the number reached in the previous ten. In mid-April 2012 UNHCR reported that the number of Syrian refugees in Syria's four neighbors stands at 55,000 registered.   Conservative estimates put a further more than 200,000 Syrians as displaced within their own country (Syrian Red Crescent).

Given Iraq's own recent and incomplete immergence from insurgency, terrorism and civil war, it is unsurprising that the first waves of refugees have chosen and continue to prefer to go to Syria's other three neighbors (Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon). But for some – both new Syrian refugees and Iraqi refugees displaced back to their countries of origin – Iraq may be the only place they can go, and their numbers have been accelerating as the Syrian Uprising passes its one-year anniversary. This is especially true in light of current trends of violence which indicate that a serious risk remains of violence increasing, spreading its geographic reach, and becoming more sectarian in nature – even as a 6-point peace plan has been nominally agreed upon by both opposition and government forces and the first batches of UN observers deployed.

Syrians Fleeing Syria

When first looking at Iraq it might seem logical to ask who would seek refugee from a war zone in a country with its own ongoing conflict? Actually, there are a number of highly compelling reasons for certain segments of Syrian society and the Iraqi refugee population in Syria to seek to come to Iraq.

Iraqi violence is still extremely high, but also highly concentrated in certain areas. The northernmost three provinces (the Kurdish Region) and southernmost six provinces account for only some 4% of violent incidents throughout the country though they represent 50% of the country's provinces. Most of the Syrians seeking refuge in Iraq are males (80%), young and unaccompanied (60%), of Kurdo-Syrian origin, many fleeing mandatory military service. They seek refuge under the auspices of the Kurdish Regional Government because of its proximity to their provinces of origin (Hasakeh, Qamishli, in the Kurdish-dominated North-East of Syria, although there are also refugees to a lesser extent from Reef Dimashq, Damascus and Aleppo), shared language (despite differences in dialect) and perceived sympathy of the authorities in the semi-autonomously governed KRG. Most importantly, for those who are deserters some of Syria's other neighbors that still have or are rumored to have intelligence coordination with the current Syrian government (Lebanon, from whence deserters have already been returned across the border, and to a lesser degree Jordan) are therefore less appealing options for fear of refoulement. Although those who have fled to Iraq represent only roughly 1 in every 24 Syrian refugees at the time of writing their particular needs and vulnerabilities mean that as long as violent conflict continues anywhere in Syria their numbers are likely to continue to rise. Likewise, even if violence subsides, so long as the Syrian government remains the same, deserters among the ranks of the Syrian refugees in the KRG will be unable to return home for fear of imprisonment, torture or death.

Due to snowballing rates of Syrian refugee entries in the Kurdish Region of Iraq, the KRG, the UNHCR, International Organization for Migration (IOM), partner NGOs such as Qandil, and NNGOs such as the Kurdistan Civil Rights Organization (KCRO) have been focused on providing food and non-food assistance as well as constructing a second refugee camp called "Domiz" in Dohuk for Syrian nations. The KRG already had a refugee camp ("Qamishli"). However it became overcrowded following the wave of refugees of the 2011-2012 Syrian uprising. Indeed the population of Syrian refugees in the KRG jumped from only 360 on March 31st 2012 and an estimated 760 arrivals altogether, to over 1,776 registered and 2,376 arrivals 2 weeks later (UNHCR estimates).   The Sunni-Arab dominated province of al-Anbar, which faces much higher levels of violence and is under the direct control of Baghdad has also engaged in the establishment of camp facilities to accommodate persons displaced by violence in Syria, about 10km away from the al-Walid border crossing, but has apparently not witnessed notable levels of arrivals to date.

Iraqis Refugees Fleeing Syria

The 102,000 currently registered Iraqi refugees in Syria, amid a government estimate of 1 million Iraqis in total there, are both the most numerous and the poorest of the Iraqi populations outside of Iraq. They are therefore particularly at risk either if forced to return home or if they stay as the situation heats up in Syria. To date there has been no mass departure of Iraqi refugees from Syria. However it is notable that according to Iraqi Government figures in 2011, 67,000 Iraqis registered as returned from Syria double the number in 2009 and 2010 combined.   The average monthly rate of Iraqi refugee returns from Syria doubled again over 2011 in the first quarter of 2012 alone (UNHCR/IMoDM).

A combination of the very recent encroachment of Uprising-related violence to the populations hubs where Iraqi refugees are concentrated, and unrelated longer-standing incentives to return, are behind the jump in the rate of Iraqi refugee returns to Iraq witnessed during the last year.

For most of the first year of the Syrian uprising whose first anniversary was in March 2012, the safety of Iraqi refugees residing in Syria was by and large not directly affected because Iraqi refugees largely did not live in areas where protest and consequently violence was occurring. The overwhelming majority of Iraqi refugees in Syria live in the political and the economic capitals of the country (Damascus and Aleppo). While areas such as Homs, Daraa, and Idlib, have experienced shelling employing heavy artillery in broad daylight, and some of the capital's suburbs require as many as 7 check-points and an ID indicating residence in the area to move in and out of them, restaurants in the capital continue to remain open and people in the streets past midnight throughout the events in the rest of the country. This has only changed in the past 4 months, with a campaign of bombings finally bringing more concentrated violence to Damascus and Aleppo.

Incentives for Iraqis to return home unrelated to the Syrian Uprising include a notable drop since around 2009 in violence in Iraq to a tenth of the circa 2007 heights of the Iraqi Civil War. This maintained drop in violence, in addition to monetary incentives provided by the government, has been one of the main reasons for increases in the return of Iraqi IDPs to their homes during the last year. Other incentives for Iraqi refugees in Syria to return home also include the fact that the population of Iraqis that went to Syria (which has practically implemented an open-door policy for Iraqi refugees unlike other neighbors such as Jordan which imposed quotas and strict education requirements etc.) were the poorest. Thus for this population the drying up of savings has long been an ever increasing concern, particularly in light of the fact that technically it is illegal for them to work in their host country although many do menial jobs for sub-normal salaries under the table. The doubling of the prices of many essential food items in Syria during the course of the last year as a result of international economic sanctions only makes the situation of economically and legally vulnerable persons in Syria even more so.

On balance the increasing wave of Iraqi returns from Syria may have more to do with negative pressure than positive incentives however. A survey by UNHCR just before the start of the protest movement in Syria which found that most refugees surveyed were still unwilling to return home permanently has led some analysts to deem the increase in returns during the period of the Syrian Uprising "premature", i.e. the result of a choice between two bad options rather than a comfortable and truly voluntary decision to return home.

Outlook on Violence in Syria: Possibility of Proxy Wars and Consequent Displacement

The year of the Syrian Uprising since its inception in March of 2011 has seen a shift from a predominantly peaceful protest movement towards increased armed conflict in which outside states have high stakes, and the tactics of the Syrian government, outsiders and even the armed groups among the opposition themselves could contribute not only to increases in violence but also its greater sectarianization.

Starting December 23rd 2011, a series of bombings have rocked the capital which had previously been spared the violence. The Syrian government calls such incidents evidence of the rise of violent, foreign-funded, salafi-takfiri extremist Islamist currents in the opposition. By contrast the Syrian opposition has accused the government of staging the attacks to justify its crackdown on the uprising. In particular, the Syrian opposition notes that many of the bombings have taken place in the few areas of the capital where protests have occurred, or like the first attacks, just before unarmed (Arab League) observers were scheduled to deploy in Damascus. In this way the attacks allowed the state to restrict the movements of the monitors with a safety detail the government stated that it was providing for the monitors' security. Such explosions have continued and increased since the deployment of the UN observer mission.

Indeed, opposition forces see the likes of these bombings as part of greater theatrics put on by the state, including government-permitted or even government-sponsored violence in minority-dominated areas, and distribution of weapons 'for the self-protection' of citizens in minority areas, as a regime tactic to divide possible opposition along sectarian lines, and scare minorities and fence-sitters into blind support of the state's program of violence by proposing the security provided by the current government, or a Lebanese/Iraqi civil war scenario without it, as the only two possible outcomes of the protest movement. A fairly clear series of concessions to certain long-time opposition Syrian Kurdish parties – promising to grant citizenship rights to 300,000 stateless Syrian Kurds and even allowing the opening of some PKK-run Kurdish language instruction (previously not even legal much less encouraged) is seen by the opposition as further evidence of the state's divide and conquer strategy, and attempt to neutralize a large swath sector of Syrian society (Syrian Kurds), a potentially very potent oppositional force representing more than a tenth of the state's population. Some Syrian Kurdish parties like the Kurdish Yekiti Party (KYP) have thrown in their lot with the Syrian protest movement. However regarding the PKK, one of the stronger of the Kurdish parties the tactic has so far apparently worked. Indeed, PKK fighters have even assisted in inhibiting protests in some areas and the PKK has announced that if Turkey interfered in the Uprising, it would stand with the current Syrian government.

The precise levels of exaggeration from either side are difficult to discern in an atmosphere where free press remains almost entirely banned by authorities in Syria. However even if the Syrian government's version of events is accurate they mean that the violent conflict has arrived to the political and economic hubs of the country where Iraqi refugees have been centered. Likewise whether the result of genuine targeting of minorities by extremists or state fabrication thereof, rising levels of violence have resulted in some de-facto segregation of sects. This includes for example the flight of many Alawites (the sect of the president, and one notably over-represented in the still loyal upper-echelons of the army) to the coastal areas where they are more dominant, and Christians, from areas witnessing intensified violence like Homs. Isolation of sectarian groups from one another and blanket-association of whole minority groups as "regime supporters" increases potential for balkanization of the conflict. Balkanization of the conflict would be a major issue in a state with such a rich diversity of ethnic and sectarian groups.

Following the deployment of a UN observer mission due to report on the implementation of cessation of hostilities starting April 12th 2012, the daily rates of killing of Syrians dropped sharply. However they have increased from the first days of the mission. Two weeks after the supposed implementation of cessation of hostilities by both sides, and assurance of free movement for the press by authorities, in some of most sensitive areas (such as Homs) attacks are nearly back to pre-ceasefire levels, the state's heavy weaponry remains positioned in heavily populated urban areas, and journalism no freer. This has led some observers to label the mission a failure as the Arab League observer mission was before it. As one journalist asked rhetorically, regarding the arrival of a Norwegian general arriving as part of the second deployment of UN, "I wonder if by the time he gets to Syria, there will be any cease-fire left to monitor?"

The failure of the Kofi Annan brokered peace-plan and the UN observer mission is still unconfirmed. If the mission is beefed up from its current 15 persons, to at least the full 300-persons agreed upon by the UN Security Council, or what opposition leaders see as a minimum of 2-3,000 person size to be able to truly do their job in a country of 22 million, it might yet succeed or at least continue to put a damper of violence and allow greater peaceful protests to organize without fear of imprisonment or armed retribution by state forces. By some estimates, the largest number of protests to occur to date was 715 separate gatherings on April 13rd (i.e. immediately following the arrival of the observer mission).   However if the UN observer mission fails or continues to flounder, and possibly even if it does not, regional interests in the preservation of the Syrian government (Iran, Hezbollah, Russia whose only warm water port is located on the Syrian coast) or change of the Syrian government (notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the US) could tip the conflict into a much more violent and difficult to stop proxy-war. Russia and Iran already provide military and strategic support to the Syrian government. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have openly discussed supporting the possibility of foreign military intervention in Syria. This is unlikely to occur given the unwillingness of any major military powers currently to devote boots on the ground, or even planes, to such a mission. However indirect support of armed opposition forces is well within the range of possibilities, with states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar recently putting forward a pledge of 100 million US dollars to pay for the salaries of the (opposition, defector-lead) Free Syrian Army first announced in July 2011 after 5 months of state crackdown on the peaceful protest movement, the discipline of whose leadership structure is uncertain, and among whose ranks some cases of torture of prisoners have already immerged.


The sustainability of the two week drop in levels of violence following the deployment of a UN observer mission to Syria is as yet unclear. If the UN peace-plan is not proven to be working soon, the combination of a tenacious state willing to employ even heavy weaponry in heavily populated civilian centers to stop the protest movement, a highly fragmented Syrian opposition even on the most basic issues (such as foreign intervention or arming the opposition), interest of wealthy foreign backers in funding the arming of diverse parties to the conflict, and some evidence of de-facto sectarian segregation raise the specter of an even more serious proxy-conflict with intensified overtones of sectarian violence. As such the failure of the UN mission would likely signal a return of Syria to the patterns of death and displacement of Syrians and Iraqi refugee returns from Syria to Iraq as had been occurring and indeed escalating for the previous year. With the March 2012 UN call for funding for the plan for assisting Syrian refugees regionally only 20% funded to date, and the Iraqi government still facing a lack of capacity in implementing its promised and legislated assistance and benefits for returning citizens, questions remain in Iraq as in other neighboring countries, how the needs of the displaced will be filled if this scenario occurs.


The Syrian Uprising and Iraq: Returnees, Refugees, and Revolutionarie, the NGO Coordination Commitee for Iraq, 1 May 2012, by Ana Nikonorow

[i] The United Nations estimated the more than 9,000 civilians had been killed in the course of the Syrian Uprising by March 2012, the Uprising's one year anniversary (U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process speaking before the UNSC, 27 March 2012). Syrian non-governmental groups, counting combatant deaths beginning in March 2012 and extending through the beginning of May 2012 range in their estimates from the Center for Documentation of Violation in Syria (749 combatant deaths), to the Syrian Martyrs Organization (1,210 military deaths), to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (3,145 combatant deaths to April 16th only). Although the Syrian government's estimate of overall deaths at 6,044 in April 2012 was much lower than the UN or Syrian opposition/human rights groups, the Syrian government places their estimates of combat deaths much higher. The Syrian opposition and human rights groups counting combatant and non-combatant deaths place their total estimates of Syrian dead notably higher than the UN for the period through end of April 2012: (10,966 total deaths) according to the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria, (12,269 total deaths) according to the Syrian National Council, and (10,281 total deaths) according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A concise sketch of the reporting methods of the various organization cited above, and the weaknesses of these methods, may be found in an piece by Eman El-Shenawi, "Raising a brow at the Syrian death toll, al-Arabiya, 25 March 2012. Taking into consideration the above calculations, this article has employed 11,000 as a highly rough median estimate employed in an environment where reliable estimates are extremely difficult to obtain.

Syrian refugees have been entering Iraq at inconsistent rates. While Kurdistan has maintained a generally open policy toward refugees, most of whom have been Syrian Kurds, Baghdad has remained fickle regarding its stance toward evacuees. After opening the border for a brief stint between July and August, Baghdad closed its al-Qaem border on August 16th, only to reopen it again on September 18th with some improved humanitarian conditions, yet generally insufficient provisions, such as a lack of hygienic supplies, low quality and quantity food, as well as inadequate medical assistance. Various reasons were given for closing the border concerning both camp capacity and domestic security. In Kurdistan, some younger male refugees have been welcomed and provided with military training.


On August 16th, when Baghdad decided to close al-Qaem border in al-Anbar province, two reasons were given, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report. The first reason was to wait for UNHCR to improve the camp and prepare for more refugees. The project included additional shelter, medical supplies, food supplies, and a plan to expand the water quantity to 470,000 liters. After the project, the camp was to be reopened (al-Qaem city council cited this as the main reason). The other reason, however, was security. The same HRW report states that “Iraqi authorities have announced that they will re-open the border after expanding the capacity of a camp at al-Qaem, though an official at Iraq’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration told Human Rights Watch on August 27th that the ministry had not recommended closing the border and described the decision as purely a ‘security measure.’”


Baqer Jabr al-Zubaidi, a former finance and interior minister, who is now a parliament member from Mr. Maliki's coalition was also quoted saying “[i]f al-Qaeda succeeds in toppling the regime in Syria, then the Shiite government in Iraq will be next."


Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari further supported al-Zubaidi’s assertion in a separate statement: "The flow of refugees, the entrenchment of terrorist organizations, the veil of a fundamentalist regime, all this could impact us," Zebari told Reuters. "We are trying to take an independent position. Based on our national interests... Things are not black and white."


Although there is no evidence whether closing the border actually contributed to Iraq’s national security and prevented infiltrators, it certainly had not stopped shelling and other threats from across the border. On September 7th, 3 shells were launched into Iraq from the Abu Kamal district in Syria, killing 2 civilians, one of whom was a 5-year-old girl, and injuring 5 others. And while the official rhetoric focuses on preventing a “Sunni” threat, the rockets were Russian Katyusha rockets, which were most likely used by the regime.


Eventually, al-Qaem was reopened on Tuesday, September 18th, with increased security, which, as of September 24th, prevents single young men from entering the camp, allowing only women, children, and elderly or sick people. Between September 19th and the 23rd, a total of 618 Syrian refugees were granted entrance into the Iraqi territories, averaging 123 people per-day.


Tying up humanitarian issues with national security is not new; nor is prioritizing national security over human rights. However, the way by which al-Zubaidi and Zebari generalize the identity of Syrian refugees and link their migration with al-Qaeda, while placing them in opposition to the “Shiite government in Iraq,” distances officials from a responsibility for fundamental humanitarian matters. By conjuring the al-Qaeda threat, real or imagined, and associating it with an influx of a population in need, the Iraqi government can, and has been able to, justify almost any policy on the basis of an identity.


Conversely in the north, the KRG hosts their (mostly Kurdish) refugees very differently. As of September 28rd, the KRG hosts approximately 28,074 refugees distributed throughout Domiz camp in Dohuk, as well as host communities in Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah. There is also a new camp under construction in Kasak, Mosul. Syrian Kurdish politics and their relationship with the KRG have created new regional dynamics, while the lack of international aid has generated domestic tension.


Syrian Kurdish identity in the KRG, as it relates to armed resistance, functions on several levels. By providing arms and military training, the KRG and various Kurdish political parties are offering a solution to Syria’s uprising, which would simultaneously provide “protection” to Kurdistan and offer a new instrument for Syrian Kurdish autonomy. However, the overall goals of the new militia are ambiguous.


Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) external relations chief, Hayman Hawrami, said that they provided military training to many of the young men “so they can be a main supporter of the Syrian opposition and a main supporter of the positive change in Syria.” Furthermore, although the training has been viewed as an aggressive measure, both by Baghdad and Ankara, Kurdish officials, such as Saleh Muslim, the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, maintain that it is “for the purpose of protection” and not explicitly to fight in Syria.


There are also opportunities for conflict. Although Iraqi Kurds have already established an autonomous region and maintain a distinct heritage, part of their culture is still intrinsically tied to Iraqi Arab culture because of their converging histories, governments, customs, and even ethnicities. This is analogous to Kurds who live/lived in Syria and their relationship with Syrian Arab identity. Syrian Kurds may experience inequality for a number of reasons because they are “visitors” and have entered into a reciprocal relationship with their Iraqi Kurdish comrades. They may even face conflict if they support the PYD, a rival faction of the two ruling parties in the KRG and believed by some Syrian opposition websites to be supported by the al-Assad regime. Many Syrian Kurds are still fighting for their own autonomous region in northeast Syria and do, in fact, support the PYD. And although it is entirely possible that conflictive politics will be avoided and cooperative politics will prevail, this depends on how the factors above are publicly addressed and the ways by which conflicts are resolved.


Furthermore, international aid has also been a key concern for the KRG. The KRG has petitioned for additional and necessary aid from various sources to provide refugees with vital assistance during the upcoming months as winter approaches and more refugees enter Kurdistan. It has not yet received a sufficient sum, nor comparable to other host governments. Shakir Yasin, the Kurdish official who is in charge of Syrian refugees in the KRG, mentioned his petition to the EU. “Their reply was that the number of refugees should be at least 15,000 to qualify for financial aid. The number reported by the Kurdistan Region has exceeded 27,000 so far, and still nothing has happened.” While it is unclear if other governments are directly funding Kurdistan, the KRG has recently allocated $10 million to support Syrian refugees within its borders. The KRG has not placed any limits on refugee capacity as yet. Therefore, without significant international financial assistance, the strain and limit on the KRG’s resources will be felt by many.


The KRG maintains a volatile relationship with almost all of its neighbors, including Turkey, Iran, and Syria, as well as Baghdad. The mass influx of Syrian refugees into Iraq, combined with the KRG and Baghdad’s different reactions, creates new opportunities for opposition and conflict. Political and regional alliances, as well as demographic shifts are occurring, which will consequently inform and affect how NGOs operate in Iraq.

The Dangers of Electricity Shortages

The lack of electricity production capacity is a danger to citizens’ health, to national industry, and overall stability. Power outages for most Iraqis occur for 18 hours a day. The current Iraqi electricity market cannot even produce half of the demand. This harms Iraqi industry which cannot depend upon the electricity supply. As temperatures now regularly rise above 50ºC/120ºF in the shade, even the most basic cooling devices only have access to the national electricity grid for less than 5 hours a day. Electricity-specific unrest has been recorded in every Iraqi province in the last two years. That makes it one of the few protest issues to spread across the country as a whole before the short-lived Iraqi Spring of 2011. Unrest due to electricity shortages, such as those which occurred in Basra on the 19th of June last year leading to multi-province unrest which forced the resignation of the electricity minister, left dead in their wakes. Even an attack on a provincial governor has been carried under the banner of demanding increased electricity supplies specifically. Such electricity-shortage-based unrest was so disconcerting to authorities that some provincial governors have illicitly diverted power for their provinces from the central grid. The central government, under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, began demanding that all protests require a license from the Interior Ministry, in direct response to electricity shortage protests. He then ordered the Interior Ministry to refuse all requests therefore.

Gas Development Critical to Developing Electricity Production

Despite a massive gap in actual production of electricity, Iraq has substantial potential resources to meet demand, particularly gas. Iraq has the fifth largest gas reserves in the Middle East and eleventh largest in the world. Electricity plants could easily and efficiently use gas as fuel. Indeed many of Iraq’s electricity stations are currently designed to do so but run instead on heavy oil, which wears down the equipment faster. This is due to a significantly underdeveloped Iraqi gas industry. Iraq’s non-associated gas fields are largely untouched. More than half of gas available for development in the coming years comes from Iraq’s oil fields. But this associated gas (some 1.5 billion cubic feet per day) is currently flared and therefore wasted, for lack of infrastructure. Flared gas is both a waste of valuable finite energy resources, as well as damaging to the environment. While the government, for the foreseeable future, will continue to rely on sales of crude oil for most of its revenue, its gas supply can and should fuel the nation’s power stations by all capitalist calculations of economy as well as social-safety-net conceptions of the national interest.

The Deals

The four gas development deals signed in little more than a month between June and July 2011, both represent major steps toward developing the national gas industry and Iraq’s very first ones. They are the centerpiece of Iraq's master plan to boost electricity production to keep up with demand that is double the rate of supply. Contracts for the development of three virgin gas fields were signed in mid-June. They cover the Akkas field in al-Anbar in the West, the Mansouriya field in Diyala in the North East, and the Siba field in Basra in the South, together representing one tenth of all Iraqi gas reserves. July 12th a parallel deal for the capture and use of the associated gas from the Basra oil fields of Rumaila, Zubair and West Qurna I, was added as well, dubbed the Basra Gas Company. Output from the virgin fields and the capture of gas associated with current oil production mentioned above, each are to bring more than 700 million cubic feet/day online within six years.

Local Protests Demand Concessions to Local (Consumption, Employment and Industry) Interests

Popular forces and authorities at the provincial level protested against each of the above mentioned gas deals before their signature. These provincial protests disputed the insufficient consideration given to local consumption, employment, and industry interests by the plans. When, on 20 October 2010, then Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani announced the winning tenders for the Akkas, Mansouriya, and Siba gas fields in the third licensing round, in Basra, there were calls for the oil industry to be nationalized. In Diyala, people insisted that they be told about the investment contracts with international companies, before they were signed. In the province of al-Anbar, some tribal leaders dramatically threatened to demand independence and hundreds of people came out on the streets in protest in Ramadi and Fallujah alone, as hundreds had done before them in May 2010, against recognizing the contracts without assurances that there would be no export of raw natural gas from the Akkas field. These protesters insisted that output instead should be processed locally into value-added energy products and sold on the domestic market, as fuel for local power plants producing local energy. In the defense of this demand they rightly pointed out the efficiencies of local use rather than transportation of the electricity at losses of power over long tracts of land. They also frequently cited feelings of neglect by the central government, which they said has failed to provide adequate financing for reconstruction and services.

In an atmosphere of severe under-provision of services by the national government, assurances that the central government will receive a reasonable portion of the profits of the development of local natural resources has unsurprisingly proved insufficient to convince citizens that the province from which resources are mined will benefit in the end too. Such fear has not been confined to regions with particular ethno-sectarian makeup, such as the Sunni West. Rather it has surfaced in the South, East and even on occasion in the generally much better served and secured North as well. Such local protests held up the signing of the Akkas, Maysouriya and Siba field deals for 8 months even after the final official auction.

Uneven Concessions to Local Interests

Protest against the initial terms of the gas deals occured across all potential producer provinces; however the level of concessions to local demands varied considerably.

On the development of the Akkas field in al-Anbar, for example, the concessions were impressive. Considerations of the local Anbar community’s demands included promises of the Oil Ministry and foreign partners to provide power plants, petrochemical factories and other gas-related industries relevant to the province’s needs, as well as the installation of gas pipes to transport gas to local power stations. First rights to signing contracts for the construction of these facilities are to go to Iraqi companies. Only surplus in excess of the province’s requirement of 250 megawatts of electricity and 1800 megawatts to the Heet Thermal Station are to be exported. The Oil Ministry further estimated that the projects could provide jobs for as many as 85% of the province's unemployed.

By contrast in the Basra Gas Company deal the terms were less impressive. According to sources within the ministry, the Oil Ministry wanted the gas prices to be subsidized, while Shell and Mitsubishi were asking for global market prices. Iraq eventually agreed to increase prices for the gas that would be purchased from the Basra Gas Company. Questions were also raised about the non-competitive position of Shell in the signing which differed from the auctioning of other gas development contracts, as well as the priority given to foreign companies in exporting gas.

The Role of Provincial Authorities: Why al-Anbar Got Major Concessions and Others Did Not

Arguments between provincial and central government authorities have been ongoing at a diplomatic level in nearly all of the resource rich regions of Iraq, regardless of the ethnic or sectarian makeup of the majority of their inhabitants. The Kurdish Regional Government has long sought to sign contracts on its own, while companies signed by the KRG in bilateral agreements were then blacklisted by the national oil ministry in their own auctions. Shiite-dominated Basra, the country’s largest base of oil-production, like the Sunni-dominated province of al-Anbar, has been roiled by conflicts between residents and oil authorities. Some local Basra politicians have even tried to employ the supposed insufficient benefit from local natural resources as a reason for turning Basra into a federal region of its own.

What is notable in the latest round of discussions is that in the Anbar field deals, is that first, the local authorities have succeeded in actually attaining the lion’s share of what they wanted. Those that preceded them have not. Furthermore, the provincial authorities demands will probably be quite beneficial to the people of the province.

The key to local authorities success in achieving their demands varied considerably from province to province. Working within the legislative framework, threatening and helping activate civil protest, and threatening not to coordinate with gas companies against security threats, were some of the methods employed. Then the Anbar authorities simply waited. After waiting some two years the national Oil Ministry eventually came to the provincial authorities to “clarify” their and the foreign developers’ position, under pressure from foreign companies which steadfastly refused to sign without assurances from the provincial authorities about their safety. The “clarification” of the national Ministry of Oil simply meant giving in to nearly all the stated demands.

By contrast the Basra Gas Company the ministry was more pressed to reach a deal since the gas, by virtue of being associated with already developed oil production, was being continuously flared and therefore lost during the negotiations. In the Anbar fields undeveloped gas simply remained under the earth. In addition, provincial authorities in Basra, unlike in al-Anbar put up little resistance to the national level plan by giving specific proposals regarding local value-added gas production, employment demands, or labor rights. To the contrary, Basra authorities’ past actions have shown them to be active in suppressing rather than encouraging the demands of labor in regard to natural resource development in the province, be it foreign or Iraqi run. Basra workers have engaged in independent unionized action in the natural resource extraction sector previously despite the lack of a legal mandate to do so. The oil unions have stopped or threatened to stop production as well as holding rallies over issues like legislation, pay and treatment. In response, they have been fined, targeted by local security forces, or even been relocated to areas hundreds of miles away from their families. In February 2011, 16 workers were fined nearly $60,000 for work stoppage at the Basra refinery, a sum difficult to imagine, much less pay for such individuals. As a result of the weaker civil society participation and lack of pressure from provincial level authorities on the terms of the contracts in the negotiation of the southern deals, the Basra gas-development deals had notably less favorable terms for the local community’s workers and industry.

Need for Increased Monitoring by Government, Foreign Companies, and Civil Society

To reach the recent gas deals the national authorities have been negotiating a fine line between rushing as much as possible to get the gas online, and trying to provide local benefit in the way the gas is extracted. The labor and local market issues associated with gas extraction however, will require continued and increased monitoring to ensure it does not result in unrest. Such oversight must come internally from foreign companies working on the fields, as well as externally from the central government and labor rights organizations.

The absence of laws on gas production and exports, as well as protection for the right of all workers to unionize are serious gaps in Iraqi legislation. Currently many Iraqi workers are forbidden from forming independent unions not formally sanctioned and controlled by the state. This regulation dates from the pre-2003. Iraq is a signatory to international workers rights agreements, and the 2005 constitution called for a new labor law. However the drafting has since languished. Such legislative gaps must be sewn up by Iraqi lawmakers, and then implemented by local authorities.

Foreign companies for their part must be alert about their employment processes and conceptions of how to “give back” to local communities. During the period following the occupation of Iraq in 2003 foreign companies have often heavily relied on foreign labor at all levels of their operations in the name of the security of their facilities. However such reliance on foreign labor, when labor with equal qualification exists for the same positions locally, itself directly fueled discontent that contributed to the insecurity of their operations. Foreign employers must also be wary of middlemen. Jobbers in other natural resource extraction operations in the South have been known to take commissions of as much as $2,500 from people seeking jobs in the foreign companies. Finally, heavy reliance on extremely short term contracts for employees and lack of sales of gas at prices that could encourage gas-based value-added production locally also increase public discontent toward these companies. Investment in value-added local gas industry is far more valuable to the local communities than projects such as parks, and recognized as such by them. Previous protests show that people demand sustainable employment, and investment in overall livelihood development, not short-term handouts.

Civil society as well as provincial authorities have and should continue to demand transparent discussion of the terms of contracts given to foreign and national companies regarding the development of their resources. This most minimal level of participation is clearly guaranteed provincial level actors by Article No. 109 of the Iraqi Constitution which mandates that the federal government should manage oil and gas “with the producing governorates and regional governments”. As the case of al-Anbar shows, civil society and provincial authorities in particular can have a critical role in pushing for local development priorities and labor rights as well which national authorities are unable to achieve on their own.

These first steps in the development of Iraq’s national gas resources are critical to increasing the supply of electricity. This is an important objective in itself. However an increase in the provision of electricity without other social and market planning regarding the development of Iraq’s finite gas resources is insufficient. Sustainable market-sound alternatives to make resource extraction appealing to local communities, especially regarding gas, are available. Such alternatives immerge with the combined efforts of local and national government, foreign companies, the pressure of civil society and can also draw upon the ongoing humanitarian presence in Iraq today.

Published in NCCI Studies

On 16th March 1988, after two days of napalm and rocket bombardments, Saddam Hussein, along with Ali Hassan al-Majid, launched a chemical attack on the town of Halabja in southern Kurdistan. The five hour attack killed between 3,200 and 5,000 people, caused injury to between 7,000 and 10,000 others, most of whom were civilians. The attack marks the most severe and disastrous use chemical weapons in history, with many of the victims losing their lives to cancer or still suffering from its effects. While this incident can arguably be viewed as a continuation of Saddam’s “Anfal Campaign” (c. 1986-89), during which he targeted various minority communities in Iraq in order to “Arabize” the nation, it also marks a significant point in Iraqi and international memory and, most recently, their coming to terms with that history. This can be illuminated more specifically by asking: What are some recent ways by which the international community is receiving and communicating the Halabja attack as genocide, and how do Iraqi Kurds report on these events?


In December 2005, seventeen years after the genocide, a court in The Hague announced that: 1) “[it is] legally and convincingly proven that the Kurdish population meets requirement under Genocide Conventions as an ethnic group.” And 2) “[that] the court has no other conclusion than that these attacks were committed with the intent to destroy the Kurdish population of Iraq”. Subsequently, the Dutch court had begun to prepare a case against Saddam Hussein and Frans van Anraat, Saddam’s chemicals supplier, though Saddam was executed by an Iraqi tribunal in 2006 before any trial could be conducted against him. Van Anraat, however, became the first to be convicted and sentenced for his crimes against the Kurds in December 2005. Ali Al Majid was executed in January 2010 by the Iraqi government for his role in the Halbaja massacre and other crimes against humanity. It is worth noting that the Armenian genocide and the mass killing of Assyrians in Iraq in 1933, known as the Simele massacre, were the events on which the crime and classification “genocide” is based.


While The Hague officially recognized the atrocities as genocide, international recognition did not swiftly follow. In 2010, the Iraqi High Criminal Court recognized the massacre as an act of genocide, and almost twenty-five years after the attacks the United Kingdom and Sweden passed resolutions classifying the Halabja attacks as genocide. Kurdish born MP, Nadhim Zahawi, told the House of Commons "as the horrors of holocaust pass beyond living memory, there is a danger that we dropped our guard; that we believed such terrible events are safely sealed in the history books; that they could never happen again." However, most nations, including Canada which was the first nation to have officially labeled the Halabja attack as a crime against humanity, still have not recognized it as genocide. According to Rudaw, a private Kurdish media and news group, most actors participating in the Canada campaign are grassroots organizers from the Kurdish community and other groups, as opposed to the cases of Britain and Sweden in which there was official support from the KRG and an MP in the above case.


Nevertheless, these campaigns and methods of asserting memory have important effects as they progress and gain international traction. For example, by asserting the genocidal character of the Halabja massacre, the event is documented officially in international memory alongside atrocities such as the Armenian and Assyrian genocides, as well as the Holocaust, though it is unique because it is also taking on the role of promoting the non-proliferation of chemical weapons in general.


As memorials and resolutions are being erected and passed, which are forms of solidifying identity and nation building, this leads to the second important effect. The events in Halabja have certainly targeted the Kurds in particular, but as the years pass and the wounds heal this tragedy has brought them to identify more closely with their culture while allowing them to establish an independent and international voice. Indeed, what the regime of Saddam Hussein sought to achieve in eliminating the Kurdish nationality has only made the Kurdish population more aware of, and in-tune with, their cultural heritage. Whether in the form of autonomous governance, a federation with Baghdad, or in any other system, the Kurdish people are not only writing their own history, which they have always done, but also using a narrative of their choice.


The material and physical effects of the genocide, and the “Anfal” campaign in general, are still visible. Birth defects, cancers, and wounds, not to mention mental effects, still follow the victims and may continue for an unknown amount of time. Though Zahawi meant for his statement to serve first and foremost a political end, it can also serve as a warning to the international community to prevent such failures from ever occurring again.