Political risks to watch in Iraq
April 11, 2013
BAGHDAD,—Attempts to resolve a power-sharing
crisis in Shi'ite premier Nuri al-Maliki's
government, disputes over oil with autonomous
Kurdistan and spillover effects from Syria's war on
Iraq's internal politics and insurgent violence are
areas to watch.
Violence has surged since the start of the year with
al Qaeda's local wing gaining from the Syrian
conflict next door, and feeding off Sunni Muslim
discontent in western provinces along the Syrian
To the north, Exxon Mobil is caught in a dispute
between Baghdad's Arab-led central government and
ethnic Kurd-run Kurdistan enclave over which
controls oil and land.
Maliki is locked in a crisis with Sunni and Kurdish
partners in the power-sharing government. Critics
accuse the prime minister of consolidating power and
refusing to live up to agreements. Political turmoil
is likely to drag on until parliamentary elections
Local elections in April will give some indication
of the fortunes of Maliki and rivals. Voting has
been postponed in two Sunni-dominated provinces
because of threats to electoral workers and
violence. Sunni protesters, who feel marginalised,
have been protesting since December in western
What to watch:
- Major shifts in Kurdish, Shi'ite blocks against
- Outcome of April provincial vote.
- Deals to unblock passage of laws.
- Violence during Sunni protests.
For Iraq's Shi'ite leadership, the Sunni rebellion
against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a
political nightmare. They fear if Assad falls, it
may bring to power a hardline Sunni regime hostile
to Baghdad and lead to Sunni Islamist fighters
crossing the border to carry out attacks in Iraq.
Iraq's leadership is close to Assad's Shi'ite ally
Iran, and says it takes no sides. But Maliki has
come under pressure from Washington to prevent Iran
flying arms to Assad through Iraqi airspace.
Washington is Iraq's largest arms supplier.
What to watch:
- Any shift in Baghdad's position on Assad.
- Frontier clashes destabilising border areas.
- U.S. Congress pressuring Iraq through arms deals.
Violence has surged this year, especially suicide
bombings, as insurgents tied to al Qaeda have hit
Shi'ite targets to try to stoke sectarian tensions.
So far Shi'ite militias have stayed out of the fray
but attacks on Shi'ite holy sites could draw them in
as it did during the sectarian bloodshed of
Al Qaeda's local wing, Islamic State of Iraq, says
it has joined forces with the al-Nusra Front in
Syria to forge one theatre of war. Security forces
say insurgents are using the remote western desert
in Anbar province bordering Syria to regroup,
recruit and train.
What to watch:
- Militia retaliation after an attack on Shi'ite
- Signs of al Qaeda openly controlling border areas.
- Attacks against government offices in Baghdad.
KURDISTAN DISPUTE AND OIL
Tensions between Baghdad's central government and
the autonomous Kurdistan region are at their worst
in years. While Baghdad says it has control over the
country's oil resources,www.ekurd.net
Kurdistan says it has the right to sign oil deals
and develop its fields. Both governments sent troops
to reinforce their internal border, a potential
At the heart of the dispute is Exxon Mobil, which
has signed deals with Kurdistan, but also operates
the huge West Qurna oilfield in the south. Baghdad
says the U.S. major must chose between the south or
Kurdistan. Turkey also wants access to Kurdistan's
oil and gas, but also risks its investments in the
south if it moves ahead too quickly and angers
- Concrete moves by Kurdistan, Turkey for a pipeline
- Decisions by Exxon on its southern assets.
- Build-up of troops along the internal border.
By Patrick Markey - Reuters
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