By Ramzy Mardini of the Institute for the Study of War.
Al-Qaeda Leader Claims Credit for Deadly Attacks
On Monday, dozens of attacks across Iraq led to the deaths of over a 110 Iraqis, and nearly 300 others, wounded. The al-Qaeda affiliated group, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed credit for the attacks, which largely targeted government security forces, institutions and Shi’a neighborhoods. The largest attack occurred in the town of Taji, just north of the capital, which left at least forty dead. It was the deadliest day for Iraqis since May 10, 2010, when nationwide attacks left 119 dead.
The al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, vowed to regain the territorial strongholds the group had lost during the counterinsurgency period, and appealed to Sunnis to provide support and resources. In October 2011, the United Nations Sanctions Committee and European Commission moved to add Baghdadi to the list of persons under their respective financial sanctions regime. According to the sanctions notice, Baghdadi is an Iraqi national, born in Samarra in 1971. He is given the title of “Dr.” and goes by several names.
In an online statement after the attacks, Baghdadi announced that his group is planning on conducting operations that would free detainees and assassinate officials of the judiciary. “I bring you good news: We are starting a new phase in our struggle with a plan we named ‘Breaking the Walls,’ and we remind you of your priority to free the Muslim prisoners,” adding that it was the top of priorities “to chase and liquidate the judges, the investigators and the guards.” Almost half the speech focused on revolutionary efforts against the Alawite regime in Syria. “Our people there have fired the coup de grace at the terror that grasped the nation (Syria) for decades…and taught the world lessons of courage and jihad and proved that injustice could only be removed by force.” Baghdadi also warned of attacks on U.S. soil: “Soon you will witness them in the heart of your homeland, as our war with you has just begun, and so await them.”
Maliki, Mutlaq Attempt to Renew Cooperation
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq met face-to-face this week regarding the latter’s return to cabinet sessions. Mutlaq is reportedly expected to attend cabinet sessions next week, after he returns from receiving medical treatment in Turkey. Last December, Maliki attempted to sack Mutlaq from his position, but was unable to acquire enough support in Parliament to withdraw confidence in his deputy. Mutlaq referred to the prime minister as behaving like a dictator during a December 13 CNN interview while Maliki was in Washington, DC on an official visit to the White House. He has not been able to participate in a single cabinet session since making those remarks. According to Sadiq al-Labban, a member of Maliki’s State of Law coalition, “We hope Mutlaq to play a positive role during his presence in the cabinet’s sessions,” while noting that there are no problems to his return given it is consistent with procedures of the Council of Ministers.
Reports emerged back in May that Mutlaq was ready to return to cabinet meetings after Yassin Majid, a member in Maliki’s State of Law coalition, stated that the prime minister had withdrawn his request for a parliamentary no-confidence vote against Mutlaq. Earlier that month, Mutlaq was allegedly being approached by various interlocutors on behalf of Maliki in mending relations and mediating the disputes between the two men. The offer communicated was that Mutlaq can resume his post with “all merits” without having to apologize to Maliki, previously a requirement made by the prime minister. However, Mutlaq reportedly was refusing then to take up his duties until the government demonstrated changes to its policies and behavior.
IHEC Mandate Unlikely To Be Extended
The mandate for Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) will not be reextended, according to Muayyad Tayyeb, the spokesperson for the Kurdish Alliance bloc. Despite its mandate expiring on July 28, there are still disputes on the distribution of the next board’s membership. Tayyeb, who is also a member of a committee in charge of naming the new electoral commissioners, added that the Sunni-dominated Iraqiyya bloc is requesting three seats, while the Shi’a National Alliance believes Iraqiyya should only have two seats. According to the Kurdish official, the disagreement between the two blocs lies in which side gets to nominate a candidate to represent the Iraqi Turkomen share, which is a single seat in the nine-member board. Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi reportedly informed outgoing head of the electoral commission, Faraj al-Haydari, that Parliament intends to amend the IHEC law, even possibly increasing the board’s membership from nine to fifteen seats.
The mandate for IHEC’s current board first expired in April, but was extended for an additional three months, or until Parliament appointed another board. Both the United States and United Nations mission have urged Iraq’s political leaders to move forward with the formation of a new electoral board, given the institution’s role in preparing the country for the next round of elections. Maliki continues to have deep suspicions of IHEC and its current commissioners, alleging that it had manipulated the 2010 electoral results to allow Iraqiyya to beat his State of Law list. The current makeup of the nine-member IHEC board represents a political balance of power that preceded the prime minister’s rise.
To learn about the evolving relationship between Kurdistan and the United States, read Ramzy Mardini's backgrounder, " Relations with Iraq's Kurds: Toward a Working Partnership." For a comprehensive look at the first two months since U.S. troops left Iraq, read " Iraq's Recurring Political Crisis." To read a transcript from the Feb. 29 event "Policing Iraq," click here, and to read a transcript from the Feb. 16 event "Iraq After the U.S. Withdrawal," click here.