Iraq: Momentary Gains for a Jihadist Group


Video Transcript:

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham, ISIS, an al Qaeda-related group that is a principal extremist actor in the Syrian civil war and ongoing Iraqi insurgency, seized parts of Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq on Jan. 3. Rather than viewing this as a fundamental power shift between ISIS and Baghdad’s security forces, however, it should be seen as a temporary victory.
Tensions between Baghdad and the Sunni tribes of Anbar province have been simmering through most of last year and boiled over on Dec. 30 when President Maliki ordered a Sunni protest camp to be dismantled by security forces. The arrest of a local senior Sunni politician led to clashes severe enough to prompt Maliki to withdraw security forces from the region in an effort to de-escalate the situation. It was this security vacuum that ISIS used to seize territory in both cities.
It is one thing to grab territory, especially if it is predominantly uncontested, and quite another to hold it against a concerted military operation mounted by the Iraqi security forces. Sources in Iraq claim that roughly 300 ISIS fighters remain in Ramadi while 800 or so are entrenched in Fallujah. While the urban terrain will give ISIS fighters a serious combat boost as the established defenders against the better equipped Iraqi security forces, they won’t have the numbers or ability to hold indefinitely.
ISIS survives in Iraq by being an insurgent group, avoiding direct confrontation and hiding and moving through the population. This territory grab in Ramadi and Fallujah gives them an address, alleviating the Iraqi security forces of one of their most difficult missions of just finding ISIS. Now they can actually concentrate force, and if executed correctly, degrade sizable chunks of combat power in detail.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops and their allies at the end of 2011 and the outbreak of the Syrian civil war next door has given ISIS the ability to rebound into a capable regional actor, but at the same time their aggressiveness has them overcommitted, outgunned and alienated on multiple fronts. Other rebel groups in Syria have started serious infighting with ISIS recently after they became disillusioned with their actions and have attacked several units despite the advantage this gives to the Assad regime.
This leaves the recent Fallujah and Ramadi seizures likely to be temporary at best. The only serious complicating factor for the Iraqi security forces is moderating their use of force so as not to antagonize the Sunni tribes further. While these tribes might covertly support ISIS or turn a blind eye to their actions against the Maliki government, they do not want to be drawn into an open civil war. Many of the tribes in Anbar have already come out in support of the government forces, with just a few throwing their lot in with ISIS.
ISIS’s ultimate goal is to destabilize Iraq to the point where they can accomplish their ultimate aim of a regional Islamic Emirate. They can only accomplish this if they can unite a sizable portion of the Sunni population into a sectarian civil war through their own actions or by provoking the Shiite government into actions that accomplish the same. Without this, they will come up short.

Iraq: U.S. Judge Says Oil Tanker Dispute Should Be Resolved In Iraq

July 30, 2014 | 0916 GMT
A U.S. judge on July 29 said she lacks jurisdiction to make a judgment on a dispute over a tanker carrying Iraqi Kurdish crude oil and sitting 100 kilometers (60 miles) off Texas shores, Reuters reported July 30. The judge said she cannot enforce an order for U.S. Marshals to seize the cargo, adding that the dispute should be resolved in Iraq.


Iraqi Kurdistan Attempts to Bypass Baghdad, by Way of Texas

July 28, 2014 | 2231 GMT
The commotion surrounding Iraqi Kurdistan’s ongoing feud with Iraq’s central government spread to the Texas Gulf Coast over the weekend. The U.S. Coast Guard, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security and National Security Council were sent scrambling when a tanker tried to offload 100,000 barrels of Kurdish crude.
The sale of the United Kalavryta’s cargo would mark the second time (the first was sold to an Israeli buyer) that Iraq’s Kurdish leadership has sold crude oil in complete defiance of Baghdad. The Iraqi central government maintains that all Iraqi crude must be sold and distributed by federal authorities in order to maintain the territorial integrity of the country. Baghdad’s position is endorsed by the United States and Iran but challenged by Turkey, which has backed the Kurdistan Regional Government’s transactions so far and is reportedly loading a fifth tanker at the port of Ceyhan at the time of writing. Meanwhile, another tanker, the United Emblem, appears to be heading toward the Philippines, and the United Leadership remains in limbo off the Moroccan coast. All of the tankers carrying Kurdish crude are so far owned by the same Greek shipping company, Marine Management Services.
What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman Explains.
While the Kurdistan Regional Government is desperate for a buyer, it is little coincidence that United Kalavryta ended up off the U.S. Gulf Coast. The coast is the power base for U.S. energy firms, several of which are invested in Iraqi Kurdistan and desperate to see that investment pay off. Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani and his Turkish backers are trying to force the U.S. government to adopt a mindset similar to many of the firms operating in Iraqi Kurdistan: Iraq is broken, Iraqi Kurdistan is effectively independent and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the central government he represents are finished. That the United States did not seize the tanker — instead, an unnamed U.S. State Department official very curtly described the entry of the controversial tanker into U.S. waters as a “private commercial matter” — will be taken up by Iraqi Kurdish leaders as proof of their ability to sway Washington on this issue.
Yet the reality is much more complicated than the version proffered by the Kurds. While the United States and Iran are still disputing details of the nuclear negotiations and are on opposite sides of noisy conflicts such as Gaza, the two do agree on much when it comes to Iraq. In fact, the recent election of Fouad Massoum as Iraq’s new president was very much welcomed by Washington and Tehran, both of which are trying to uphold a central authority in Iraq and see Massoum as the man to do the job. Massoum is a long-standing member of Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a party on uneasy terms with Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party and opposed to an aggressive Kurdish push for independence that could bring more trouble than it is worth to the region.
The same weekend that Barzani and his team worked furiously to ensure the transit of the United Kalavryta to Galveston in defiance of al-Maliki, the ailing Talabani received al-Maliki in his hometown of Sulaimaniyah. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan member Leyla Barzanji even went so far as to say that al-Maliki’s ruling State of Law coalition achieved the most votes and therefore has the right to elect Iraq’s next prime minister. She added that her party would defend whomever the coalition selected, even al-Maliki. This position is in stark contrast to that of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, which refused to deal with al-Maliki on any basis.
As Stratfor has stressed throughout the dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraqi Kurdistan not only faces enormous external challenges in its bid for independence, but it must also deal with its own demons. The split between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party was bound to resurface, and that gap appears to be widening, particularly after the peshmerga took over the Kirkuk oil fields.
The sale of a tanker here and there will not advance Kurdish independence. Turkey must still weigh the controversy of releasing any funds from those sales to the Kurdistan Regional Government. Without an understanding between Arbil and Baghdad, Iran appears prepared to inflict substantial economic pain on Iraqi Kurdistan by closing its border should Arbil continue to bypass the central government. A Kurdish negotiation with Baghdad over energy is inevitable. But as economic and political pressures rise in Iraqi Kurdistan, the unavoidable rifts in the Kurdish landscape will only widen, making it more difficult for Iraqi Kurdistan to speak with one voice when that negotiation finally takes place.


Iraq: Kurdish Options Limited in Northern Oil Fields

July 11, 2014 | 1654

Kurdish Options Limited In Northern Oil Fields
A North Oil Company natural gas field near an Islamic State checkpoint southwest of Kirkuk, Iraq. (MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images)


Early July 11, the Kurdistan Regional Government deployed its peshmerga forces to take control of Iraq’s state-owned North Oil Company operations in the Kirkuk and Bai Hassan oil fields, which are located in disputed territory. These fields will theoretically add about 500,000 barrels per day to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s production capacity. Their ability to bring it to market, however, will be greatly limited by their current infrastructure and technical capacity, not to mention the security challenges that lie ahead.


The peshmerga first exploited the security vacuum in northern Iraq in mid-June by deploying troops to the city of Kirkuk and around major oil fields in the region, including Bai Hassan and Kirkuk. Until this recent move, however, Iraqi federal officials and workers from the North Oil Company had been allowed to remain. There are three major oil formations in Kirkuk: the Avana, Baba and Khurmala domes. The Kurdistan Regional Government has controlled the Khurmala dome since 2008, while North Oil Company maintained control over Avana and Baba along with the separate Bai Hassan field. On July 11, the Kurdish authorities reportedly told Baghdad’s workers to either leave or work for the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The key question now is whether peshmerga troops will be able to hold this position securely enough to continue production and connect the fields to their pipelines running through Kurdish territory. This would give them effective control of northern Iraq’s largest oil fields.

For now the peshmerga is able to take advantage of Baghdad’s distraction as it tries to contain Islamic State and other Sunni militants. However, this situation will not last forever and the Kurdistan Regional Government faces an inevitable confrontation with Baghdad over Kirkuk once Baghdad regains enough military bandwidth. The Kurdistan Regional Government knows it will be some time before Baghdad can regain enough military focus to challenge the Kurdish forces. In order to take advantage of the lag Arbil is trying to create a new political reality while it can.


The Kurds have a strong infantry force, but are unnerved by the growing strength of Baghdad’s air power thanks to Russian military transfers. Additionally, Iraqi forces have the advantage in the deployment of mechanized and armor units. With the assistance of outside players such as Iran, Baghdad can also mobilize a number of unconventional militant forces in the disputed territories. The Kurds will also face local resistance from Sunni Arab and ethnic Turkmen groups reluctant to allow the region’s resources to come under Kurdish control.

The Kurdistan Regional Government will also face technical and political impediments to producing oil from the Kirkuk and Bai Hassan fields and in transporting it by pipeline to Turkey. Before the eruption of the Islamic State crisis, Arbil and Baghdad had been negotiating an oil revenue distribution deal. The two sides were considering a plan to connect Baghdad’s fields in Kirkuk to the Kurdish pipeline for export. The idea was for both Baghdad and Arbil to establish a more secure route for Kirkuk oil through Kurdish territory. This would be an alternative to Baghdad’s Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, which runs through Sunni-majority and disputed territory and has been taken offline frequently by attacks.


There was also potential for Baghdad and Arbil to use this compromise as a basis for a broader settlement of the long-running dispute over the legality of northern oil exports. The proposal called for KAR Group to build a 100-kilometer pipeline connecting the Kurdish-controlled Khurmala dome to the K-1 pumping station near the Baba dome. KAR Group is a company based in Kurdish territory that built the newer pipeline that runs exclusively within Kurdistan Regional Government territory to Turkey. Ownership of the pipeline would be divided between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the North Oil Company, with the Kurds owning the pipeline section between the Khurmala and Avana domes and North Oil Company owning the section from the Avana dome to the K-1 pumping station.


This cooperation plan is now clearly off the table. The Kurdistan Regional Government, however, will likely deploy KAR Group to build the pipeline with Kirkuk under peshmerga control. Timing will be essential as the Kurdish authorities try to take advantage of Baghdad’s multiple distractions. KAR Group has the capacity to complete the basic construction of the pipeline, but connecting the infrastructure nodes to production from these fields is far more complicated and subject to delays. Previously Baghdad had contracted BP to provide technical assistance to the North Oil Company in arresting the decline of the Kirkuk oil field, now producing 220,000 barrels per day. The Kurdistan Regional Government contested the deal, arguing that it needed to be included in any contract concerning Kirkuk oil.


The next question is whether the Kurdistan Regional Government will be able to recruit an energy firm capable of maintaining production at the challenging Avana and Baba domes. It will be critical that this be done relatively quickly, in order to prevent the inevitable security challenges in and around Kirkuk from deterring foreign investors. The Kurdish pipeline has its own technical issues to work out and is pumping only around 100,000 barrels per day although it has a claimed technical capacity of 400,000 barrels per day. Once oil arrives at the Turkish port of Ceyhan and is loaded onto tankers, the Kurdistan Regional Government then must secure a willing buyer. Of the four tankers that left Ceyhan since the Kurds started transporting oil there, one was sold anonymously through Israel and the remaining three are still in the Mediterranean as the government tries to convince the market that its moves are legal. As a sign of growing desperation, Arbil is now threatening legal action against buyers of oil who have restricted payments to the cash-strapped government.


The Kurdistan Regional Government is trying to seize a unique moment of opportunity but there is a lot more work to be done before it can secure and hold this disputed territory to produce and export oil from Kirkuk. For the Kurds to have any hope of success in this endeavor, they need a strong foreign backer. The Kurdistan Regional Government and Turkey are strategically aligned for now, and Turkey has its eye on the Kirkuk field. However, if Turkey expanded its small military presence in Kurdish territory and extended military protection to Kirkuk it would fundamentally reshape the power politics of the region and invite a strong response from Baghdad, Tehran and Washington, not to mention the resistance Turkey would face from the Kurds themselves at home and in northern Iraq.

Read more: Iraq: Kurdish Options Limited in Northern Oil Fields | Stratfor


Iraqi Kurdistan’s Financial Trap

July 21, 2014 | 0509

Iraqi Kurdistan's Financial Trap

Iraqi Kurdish protesters wave flags during a demonstration outside the Kurdistan Regional Government parliament building in Arbil, northern Iraq, July 3.


The Kurdistan Regional Government’s recent stream of announcements make it appear that Iraqi Kurdistan, now endowed with the prize of Kirkuk oil, is on the verge of political and economic independence. But behind the Kurdish hubris is a government in an increasingly desperate financial situation, with only its old adversary Turkey to rely on for its survival. This situation will create deeper divisions among Iraq’s Kurdish factions, providing neighboring Iran with an opportunity to counter Turkey’s moves in Iraqi Kurdistan.


Now that the Kurds have established control over the Kirkuk oil fields, the Kurdistan Regional Government is working rapidly to connect the fields to its own energy infrastructure. Multiple sources have confirmed that the Avana Dome has been connected to the Kurdish-controlled Khurmala Dome. The next step will be to connect the Baba Dome and nearby Bai Hassan field to the Avana Dome, which altogether would add (in theory) some 415,000 barrels to Kurdish production capacity, though these fields currently produce around 160,000 barrels per day of sour light crude. Kirkuk crude can be blended with light Taq Taq crude to channel more oil for export, but that would irritate potential buyers, who are looking for consistency in output and would be reluctant to buy crude from a disputed territory. More likely, Kirkuk crude will be diverted to local refineries for domestic Kurdish consumption.

Still, the Kurdish acquisition of Kirkuk does little at the moment to alleviate the Kurdistan Regional Government’s deepening financial crisis. For the past six months, it has gone without a roughly $1.2 billion monthly budget allocation from Baghdad, since the Iraqi government sought to punish Kurdish attempts to attain energy and political independence. That is about the same amount the Kurdistan Regional Government spends monthly for public sector employee salaries, operational expenses and investment projects. Critically, 60 percent of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s monthly expenditures go toward the salaries of a bloated 700,000-strong bureaucracy, including 200,000 peshmerga soldiers.

The government has had to delay paying some public sector employees, especially teachers. With security threats rising, paying peshmerga forces seems to be a priority, even if those salaries are not paid in time. After its financial obligations to its employees, the Kurdistan Regional Government also has to answer to more than 50 international oil companies and contractors operating in Iraqi Kurdistan that also face repeated delays in payments. The government tried to extract fees from these firms to alleviate its current financial problems, demanding immediate payments for the services of its oil protection units. But the patience of international oil companies wears thin with such demands the longer they go without pay. The Kurdistan Regional Government’s total debts to international oil companies and contractors are estimated to be roughly $5 billion and counting.

Without reserves to draw from, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Arbil has had to borrow from a limited menu of lenders. Several of Iraqi Kurdistan’s business tycoons, including the heads of KAR Group and Asiacell, have been called on to issue loans and maintain liquidity in public banks. Most foreign banks are reluctant to lend to the Kurdistan Regional Government, but Arbil appears to have secured around $1 billion total in regional loans from Turkey’s Asya Bank and VakifBank, in addition to funds from Lebanese banks IBL, Byblos and BBAC. After securing a $2 billion to $3 billion loan from Turkey in March, the Kurdistan Regional Government has requested additional loans from Ankara, but the terms and exact amount remain unclear.


Overcoming Obstacles
With a growing deficit of more than $6 billion and no resolution with Baghdad in sight, the Kurdistan Regional Government is desperate to generate enough revenue on its own from oil sales to cover basic expenses. But that is easier said than done. The Kurdish government has already been trying to convince the market that any oil exported out of Iraqi Kurdistan constitutes a legal sale, even as Baghdad has threatened to fine and sue any company that bypasses the central government in such commercial transactions. The legality of Kurdish crude exports has only been compounded by the Kurds’ seizure of fields in disputed territory.


Arbil has assumed that all it has to do is establish precedence in selling its oil to drown out Baghdad’s threat. Unfortunately, only one of four tankers — carrying roughly 100,000 barrels of Kurdish crude — has been sold so far to a buyer out of Israel, while traders such as Glencore, Vitol and Trafigura have kept their distance. Turkey meanwhile announced July 18 that it is halting the flow of Kurdish oil through its pipeline to the port of Ceyhan because its storage tanks are already full with unsold Kurdish crude.


Kurdish officials have lobbied firms throughout Europe in the hope of selling the remaining oil, but the Kurdistan Regional Government would then face the challenge of securing the funds from those sales. Fearing that firms would buy the oil but deposit the funds with Baghdad to avoid a legal morass, the Kurdistan Regional Government has put out messages threatening legal action against its own potential buyers since Baghdad will withhold those funds and deny the Kurdistan Regional Government its revenue. The key to Arbil’s funds lies in Turkey’s hands. Some $93 million from the first Kurdistan Regional Government crude sale by tanker is sitting in a Turkish Halkbank account. Arbil recently sent a delegation to try to secure those funds, but Ankara can be expected to proceed cautiously in releasing these funds as it tries to avoid incurring further wrath from Baghdad and Washington.

Turkey understands the enormous financial leverage it holds over the Kurdistan Regional Government as Arbil struggles to make its monthly payments. Turkey will selectively — and stringently — provide enough aid to allow Arbil to scrape by but will also demand that Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party lay off their calls for independence. A nearly bankrupt Kurdistan Regional Government will have no choice but to heed these demands, but it is also not comfortable with its deep dependence on Turkey.

This sentiment appears to be growing within Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Factions of the party have already vocalized their unease with the policies of Barzani’s party that have led Iraqi Kurdistan into a tight dependence with Turkey and an increasingly hostile relationship with Baghdad, Washington and Tehran. This intra-Kurdish tension grew deeper following the Kurdish Democratic Party’s ousting of National Oil Co. officials from the Kirkuk fields. The Kurdish Democratic Party made it a point to use its own peshmerga forces and oil protection units to take control of Kirkuk’s oil fields, largely edging the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan out. Also, local Arab and Turkomen resistance to Kurdish control over Kirkuk province is rising and will further complicate the regional government’s hold over Kirkuk in the long term.

Informal networks and Turkish aid will enable the Kurdistan Regional Government to avoid financial collapse, but growing economic tensions will only exacerbate frictions among Iraq’s Kurdish factions as the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan sees its own interests compromised by Kurdistan Democratic Party policy. The longer Arbil holds out on a deal with Baghdad, the more financially dependent the Kurdistan Regional Government will be on Turkey and the more difficulty Kurdish parties will have in maintaining their patronage networks while under financial duress.

This provides Iran with an opportunity to further its already strong ties with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Gorran to counterbalance Turkey’s sponsorship of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party. Iran has already threatened to close its border with Iraqi Kurdistan to trade should Barzani proceed with his calls for independence, a move that would have significant economic repercussions for the regional government as a whole, but the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in particular. Through a carrot-and-stick approach, Iran will try to sow divisions among Kurdish parties, potentially offering financial and military assistance to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan while using its influence among the Iraqi Shia to grant political concessions and positions to cooperative Kurds in forming a new government. This may well be the subject of conversation when a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan delegation visits Iran in the coming days.
Read more: Iraqi Kurdistan’s Financial Trap | Stratfor


Iraq’s Prime Minister May Be Replaced

July 23, 2014 | 0412

Iraq's Prime Minister May Be Replaced
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki votes in parliamentary elections in April 2014. (ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)


Nouri al-Maliki, the only prime minister Baghdad has known since the United States invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein, may soon lose his job as his country struggles to form a government. Like al-Maliki, Iraq’s next head of state will almost certainly be beholden to Tehran, even as he manages an insurgency that threatens to tear the country apart.


Al-Maliki owes his tenure largely to his ability to placate U.S. and Iranian interests. For eight years he was able to keep his Shiite coalition intact, but his tactics alienated Iraq’s once-dominant Sunnis and the Kurds, who were once allied with the Shia. In some ways, his exclusion of the country’s minority populations explains why the country is fraying.

Government Formation

There are several factors in Iraq’s struggle to form a government. The Kurds have sought more autonomy by assuming control over oil-rich areas. More important, the ongoing Sunni rebellion, led by the Islamic State, has overrun large swaths of Syria and central Iraq, and rebels have captured parts of Mosul and Tikrit.

It is under these circumstances that Iran is trying to forge a new power-sharing agreement among al-Maliki’s erstwhile allies. While replacing the prime minister with someone likewise friendly to Iran will be difficult, it appears Tehran has narrowed down its choices to four candidates: Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, National Alliance chair Ibrahim al-Jaafari, al-Maliki’s former chief of staff and close adviser Tariq Najm, and Ahmed Chalabi, the onetime darling of the George W. Bush administration.

The international community has clamored for al-Maliki’s departure ever since the Islamic State began its campaign of violence, which is brutal even by Iraq’s standards. But the momentum really turned on the prime minister July 21, when Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said his country did not support al-Maliki. Specifically, Zarif said in a CNN interview that Tehran would support whomever the Iraqi people elected. Zarif’s statement comes after Iranian national security chief Ali Shamkhani traveled to Iraq to meet with al-Maliki, Iraq’s top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and several other Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders.

Iraqi Parliamentary Elections Results

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The problem for Iran is that al-Maliki, his party (Hizb al-Dawah) and the State of Law coalition constitute Iraq’s political establishment, which Tehran has no interest in dislodging. Baghdad’s ruling coalition is based on a delicate balance of power within the Shiite community and, more broadly, Iraq’s three main population groups. In fact, the outcome of the April 30 elections, which gave the State of Law coalition a majority in parliament, validated Iran’s strategy. And even though there were rising calls for al-Maliki’s ouster, Iran was unprepared to replace him because it was dealing with an even bigger crisis: Syria.

But the Islamic State offensive has forced Iran to reconsider its strategy. Not only has the jihadist assault emboldened Kurdish separatists, it has also forced Iran to work with its Shiite allies to elect Salim al-Jubouri, a prominent Sunni politician, as parliamentary speaker. (Tehran needs as many Sunni partners as possible so that it can help manage the Islamic State-led uprising.) By Aug. 15, Iraqis should also select the president and his vice president, though internal rivalries among the Kurds, who typically occupy the presidency, could delay this process.

Iran’s Endorsement

But these posts are not nearly as important as the premiership, a fact that Iraq’s minorities understand well. In this context, determining the next prime minister is no longer a purely internal matter among the Shia; they will have to consider the Kurds and the Sunnis. Already there have been signs of discord between rival Shiite parties. A member of Hizb al-Dawah, Heidar al-Abadi, recently was elected as one of the country’s two deputy parliamentary speakers (one post always goes to a Shi’i). The move may be part of a compromise whereby al-Maliki surrenders the premiership. Bayan Jabr Solagh, a former interior and finance minister and a senior leader of the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, went so far as to say that since al-Maliki’s party got the deputy speaker post, it should not be given the premiership.

Potential Iraqi Prime Ministers

Click to Enlarge

Meanwhile, Chalabi reappeared to submit his own candidacy for the deputy speaker’s position. Interestingly, Chalabi took 107 votes — 42 fewer than al-Abadi — which was enough to force a run-off. After Chalabi agreed to withdraw his candidacy, al-Abadi won the second round with 188 votes. Chalabi’s move showed that he may not have enough votes to win the premiership, but he does have the numbers to block al-Maliki from retaining his post.

Chalabi’s maneuvering has fueled speculation that he is staging his political comeback. Already he has the support of the two main rivals of al-Maliki’s party, the movement of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which enabled him to be elected as a lawmaker. Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq chief Ammar al-Hakim has even said Chalabi is one of his top candidates for prime minister. Chalabi has considerable support from the Kurds, and with his secular credentials, he also has influence among the Sunnis.

However, there are some obstacles to Chalabi’s election. Al-Maliki’s bloc has 92 seats while Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadrists combined have 63. Legally, the largest parliamentary bloc is entitled to the premiership. This is why other Shiite stalwarts such as Abdul-Mahdi and Solagh, who are Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq members, are not strong contenders for the job. If al-Maliki is replaced, the premiership is still likely to stay with Hizb al-Dawah. That leaves Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs Hussain al-Shahristani, an independent politician in the State of Law, on the outside — unlikely to succeed al-Maliki despite being one of his top lieutenants.

There are several members in Hizb al-Dawah that are suitable for the premiership. These include national security adviser Falah al-Fayadh, al-Maliki’s closest adviser, Najm, and Ali al-Adeeb, who is seen as the second-in-command in the party. Ultimately, the premiership will be determined according to an internal power-sharing agreement that all the main stakeholders endorse.

In geopolitics, personalities matter more in the short term than in the long term. This is particularly true in Iraq, where a functional three-way power-sharing arrangement has yet to take hold. According to a July 22 report by the Kurdish news website Khandan, Shamkhani told the leaders of the National Alliance that Tehran approved of the list of four candidates. All these candidates are close to Iran, and though the Sunni insurrection has weakened Iraq, the state remains firmly under Iranian influence, even if al-Maliki’s successor is untested.
Read more: Iraq’s Prime Minister May Be Replaced | Stratfor
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Iraq: Prime Minister Plans To Visit Kurdistan

July 23, 2014 | 0945 GMT
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki plans to visit the country’s autonomous Kurdistan region in the coming days, with specific plans to visit Sulaymaniyah, Shafaq News reported, citing a political source. Al-Maliki, whose political future is shaky, plans to meet with Kurdish President Jalal Talabani.


Iraq: Parliament Elects New President

July 24, 2014 | 1204 GMT
The Iraqi parliament elected Fuad Masum, a Kurdish leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, as the president of the republic, state-run Al-Iraqiyah TV reported July 24. Masum won the second round of voting as part of a power-sharing agreement between various political parties in Iraq, where the president would be a Kurd, the prime minister a Shiite and speaker of parliament a Sunni. The vote comes as the Iraqi government continues to replace key positions after the Islamic State began an insurgency to split the country apart in late June.


Iraq: Iranian Delegation To Ease Kurdish Tension

July 16, 2014 | 1445 GMT
A delegation from Tehran arrived in Arbil, Iraq on July 16 to ease tension between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi government, Andalou Agency reported. The two governments have been at odds over the region’s autonomy, especially the right to export Kurdish oil.

Brazil: BRICS Countries Reach Agreement Over Development Bank

July 15, 2014 | 1908 GMT
An agreement between BRICS countries over leadership and location of the development bank was made July 15, Estadao reported. India will hold the first presidency of the bank while China will host the bank’s headquarters. The first regional office will be in South Africa, Brazil will head the presidency of the bank’s board of directors and Russia will preside over the council of central bank governors. The bank’s presidency is due to rotate every 5 years and will have an initial capital of $50 billion, with another $100 billion contingent reserve arrangement created to help deal with the international market volatility.


Iraq: Kurds Struggle To Consolidate Oil Field Gains

July 14, 2014 | 2228 GMT
Once again, internal Kurdish rivalries, spurred by the influence of regional competitors, threaten to undermine Iraqi Kurdistan’s aspirations of greater autonomy. On July 11, security forces loyal to Kurdish President Massoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party seized the Kirkuk and Bai Hassan oil fields in Iraq, but those units may have done so without permission. Indeed, leaders from a rival party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, claim that the Kurdistan Regional Government was not consulted. Kirkuk Gov. Najmadin Karim, an ethnic Kurd aligned with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, even alleged that the occupation bypassed authority in Baghdad, violating federal standards on operations within Iraq’s disputed territories.

Barzani’s newfound control over the oil fields directly challenges the interests of his historical Kurdish rivals in eastern Iraq. Kirkuk province has long been directly influenced by outgoing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which has expanded its political and security presence throughout Kirkuk for years.

Leaders in Arbil continue to promote the formal integration of disputed regions into Iraqi Kurdistan. Aside from autonomous crude oil export options, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan increasingly finds itself at odds with Barzani’s party, which Turkey supports. Arbil continues to flirt with the prospect of Kurdish independence, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s influence in oil-rich Kirkuk province gives the party key leverage over Barzani. The deployment of unauthorized oil protection units may have been an attempt by Barzani to prevent future challenges from his newly emboldened rivals.

For the moment, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leaders seem hesitant to escalate the dispute. Both parties have larger issues to manage in the short term, such as confronting Sunni Arab militancy on their southern borders and making sure that another Kurd succeeds Talabani in Baghdad. The short-term value in consolidating a unified Kurdish front is to draw important energy and budgetary concessions from the Iraqi government.

The question of who controls Kirkuk’s hydrocarbon infrastructure may be the most incendiary factor that threatens to reignite the historical dispute between Iraqi Kurdistan’s political factions. Baghdad and its Shiite allies in Tehran want to limit Kurdish autonomy and expansionism. Internal Kurdish disputes give them an opportunity to divide the ruling elite in Arbil. Given the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s history of close ties with Tehran (and Baghdad to a lesser extent), these two Shiite powers will likely attempt to manipulate growing Kurdish divisions and challenge Barzani’s ambitions.