• Budget Politics and Baghdad-Kurdish Relations

    One of the main disputes behind tensions between the Iraqi federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) includes disagreement over budget allocation. This month, the Iraqi government approved the proposed budget for 2018 and sent it to the parliament for debate in the coming weeks. The draft budget, strongly criticized by the KRG, is the latest episode in the contention between Baghdad’s vision of a strong center and KRG’s preference of strong regions. It also highlights a fundamental problem: the actual meaning of Iraqi federalism, which still lacks a clear institutional framework.

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  • Alfoneh Quoted in Reuters on Iraqi and Iranian Infrastructure Network

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  • Abadi’s Balancing Act Between the US and Iran

    Not many heads of governments in the Middle East can move swiftly between Riyadh, Cairo, Amman, Ankara, and Tehran, and receive a warm welcome in all those capitals. Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, followed this itinerary in the last few days, trying to create the image of a competent leader who victoriously took Iraq out of an existential fight with the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) and saved its unity from what is perceived in Baghdad as “Kurdish secessionism”. Iraqi senior officials always advocated the idea that a strong Iraq could be a bridge in this highly divided and polarized region, a message Abadi emphasized when he demanded the United States and Iran spare his country the ramifications of their conflict.

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  • Stein Quoted in Al Jazeera on The Kurdish Collapse in Kirkuk

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  • Intra-Kurdish Division and Abadi’s Options

    In the wake of the September 25 referendum in Kurdistan, the Iraqi government announced on October 15 that it began a military deployment to reestablish authority in Kirkuk in coordination with the Peshmerga. It soon became clear that the Peshmerga mentioned belonged to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)—specifically, the Talabani family wing—which views aggressive moves toward independence with far more skepticism than its political rivals in the Kurdistan Regional Government dominated by Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The PUK drew the ire of fellow Kurds who viewed the deal as facilitating the federal forces’ reclamation of the territory. To complicate matters further, some reports indicated that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) Quds Force leader Qassim Suleimani appears to have played a role in convincing the Talabani family to broker the deal in the absence of any other international or regional mediator. These events highlight the depth of intra-Kurdish divisions at a time of rapidly rising tensions.

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  • Raqqa Falls. Now Comes the Hard Part

    As the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is driven from its strongholds in Syria, US-backed forces face the challenge of stabilizing these conflict-ravaged territories.

    This task is made more urgent by the fact that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Iran-backed militias are swooping in on eastern Syria in an attempt to capitalize on ISIS’ defeat, said Frederic C. Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

    “If they succeed, the basis for ISIS 2.0 will be set,” said Hof, adding: “After all, it was the Iranian (and Russian)-supported brutality of the Assad regime that created the governance vacuum filled by ISIS in the first place.”

    The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on October 16 that they had seized control of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS’ “caliphate.” A US-backed civilian council, which has been based in Ayn Issa, north of Raqqa, will now seek to stabilize Raqqa.

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  • Post Referendum Hangovers: The Local Aspects

    As Tip O’Neill coined it, “all politics is local.” Accordingly, the local dimension of the Kurdistan referendum is a core aspect, but underplayed as the news focuses on regional and international repercussions. The internal political moves that led up to the referendum and the referendum’s results will define KRG politics in the near future, but they are less clear to those outside of the Kurdistan region due to their complexity and language barriers.

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  • Iraqi Operation Will Deepen Rift Among Kurds

    Iraqi government forces on October 16 seized vital oil fields and the city of Kirkuk from Kurdish forces.

    The military action, which pits two US allies against each other, followed a September 25 referendum in which the Kurds voted for an independent state. The Iraqi government had declared the vote unconstitutional. Kirkuk, which is not part of Iraqi Kurdistan but was under Kurdish control at the time, took part in the referendum. (Kurdish forces had controlled Kirkuk since 2014 when Iraqi forces fled as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants advanced on the city.)

    Explaining the security offensive, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said in a statement on October 16 that he acted “in accordance with the constitution to serve the citizens and protect the unity of the country, which was in danger of partition due to the insistence on holding the referendum.”

    Harith Hasan Al Qarawee, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, discussed the significance of the developments in an e-mail interview with the New Atlanticist’s Ashish Kumar Sen. Here are excerpts from that interview.

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  • The Kurdish Crisis: Baghdad, Erbil, and Institutional Reform in Iraq

    On October 10, 2017, the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East held a panel discussion on the recent Kurdish referendum and the state of Iraqi-Kurdish relations. Ambassador Frederic C. Hof, the director of the Hariri center, moderated the event. Ambassador Stuart Jones, Dr. Harith Hasan Al-Qarawee, and Dr. Denise Natali contributed to the discussion as panelists. Ambassador Jones is currently the vice president of The Cohen Group and has extensive experience with Iraqi affairs from his former career at the US Department of States. Dr. Al-Qarawee, a nonresident senior fellow at the Hariri Center, previously a lecturer at Baghdad University and was a member of the Atlantic Council’s Task Force on the Future of Iraq chaired by Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Dr. Natali is the director of the Center for Strategic Research at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) and is an expert on the Kurdish regions of Iraq.

    During the discussion, each of the panel participants highlighted different issues regarding the Kurdish crisis. Dr. Al-Qarawee began by examining the various motivating factors behind the Kurdish push for independence. He pointed out the ineffective, oil-dependent Iraqi government institutions, the prevalence of de facto politics over constitutional politics, and the continual failure of the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to agree on borders and oil resources. Furthermore, Dr. Qarawee discussed how Sunni Muslims share some of the grievances of the Kurds and noted that the Kurdish situation serves as both a challenge and opportunity for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

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  • A Difficult Life in Mosul Post-ISIS

    When the extremist group known as the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) was expelled from the northern city of Mosul, locals there were happy. But now, not so much, says Qassim Badran, a former employee of the local power department. The government stopped paying his salary back in 2014 when the Islamic State, or IS, group, took over the city. Even though the federal government said they would start paying civil servants again—and there are many of these because the Iraqi government is the country’s major employer—no money has arrived for Badran and he’s been busy setting up a small store in his garden, so he can actually make some kind of living.

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