Iraq para military in Anbar hit by unidentified aircraft

There are stories of another “anonymous” strike in Iraq in Anbar province on “Iran backed” militia – In other words one of Iraq’s para military units. This follows a recent alleged similar attack (though as yet unconfirmed) near the Iraq border in Eastern Syria – allegedly by Saudi warplanes. Meanwhile speculation continues that the missile strikes on Saudi originated in Iraq. See NCF Secretary General’s comment on Hala London Radio:
Also see this from a senior NCF member in Iraq who comments on the missile strikes on Saudi:
The NYT, WaPo, and WSJ, among others, with all their investigative talents and skills, and with all their credible contacts in the US Government, have yet to confirm the launch sites.  This is, indeed, most amazing. This strongly suggests they may very well know, but for some reason(s) they choose not to publish it. At the same time, none of the powers that be, nor the credible main stream media, as far as I’ve seen, are pointing fingers toward Iran as the launch site.
The public view seems to be swinging back toward Iraq, despite Zarif’s clear denial. Only Middle East Eye (MEE) has reported, as I’ve seen so far, the launch site(s) as being from Iraq. <https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/exclusive-iranian-drones-launched-iraq-carried-out-attacks-saudi-oil-plants>  It’s curiously interesting that NYT, WaPo, and WSJ, and others of the “free” press, apparently, have not picked up on this and taken it further.
The Haaretz article that is one of the sources of news of the latest attack is below. Please note however that Iraq’s PMU have denied as of today that this attack ever took place. They also denied that the attack by alleged Saudi warplanes last week took place:

Unidentified aircraft strikes base of Iran-backed militia in Iraq

An unidentified aircraft struck on Sunday a military base near an airfield west of Iraq’s Anbar province, Lebanese television network Al-Mayadeen quoted Iraqi sources as saying.

The sources added that the military base serves an Iranian-backed militia. No casualties were reported in the alleged strike.

On Wednesday evening, drones attacked a company of Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces fighters in Syria near the border with Iraq, Iraqi sources as saying.

Sky News in Arabic cited an Iraqi security source as saying that five people were killed in the attack, and nine more were wounded.

The attack targeted militias that were operating near the Syrian city of Al Bukamal, the source said.

Following the attack, the troops dispersed to avoid further assaults on them, the source added; they also moved ammunition to hidden places to make it more difficult to strike them from the air.

This is the third time in two weeks that sites run by Shi’ite militias are attacked in this area. Last Monday, there were reports in Iraq of a strike on weapon storage facilities run by militias affiliated with Iran. Iraq’s Afaq TV attributed the attack to Israel, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 10 Iran-backed fighters died.

Recently, Israel has been accused of carrying out a series of strikes in Iraq — some of them in the country’s west, near the Syrian border. The strikes targeted Iran-backed, Shi’ite militias and its convoys that were smuggling weapons into the area. While Israel did not confirm it carried out the strikes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted on several occasions that he Israel will not hesitate to extend the borders of the fight against Iran.

 

 

So who was it?

The word is quietly awash with conspiracy theories.

But what is the truth? Hard to know but this is a series of Hala London Radio broadcasts from NCF Secretary General William Morris on some of the issues. The conclusions reached do not represent the view of the Next Century Foundation or its trustees. If you do not wish to listen to the background the third in the series stands alone adequately and covers the main points:

On Kuwait

https://www.buzzsprout.com/529801/1735933-untitled-episode

 

Background

https://www.buzzsprout.com/529801/1736191-untitled-episode

 

So who did it?

https://www.buzzsprout.com/529801/1736134-untitled-episode

On minorities in Iraq – and what we should do

This first broadcast in a series of three on minorities in Iraq was prepared as a radio broadcast for the Hala London radio station. It is on the Yezidis. William Morris talks on Hala London radio with Mizgîn Êzîdî on Yezidi religious beliefs – click on this link:

Yezidi Religion

This second is a video in the series and is on Christians in Iraq:

Finally this third broadcast is on the Western response:

A Statement from the new Premier of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Masrour Barzani, the new prime minister of the Kurdistan region of Iraq (pictured left above with the Baghdad government’s premier Adel Abdul Mahdi), has just sent us the following statement which was carried as an opinion article in the Washington Post:

After 16 years of upheaval in Iraq and five brutal years of war with the Islamic State terrorist group, a foe that imperiled all of humanity, we are embarking on a new journey toward building a stronger Kurdistan. The next four years will be a defining time for us, our neighbors and our allies in which we, the Kurdistan Regional Government, look past our recent traumas, consolidate our place in the region and secure a presence on the international stage. In short, we want to make a new start.
 
Last week, I formed a government to lead the Kurdistan region of Iraq. My mission is to change the way we do things, both at home and abroad. As prime minister, I will offer a different way of doing business that feeds off the challenges we’ve endured, builds on our achievements and responds to an evolving global dynamic.
 
The fight against the Islamic State, which we helped lead on behalf of the global community, has damaged us economically. The burden has become intolerable. The cost of war, federal budget cuts by the government in Baghdad and the mass movement of refugees to our lands has left us with billions of dollars in debt.
 
Throughout our hardships, we have remained a friend and ally of the West and a partner in the region. Since the Islamic State took over much of western Iraq and eastern Syria in mid-2014, we have shown that our fight against the terrorists was as much about protecting our allies as it was about safeguarding ourselves.
 
We have provided intelligence that has foiled terrorist attacks abroad and offered refuge to almost 2 million people fleeing persecution. We have clearly demonstrated our good faith as global citizens, sheltering Arabs, Kurds, Muslims, Yazidis, Christians, Turkmen and others. Ten kilometers from our parliament building is a thriving community of Christians, from all parts of the Middle East, who are building churches and worshiping in peace.
 
The cost of other refugees, however, is increasing and remains only partly funded. We cannot perform our role as hosts alone. We need to secure a future for the displaced and for ourselves, and we seek the help of our friends in the West in several ways.
 
Our challenges begin inside Iraqi Kurdistan, which has been our homeland throughout the ages. As prime minister, I will implement reforms that will adopt global best practices and bring accountability to all arms of our civil service and cabinet.
 
My government will create a diversified economy that delivers growing prosperity for all. We will enact legislation to make Kurdistan a welcoming and attractive location for investors. We will integrate and modernize our armed forces. And we will transform public services and tackle corruption to ensure that government serves the people, not the other way around. Engaging us politically and financially will be essential to this transformation, and I call on our friends to do so.
 
I will also take steps to reset the relationship between Irbil and Baghdad, which has remained fraught for the past 16 years. For most of that time we have essentially governed ourselves, though without breaking our tie with Iraq.
 
By agreement, we have received a quota of the Iraqi budget. But the allocations are rarely delivered in full. It is time for a more constructive and stable partnership with Baghdad. This week I made my first visit as prime minister to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, taking with me proposals to settle the disputes between us over oil, territory, budgets and the role of our armed forces. I want to ensure that our agreements are honored through a fair distribution of budget proceeds. A resolution would offer the bedrock for future cooperation. Our future is wedded to a secure and democratic Iraq.
 
In 2017, Iraqi Kurdistan held a referendum on independence. The ballot was nonbinding, but an overwhelming 93 percent of people voted in favor. While we would have welcomed greater support from the international community for our right to self-determination, our priority now is to create a strong, stable Kurdistan region anchored within the international community. We ask those whom we helped protect to acknowledge the constructive global role we have played by helping us build our economy.
 
Over many generations of conflict, every family in Iraqi Kurdistan has suffered a personal loss. We can no longer relinquish solidarity, or squander the sacrifices made by so many, through returning to the squabbling that plagued relationships between parties and neighbors.
 
We have many friends in the international community who wish us well, but it is time to do more. We reaffirm our role as honest brokers trusted by all. We do this through the prism of true friendship, having displayed our steadfast support for the interests of our allies, including the United States, and a commitment to democratic values. We need our friends to help us start again.

Nechirvan takes the Crown in the KRG

Here at the NCF we are thrilled at the election of our old friend HE Nechirvan Barzani to be the next President of the Kurdistan Region.

Under his leadership as Prime Minister, Kurdistan weathered extraordinarily difficult times: a war against ISIS, an enormous and complex humanitarian crisis, and an economic crisis brought on by a precipitous crash in oil prices and an unfortunately timed referendum on independence that also resulted in the loss of much of the disputed territories including Kirkuk. Despite long odds in the past five years, under his leadership Kurdistan survived and is setting the stage for a renewed period of peace and prosperity.

Prime Minister Barzani will be inaugurated as President on June 10 in Erbil. His first order of business will be to designate a Prime Minister to form a government. Already, there is much excitement about the prospects and priorities in the new government. The expected Premier is likely to be the outgoing President’s son, Masrour Barzani, the current Chancellor of the KRG.

This move forward would not have been possible but for an alliance between the old established Barzani party, the KDP, and the new reformist anti-corruption party, Goran. But it comes at a price. The party left out in the cold is the PUK, a party traditionally associated with East Kurdistan and the Talabani family. See the following from Iraq Oil Report:

Kurdistan begins government formation despite unresolved divisions

The KRG Parliament elected Nechirvan Barzani president, as the rival PUK party boycotted and questioned his “political legitimacy.”

By  of 
 
ERBIL – Nechirvan Barzani was elected president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region on Tuesday, despite the potentially destabilizing breakdown of a political deal between his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and its most powerful rival.
 
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which effectively rules the eastern half of the region, boycotted the Parliament session in which Barzani was elected, and accused the KDP of failing to honor an agreement that had been negotiated over more than half a year.
 
“The election of Kurdistan’s president without the vote of PUK MPs raises concerns about the decision-making process and political legitimacy,” the PUK politburo said in a Tuesday statement. “Whatever the consequences of these unrealistic politics, it will not be the responsibility of PUK; it will be the other side’s responsibility.”
 
Barzani, who is currently the prime minister, is expected to name his cousin, Masrur Barzani – currently the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) security chief, and son of former KRG President Massoud Barzani – to be the next prime minister, and task him with forming a government after the Eid holiday.
The KDP and PUK have faced a political quandary ever since the KDP won a lopsided victory in regional elections eight months ago. While the KDP had enough seats in Parliament to lead the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) without the PUK, both parties have viewed such a scenario as a threat to the region’s stability.
 
Despite the KRG’s aspirations toward democracy, the KDP and PUK exercise command over their own security forces and split de facto control over the western and eastern halves of Iraqi Kurdistan, respectively – a legacy of a decades-long rivalry between the parties, which fought a civil war in the 1990s. 
If the PUK were excluded from a new government in Erbil, leaders in both parties worry it would push the KRG back toward the days of “dual administration” over Kurdistan. That, in turn, would weaken the regional government, which has functioned as a vehicle for inter-party coordination on key issues related to the oil sector, the economy, and relations with Baghdad.
 
In an effort to forge some unity, the parties have been negotiating a deal that attempts to give the PUK enough political incentive to join a KDP-led government while also ensuring the KDP a level of political dominance reflecting its election victory. 
The parties recently appeared to reach an agreement under which the PUK would support Nechirvan and Masrur Barzani, and the KDP would help its rival regain the governorship of Kirkuk, a position now held by Rakan al-Jiburi, the first Arab governor of Kirkuk since 2003. 
But those negotiations have also been complicated by internal divisions within the PUK. 
It appeared the two sides had achieved a breakthrough, when one senior PUK leader, Kosrat Rasul, agreed on a short list of three prospective candidates for Kirkuk governor with Massoud Barzani, the former president, who still wields power as the head of the KDP. But other leaders within the PUK did not agree on the candidates, leading the party to insist the KDP essentially write a blank check to support any PUK nominee – a proposal the KDP has consistently rejected.
 
Following the apparent agreement between Rasul and Massoud Barzani, however, Parliament was already mobilized to elect Barzani; at the same time, the PUK was reverting back to its hard-line position. KDP members of the regional Parliament claimed they did not know the PUK was boycotting until just before the vote.
 
“The PUK informed us about its boycott just a few minutes before the session,” said Umed Khoshnaw, head of the KDP’s bloc in the Kurdistan Parliament, in a press conference Tuesday. “We are concerned about this issue. If we had wanted to elect the president of Kurdistan without PUK, we could have done it six months ago.”
 
PUK leaders say the KDP is responsible for the breakdown of their agreement.
 
“We boycotted the session because the KDP has not taken any practical step toward honoring our agreement,” said Shamol Sabir, a PUK member of the Kurdistan Parliament.
 
Nechirvan Barzani received 68 votes, including 45 from the KDP and 12 from Gorran, a party that was originally formed as an offshoot of the PUK and competes for votes in much of the same territory. The PUK’s 21 MPs, as well as eight MPs belonging to the New Generation party, did not attend the session.

Spring is Sprung in Iraqi Kurdistan

The NCF’s longstanding member and friend from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Stafford Clarry, sends these pictures of the mountains in Spring. He writes: It’s as green as it gets. Snow is still deep. Always welcoming. The best part of Kurdistan is out there, friendly and easily accessible. Why waste time indoors?

Spring in Kurdistan
All in a leisurely day’s drive up the Hamilton Road.

Iraq’s New Prime Minister Struggles to complete formation of his Cabinet

The Prime Minister of Iraq, Adel Abdul Mahdi was sworn in on 24 October. This came after months of political indecision and the largest protests Iraq has seen in a decade. To restate the current position: Adel Abdul Mahdi fills the position of Prime Minister, whilst Barham Salih holds the presidency and Mohamed al-Halbousi, the role of speaker. Since 2003, these positions have been held by a Shia, a Kurd and a Sunni respectively. The Prime Minister’s first task was to select the heads of 22 ministries. On 24th October, 14 of these were given the vote of confidence by parliament. However, eight remain to be appointed.

Who is the New Prime Minister?

Like the President and Speaker, Abdul Mahdi is a well respected politician. At 76, he has a lot of experience in Iraqi politics; formerly holding the roles of Minister of Finance and Minister of Oil.  He is also a relatively independent candidate. Not having a particularly strong social base, may weaken Abdul Mahdi’s power in the role. Although, Iraq needs a capable and independent leader who can unite the country internally whilst juggling the opposing needs of the US and Iran.

Who has been appointed? Which positions are left to go?

The 14 ministers given the vote of confidence were:

  1. Minister of Agriculture: Saleh al-Hassani
  2. Minister of Communication: Naim al-Rubaye
  3. Minister of Electricity: Luay al-Khatteeb
  4. Minister of Finance: Fuad Hussein
  5. Minister of Foreign Affairs: Mohammed Ali al-Hakeem
  6. Minister of Health: Alaa al-Alwani
  7. Minister of Housing and Reconstruction: Bangin Rekani
  8. Minister of Industry: Salih Abdullah Jabouri
  9. Minister of Labour and Social Affairs: Bassem al-Rubaye
  10. Minister of Oil: Thamir Ghadhban
  11. Minister of Trade: Mohammed Hashim
  12. Minister of Transport: Abdullah Luaibi
  13. Minister of Water Resources: Jamal al-Adili
  14. Minister of Youth and Sports: Ahmed Riyadh

There were some major criticisms of the new cabinet from different groups. These include, for example, the absence of Turkman and female representation. Parliament will reconvene at a later date to vote for the eight unappointed positions. These include the key roles of Minister of Defence and Minister of the Interior, both of which will be filled by Abdul-Mahdi until they are decided. Those appointed thus far arguably indicate a weakening of Barzani’s influence and a shift towards Iran plus of course a strengthening of the influence of Muqtada Al-Sadr. It also is a reminder if one were needed that the Dawa Party is at a crossroads and must now reform or collapse. That said, the Ministers of Electricity and Oil are decent dependable people and this new government should be given a chance.

What Next for Iraq?

The recent developments have signalled a major step forward, in a country marred by political turmoil since it’s elections in May. However, there is still a lot to be done to solve Iraq’s corruption, unemployment and public utility problems.

The first step to solving these will be to finalise the remaining cabinet positions.

Kurdistan elections – the final results

Weeks after the Kurdistan Region held parliamentary elections on September 30, the election commission has published official results:
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) achieved 688,070 votes, giving it a big lead over its rivals, securing 45 seats in the 111-seat parliament – leaving it 12 seats shy of an outright majority. The party will therefore need to enter a coalition agreement to form a government.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) came in second with 319,219 votes, securing 21 seats. This marks an improvement on its 2013 result of 18 seats.

The Change Movement (Gorran) was pushed into third place with 186,903 votes, securing just 12 seats – down from 24 in the last parliament.

New Generation got 127,115 votes, securing eight seats.

Komal seven seats.

The joint Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU)-Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) Reform List won five seats. When the KIU ran alone in 2013, it secured 10.

The leftist Modern coalition one seat.

The Communist Party, as part of the Azadi List, secured one seat.

The Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ), which officially boycotted the election, failed to secure a seat.

Of the 11 seats reserved for the Kurdistan Region’s minority groups, the Turkmen secured five, the Christians five, and the Armenians one. No seats are reserved for the Yezidis.

Among the Turkmen parties, the Turkmen Development Party secured two seats, the Nation List one, the Turkmen Reform party one, and the Turkmen Front one.

Among the Christian parties, the Rafidain List secured one seat, the Assyrian Syriac Chaldean Popular Council one, and the National Union Coalition three.

An Armenian independent secured one seat.

The election commission also published figures detailing which candidates secured the most votes for each list:

Qubad Talabani, head of the PUK list, won 182,000. Shaswar Abdulwahid, head of New Generation, won 106, 289. Ali Hama Salih, head of the Gorran list, won 81,934. Hemin Hawrami, head of the KDP list, won 47,000.

The election commission had delayed the announcement of official results while it investigated several allegations of fraud.

The commission decided to annul the results of 96 polling stations, voiding around 119,000 votes. The majority of annulled ballots were in Erbil province.
A number of opposition parties threatened to boycott the next parliament if the preliminary results were approved by the commission. There are no substantial differences between the preliminary results and official figures.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) issued a statement following the results urging people – in the interests of public safety –not to shoot firearms into the air in celebration.

Summarised Breakdown of seats by party:

Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) – 45 seats
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – 21 seats
Gorran – 12 seats
New Generation – 8 seats
Komal – 7 seats
Reform List – 5 seats
Modern Coalition – 1 seat
Azadi List – 1 seat

11 minority quota seats as follows:

Turkmen:

Turkmen Development Party – 2
Nation List – 1
Turkmen Reform party – 1
Turkmen Front – 1

Christian:

Rafidain List – 1
Assyrian Syriac Chaldean Popular Council – 1
National Union Coalition – 3

Armenian:

Independent – 1

Iraq’s New President: A Technocrat?

After months of political deadlock, water contamination, and rising protests, earlier this month, Barham Salih was elected as Iraq’s new President.

Who is he?

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) candidate Salih holds good experience in government, having served both as the deputy prime minister of Iraq and the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government. He is also a good diplomat, and has proved himself capable of keeping amicable relations with the both the US and Iran.

Despite starting his political career in the PUK, Salih left in 2017 to form the Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ) and campaign against corruption. However, he recently abandoned his new party and came back to the PUK in order to get PUK backing for his bid to stand for President.

Can he unify Iraq?

Political fragmentation, growing protests, and huge infrastructure issues will make it hard for Barham Salih to do much to help unite Iraq. With tensions between the PUK and KDP rising up to his election, and the issue of a Kurdish independence set to come up again in the future, it seems unclear how he will even unify Kurdistan, let alone Iraq as a whole.

However, he may be a good choice for the protestors in Basra. Barham Salih has been known to heavily criticise government failures, therefore he will look to be a strong candidate in the eyes of the disenfranchised. Although, his credibility when it comes to sticking to his morals may have been dented by what many see as his “calculated” move back to the PUK.

But perhaps his technocratic attitude is what Iraq needs. With MP’s more free to vote than usual, Salih’s election appears to have come more as a result of his credentials rather than his social base. This bodes well for Iraq, as strong technocratic leaders are needed to take on the huge tasks of reducing systemic corruption, rebuilding infrastructure and keeping actors inside and outside of Iraq happy.

However, Barham Salih’s ability to do these things will be limited as his Presidential role is less powerful than that of the Prime Minister. Either way, his election is a huge step forward from months of political deadlock.

Next in the series, the new prime minister: Adil Abdul al-Mahdi.

The Kurdish Regional Parliament – the unofficial results

Though the official results have yet to be announced, the NCF has the Unofficial results for the 111-member Kurdistan Parliament (11 reserved for minorities) and they are as listed below by party, number of votes, and number of seats:

  1. KDP 738,698 votes: 45 seats
  2. PUK 343,883 votes: 21 seats
  3. Gorran 195,553 votes: 12 seats
  4. New Generation 120,324 votes: 8 seats
  5. KIG (Komal) The Kurdistan Islamic Group: 113,928 votes: 7 seats
  6. KIU-KIM (Kurdistan Islamic Union-Kurdistan Islamic Movement) 83,562 votes: 5 seats
  7. CDJ (The Coalition for Democracy and Justice) (formerly Barham Salih’s party): 1 seat
  8. Communist: 1 seat
  9. Minorities: 11 seats

Once again, it’s not baseball or football with clear rules. Sometimes they play by the rules, and sometimes they make them up as they go along.

At the regional level, the KDP came out on top with 45 of 111 regional parliament seats. Eleven seats are for minorities – Christians, Armenians, Turkmens – most of whom would likely support the KDP. Along with these seats, plus Socialist and Communist seats, and possibly one or more Islamist seats, the KDP is in a good position to form a majority government without the PUK, Gorran, New Generation, and Islamist parties. But that’s unlikely to happen.

In Iraq, managing divisions is the essential game. Iraq is not a failed state. It’s not a state. It’s just a failure. Managing divisions in Iraqi Kurdistan, however, has been reasonably successful. Otherwise, the Region would have flown apart and disassembled in chaos years ago. At the end of the day, there are only two political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan – KDP and Anti-KDP, with the Anti-KDP divided into factions.

So, we are likely to see efforts toward a consensus coalition regional government, which will be difficult given the perceived “treachery” by each side of the other.

Turnout in the regional parliamentary election was relatively low for the Kurdistan region, only about 60%. There is a sense that if another independence referendum were to be held today, the turnout would increase by about 20 points.

An interesting bright spot is that a top vote-getter was a well-known and much-liked non-politician who drives a ramshackle car and did little if any campaigning. Unlike candidates who littered the roadways with posters, he had none. He is known for conversing with youth in the marketplace, a singer and sometime TV personality, humble and simple.

The ramshackle car driver is Jalal Parishan (parishan means ‘desperate’; in his case, something to do with a lost love). Though the final results have yet to be announced officially, he received the third highest number of votes among dozens of candidates.

al-Halbousi: A Good Choice for Iraq?

After months of political deadlock, Iraq has finally taken the key step of electing its Speaker and President, with a Prime Minister-designate also named. On Tuesday, the Iraqi parliament elected Barham Salih as President and shortly after he asked Adil Abdul-Mahdi to be Prime Minister. This comes two weeks after electing their speaker as Mohamed al-Halbousi.

Since 2003 the roles of President, Prime Minister and Speaker have been unofficially held by a Kurd, a Shiite and a Sunni respectively. Having struggled with a political stalemate since the elections in May, Iraq can now finally move forward toward naming its cabinet ministers and forming a parliament. This comes as a big step on the road to rebuilding a country devastated by three years of war with the Islamic State. In this, the first is a series, the NCF will focus o n the elected speaker, Mohammed Rikan Hadeed al-Halbousi, exploring the run-up to his election, his background and what his appointment might mean for the future of Iraq.

The Run up to al-Halbousi’s Appointment

In May’s parliamentary election, the Saairun political group, which is popular amongst many of Iraq’s poor and led by the prominent Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, came in first with 54 seats. In second, with 48 seats came Hadi al-Ameri’s Fatah Alliance. This group is one which has the tacit support of Iran and whose members are largely drawn from the paramilitary groups who were crucial in the victory against ISIL. In third and fourth came Haider al-Abadi’s Victory Alliance (42), a group with tacit US backing, and Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition (25). Both of the latter are, by and large, factions that have evolved from the Islamic Dawa Party, which has ruled Iraq for the last three terms.

After the election, the opposing Fatah Alliance and the Saairun each tried to separately form coalitions with the Victory Alliance, The State of Law Coalition, the Kurdish parties and others.

However, amid growing protests about government corruption and a growing water shortage crisis, the influential Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani called for change. He demanded that Iraq needed a new leadership stating he would not support “politicians who have been in authority in the past years”. This greatly diminished the chances of the Dawa based Victory Alliance and the State of Law Coalition. This forced Sairoon and Fatah to come together, and on Sept 15th the Fatah nominee al-Halbousi was elected speaker, with al-Sadr’s candidate Hassam Karim as first deputy.

Who is he?

At 37, al-Halbousi is the youngest speaker in Iraq’s history. He trained as a civil engineer, then went into the construction business. In 2014 he was elected to parliament and headed the parliamentary finance committee from 2016 until 2017 when he became governor of Anbar province.

In the May elections, al-Halbousi headed the ‘Anbar is Our Identity’ alliance. In fact al-Halbousi has a good relationship with Nouri al-Maliki and Hadi al-Amiri and was initially nominated by their Al-Binna’a alliance.

Internationally he has amicable relations with the US and was involved in many US contracts during their period of hegemony in Iraq. However, his connection to Iran is stronger. When elected he immediately cemented these ties by denouncing US sanctions on Iran and inviting Iran’s speaker to Iraq. But not before first exchanging invitations with the Speaker of the Parliament in pro-US Kuwait so as to indicate his neutrality.

What Does His Election Mean for Iraq?

With growing anti-establishment protests over corrupt rule, the Iraqi people are demanding a change. At 37, al-Halbousi seems to represent this change. Whether al-Halbousi is clean of corruption himself is debatable. There were even rumours that he had in part bought his post as Speaker by making questionable deals with other MPs, and though Sunni himself, not all the Sunni MPs support him. However, a fresh face is nonetheless welcomed by the Iraqi people.

He seems to be quite up to the vital task of keeping amicable relations with both the US and Iran. He also represents the much needed coming together of a country politically split and devastated by war. He looks to be a good candidate to take a united Iraq in a more positive direction.

The Great Mosque of al-Nuri: a symbol of IS occupation

A deeply sad sight: The Great Mosque of al-Nuri was reduced to rubble during the Battle of Mosul in 2017. Here it is today, just a year after the liberation, photographed by NCF member and war artist, George Butler, who is currently in Mosul. The mosque had stood on this site for almost 850 years and its leaning, 45-metre tall minaret, al-Hadba’ (“the hunchback”) had been a famed landmark for many centuries.

It was more recently where Daesh’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stood during Friday prayer on 4th July 2014 to declare the formation of a new “caliphate”, after Islamic State (IS) seized the city just weeks previously. Following its demolition in June 2017, Iraqi government forces claimed they had found evidence to suggest that the mosque may have been deliberately blown up by IS, a gesture described as their “declaration of defeat”, by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi.

With Mosul having been wrested from IS control in July 2017, the Mosque is now a symbol for the destruction of the city and its rich heritage both during and in the aftermath of the Daesh occupation.

In April of this year, the United Arab Emirates pledged over $50 million to help rebuild the Mosque and other nearby sites, in conjunction with UNESCO, the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), and Iraq’s culture ministry. This will take at least five years, the initial project focused on clearing the rubble on site and surveying for future rebuilding.

In time, the al-Nuri Mosque may be restored to a semblance of its former magnificence. But for now, it seems a long way off.

Image by George Butler