By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk.
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This week in Iraq has been somewhat calmer than the previous reporting period with a noted decrease in attack tempo. There were decreases in the number of civilian fatalities with a reported total of approx. 57 fatalities country wide (down by 89 from last week) bringing the February total up to approx. 313.
The overwhelming majority of violence this week was in the north of the country with Baghdad being spared the atrocities of last week. The constant high tempo Iraqi Army activity in the north and west continues to have a dampening effect on insurgent activity bringing on an uneasy calm, however the daily churn of violence continues.
On the political scene similar themes dominated reporting this week ranging from enduring frictions between the demonstration movement and the security services, as well as the continued stalemate surrounding the 2013 budget. The GoI remains in a precarious position and continues to flex its muscle across the country in order to try and wrest back some influence and control in dissenting provinces. In an attempt to further diffuse the stalemate with the demonstration movement, and to claw back some legitimacy, Al-Maliki has pushed the reconciliation and rejection of sectarianism agenda hard suggesting that anyone meddling in sectarian politics will be dealt with by the courts and subject to prosecution for inciting hatred.
This, amongst other initiatives, appears to have had some effect eroding the intent of the demonstration movement, of whom little has been heard this week. Added to this it was clear that a good deal of the Iraqi public attention has shifted this week in support of their Shiite brethren outside Iraq, namely in the Gulf States. Also of note was the recent intervention into the political process by Martin Kobler – UN Special Representative for Iraq – and UNAMI in an attempt to try and assist in negotiating a way out of the political stalemate.
At the international level a number of key pieces dominated reporting. Iraq continued to be dragged in different directions by contradictory foreign forces, particularly Iran and Turkey. In a significant development Turkey officially confirmed that it would not accept any extension of oil and gas pipelines from Kurdistan without the approval of Baghdad, which adds an interesting dynamic to the on-going friction and confrontation over who has the right to control and exploit the northern oil reserves.