By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
Overall levels of incidents remained steady in Iraq this week with marginal increases seen in Baghdad and Nineveh provinces. The number of suicide attacks, especially in the north and centre of the country, remain at an elevated level with 3 to 4 attacks reported in Nineveh, Salah al-Din and, notably, Karbala. Despite the increased tempo of attacks the number of fatalities dropped this week to approx. 128 bringing the 2013 total up to 588. The majority of these fatalities were ISF personnel with a 72:56 ration split between ISF and civilians.
This weeks events have been dominated by similar themes to last week with Syria, Iran and the provincial elections at the forefront of the political discourse. The Faustian relationship between the KRG, the dominant sectarian groups, Iran and Baghdad continues to rumble away adding further complexity to the domestic situation. This situation was exacerbated this week by the announcement that the Baghdad had agreed to the formation of the ‘Al Jazeera and Badiya’ military grouping, which will be headquartered in the city of Sinjar, Nineveh province. This move comes a few months after the controversy of the ‘Dijla' (Tigris) Force, who were deployed in a tense standoff outside Kirkuk against the KRG Peshmerga troops and is further evidence of Baghdad’s willingness to flex its muscles in the disputed territories as part of a wider attempt to ‘corral’ and pressurize the KRG. This was reinforced on 11 March when the Iraq budget was finally ratified on a majority rather than consensus basis - amidst a KRG boycott of the parliamentary session - a move considered by many to be a convenient way of circumventing and neutralising the KRG claim to billions in unpaid royalties from deals with foreign companies. This, combined with the official decision by Turkey that they will only allow Baghdad sanctioned oil deals to utilise the northern frontier pipelines, has ensured that the KRG domestic position is further eroded.
The week also saw the start of the Iraqi election season with provincial electoral campaigns being launched in 14 governates with the provinces of Kurdistan and Kirkuk not included. Unsurprisingly political and economic issues, sectarianism and security are dominating the agenda however an additional issue – namely that of the formation of political families and unwieldy political groups has also started to cause tensions in the electoral domain. A total of over 8000 candidates belonging to 265 political groups and 50 coalitions will contest 447 seats in parliament, which neatly highlights the fractious diversity of Iraqi politics and set the conditions for a divided political scene and ensures further disproportionate representation along sectarian lines.