Weekly Security Update

With foreign influence severely diminished the cross currents buffeting Western Iraq have aggravated fault lines left since the departure of the US military presence. An accepted belief, and a cause for concern, within diplomatic circles is that having a belligerent minority population on the Syrian border who openly support Syrian rebel groups increases the potential for the conflict in Syria spreading into the western provinces, evidence of which has recently been seen in the recent cross frontier engagements in Al – Anbar and Nineveh. What is unusual about the current situation of Essawi is that he is generally regarded as a voice of moderation in a country where the sectarian gulf is widening and played a pivotal role in cooperating with US forces to defeat Al Qaeda, which acts as a defiant counter point to Al-Maliki’s tendency to equate the expression of Sunni grievances with terrorism.

Further across the country violence intensified, in part to coincide with the anniversary of the Iraqi invasion, but also directly linked to the swelling opposition protests with many Sunni insurgent groups and Iraq’s Al Qaeda affiliate ISI urging protesters to take up arms against the government. This messaging was followed up by brazen attacks against the Iraqi Justice Ministry on 14 March and a further 12-14 high impact attacks through the week in Baghdad. Responding to the attacks, Iraq's cabinet announced a few hours later that it had decided to postpone provincial elections set for 20 April in two restive provinces – Al-Anbar and Nineveh, which have been the epicenters of escalating Sunni protests against the government. In addition, although the anniversary of the fall of Saddam is marked by the government, the day of the invasion is generally ignored by Iraqis, many of whom regard it as a particularly negative element of their recent history and the beginning of an occupation that led to the events of the sectarian war that pitted Shia against Sunni in five years of brutal blood-letting and ethnic cleansing. Tragically little has changed.

Regionally, developments in Turkey once again had cross-frontier repercussions in Iraq albeit from a more positive, yet finely balanced, standpoint. The PKK rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has confirmed he will call for a "historic" ceasefire on Thursday 21 March, the day of the Kurdish New Year, however the process now has added complexity after a bombing and missile attack against Turkish government and ruling party offices on 19 March purportedly by the Kurdish leftist group the DHKP-C, in what has been described as an attempt to wreck a fragile peace process with the PKK. In a positive move the attacks have been given limited official or media attention suggesting that the Turkish government would prefer a business as usual approach in the hope of securing what has been an elusive solution to the PKK problem and one which could further cement vital access and influence in the mineral rich borderlands in Southern Turkey and Northern Iraq at a time when Turkey spends US$2Bn / month on Russian fuel imports.

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