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Tuesday is Next Deadline, but don't Hold your Breath!

By John Cookson. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The session on Tuesday to choose a new leadership to rescue Iraq from meltdown on was arguably one of the most important Iraqi MPs had ever attended.

Roads within a 2 kilometres of Baghdad's Green Zone had been sealed. Journalists attending the key parliamentary session said they walked 40 minutes in searing heat through 10 security checkpoints to get in. The ring of steel around the National Assembly building had never been tighter.

Right on time the whole show began to play out on state television. It started harmoniously enough with an orchestra playing an uplifting version of the Iraqi National Anthem - the kind of music associated with national pride and a sense of unity.

Lots of hand shakes and smiles all round; you could almost believe that at last Iraqi politicians were getting their act together to begin the process of selecting a powerful new government to beat Sunni jihadist revolution.

But when the music died, the bickering began.

Arab MPs accused the Kurds of selling their oil to Israel. One shouted: "Crush the heads of the Kurds!"

Other allegations flew around the assembly hall. The Sunnis were furious about mention of the jihadis movement Islamic State.

Fingers were jabbed in faces. Some politicians raged at each other nose to nose.

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What is a Caliphate?

By John Cookson. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq's extraordinary history has turned another page. Jihadists - who only 3 weeks ago swept into northern Iraq - have now declared thousands square kilometres between Aleppo jn Syria and the governorate of Diyala in eastern Iraq, as a caliphate.

In an audio recording distributed on the web, the extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) announced that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been appointed caliph and is now the leader of all Muslims wherever they are. The group then changed its name to the Islamic State.

So what is a caliphate?

The caliphate was the Islamic state established after the death of the prophet Mohammed in the beginning of the seventh century.

The caliph, a supreme religious and political leader was at its helm and deemed a successor to the prophet Mohammed - al khilafa in Arabic means the succession. Sunni Muslims believe the caliph should be elected by the people. Shi'ites think the leader should be an imam appointed by God.

Previous historic dynasties include the Rashidun, Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Sokoto and the Ottomans. Kemal Attaurk, first President of the Turkish Republic abolished the last one in 1924.

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John Kerry: Mission Impossible?

By John Cookson. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

US Secretary of State John Kerry's whistle-stop swing through the Middle East and Europe will likely include a meeting this week with Iraq's embattled caretaker prime-minister Nouri al-Maliki.

At the Baghdad summit we can expect Secretary Kerry to again hammer home Washington's demand that the Iraqi premier form an inclusive government of national unity with Sunni politicians given prominent roles. The top US official will also seek assurance that the 300 American military advisers being sent to shore up Iraq's military are immune from prosecution on Iraqi soil.

In my opinion Secretary Kerry's visit to Baghdad is almost certainly mission impossible, as Al-Maliki is not likely to relax his hard-line stance on either issue.

On Sunni inclusiveness Washington has made the same impassioned plea for years and Al-Maliki has ignored it, even as unrest raged in Al-Anbar and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned Iraq was facing disaster. It was a high-risk political gamble by Al-Maliki, but the recent general election result shows millions of Iraqis supported him and endorsed his policies.

On the question of whether 300 advisers will not be tried in Iraq if they commit crimes; again Al-Maliki is unlikely to U-turn on his consistent policy of non-immunity, especially as few in Baghdad can forget how 4 American Blackwater security guards, working for the State Department, escaped prosecution in Iraq for shooting dead 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007 - their US trial is ongoing.

Al-Maliki's tough position was boosted Sunday when Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came out and expressed strong opposition to intervention in Iraq by the United States - or anyone else - and he insisted that the Iraqis themselves can bring an end to chaos sweeping the country.

Khamenei also suspects Washington wants to keep Iraq under its control and place its own stooges in power.

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Can 300 US Military Advisers save Iraq?

By John Cookson. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

President Obama opposed the 2003 US-led war which toppled Saddam. He based his run for the White House on ending wars rather than starting them.

So his decision announced at a press conference last night of sending 300 advisers to Iraq - including Green Berets and other special forces - must have been taken very reluctantly.

America has already spent a trillion dollars and lost 4,500 military lives ousting one dictator, training Iraqi security forces and installing a Western-style democracy in Iraq.

So the question is at this pivotal time in Iraq's history: will 300 US advisers sent in now prevent it plunging in to the abyss?

Acknowledging America's laudable intentions, and with great regret: I think probably not.

The US sent thousands of its finest to train Iraqi forces for 8 years in the post Saddam era. In 2006 I spent time with intelligent and thoughtful American colonels in towns like Baiji; dedicated men who had taken time to study Iraqi history; honorable commanders who had established a true rapport with their Iraqi counterparts.

The goal: to turn the Iraqi armed forces into disciplined and effective fighting machine, backed by some of the finest military equipment in the world.

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The Eyes of the World are on Iraq

The eyes of the world are on Iraq at the moment, as the country struggles to contain the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS). And while the attack on the important oil refinery at Baiji is a setback for the government, many are now of the opinion that ISIS has no realistic chance of taking Baghdad.

More eyes on Iraq also means more eyes on Iraq Business News, as we increase our coverage of events with:

But with all the media attention, it's important to remember that events can swing just as dramatically in the other direction; just as the rise of ISIS took many by surprise, so too could the backlash against them.

In marketing, as in investing, there can be value in contrarianism, in going against the crowd and seeing opportunities where others just see risk. So while this may not look like an obvious time to advertise, getting your company's name in front of all those extra readers now could position it just right for the next phase in Iraq's development.

Why not contact us now to see what Iraq Business News can do for you. We'll even give an extra 5 percent discount to all new customers booking before the end of June.

(Flag image via Shutterstock)

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ISIS Fights Virtual War in Cyber Horror Show

By John Cookson. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Gruesome images and videos from Iraq have sparked revulsion around the world as ISIS militants video executions and upload them on the internet.

Grisly stills and videos appear on jihadist websites often days before being picked up by mainstream western media, but perpetrators must surely take grim satisfaction when their work ultimately appears on front pages and TV news channels for a global audience.

In the latest, captured Iraqi soldiers are shown being taunted and made to repeat extremist slogans. One refuses and is shot.  All are later killed and their bloody corpses shown.

In recent days we also saw gunmen driving an open road in Salahuddin and riddling other vehicles with bullets, killing occupants before they moving on to cut down veiled women walking in the street.   Another shows mass executions of Iraqi soldiers in civilian clothes.

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Posted in John Cookson, Security 11 Comments

Oil Price Surges amid Iraq Turmoil

By John Cookson. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Traders will tell you the price of oil is a speculative market based on expectations. Most of Iraq's oil production is from the mega fields in the south, far from any fighting. But in the world's skittish bourses just a threat to exports is enough to cause market jitters.

Iraq was expected to contribute to 60 percent of OPEC's crude production in the next 10 years so its output had become important for the long-term global energy market.

Small wonder, as country slides towards possible civil war, some analysts predict the price of a barrel of oil could soar by US$30.

The jihadists lightning assault in the north of Iraq last week caused Brent crude to spike to US$113, and the price could rise still further today with the news ISIS seized another town,Tal Afar, in the north west and still had their sights on Baghdad.

The US Embassy in Baghdad has relocated some staff to its consulates in Erbil and Basrah and to Jordan. The oil industry has reacted too with majors like BP at Rumaila and ExxonMobil in West Qurna evacuating all but vital expatriate staff.

The oil companies are playing down any sense of panic. ExxonMobil is not commenting on the crisis and BP said simply the violence in Iraq "has no impact," on production at Rumaila. Royal Dutch Shell at Al Majnoon put a statement out saying safety and security of staff was: "an absolute priority."

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Posted in Iraq Oil & Gas News, John Cookson, Security 4 Comments

And the Winners are? The Kurds

By John Cookson. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Checking back through e-mails I am amazed it was only 4 days ago on June 10th I messaged an editor pal of mine that something momentous was happening in Iraq.

ISIS had occupied Mosul! The city had fallen. I could not believe it then. Even now I remain stunned.

So much happened since - and at what breathtaking speed.

The jihadists have swept down a route carved by the Tigris River. Anyone standing in their way was dealt with by a bullet in the head.  Now they are within an hour's drive of the gates of Baghdad.

Sources tell me even ISIS commanders are amazed how easy it was and they even plan to use the same route as the Americans in 2003 to enter the capital.

As the world waits to see what decisive plan Prime Minister Al Maliki has up his sleeve to retake almost a half of his nation, Shi-ite leader Grand Ayatollah Sistani has made a call to arms addressed not to only to Shias but " all Iraqi citizens."

President Obama meanwhile is weighing his options and moving the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush to the Gulf, which probably means targeted air strikes on ISIS command and control centres, if anyone can identify them!

The potential for another bloody conflagration in a nation which has seen so much death and destruction - and a nation for which I have so much affection - is the stuff of nightmares. God help the Iraqis.

Small wonder when you talk to Iraqis they sometimes say they feel themselves cursed.

Fate my not be on their side but years of conflict has not damaged their incredible resilience to hardship and when I spoke to a Kurdish minister this morning in Baghdad he said: " Don't worry John, I will be alright. We have been through this before!"

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Posted in John Cookson, Politics, Security 24 Comments

Risky Business in Iraq

By John Cookson. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

As ISIS prepares to advance on Baghdad and Iraq slips towards civil war, the world's oil corporations are updating plans to evacuate worried staff, from Dohuk in the north to the southern powerhouse of Basrah.

With one eye on Iraq's turbulent history executives in Houston, London, Moscow and Beijing always knew they might have to pull their people out - although perhaps not now and not under these extraordinary circumstances.

Ever since a Turkish company discovered oil in Kirkuk in 1927,  Iraq - with its 150 billion barrels of proven reserves - would be a commercially tantalising yet risky business for the global giants.

Oil exploration and production is long haul anyway and, as one boss told me: "Iraq is adventure capital, not venture capital."

But hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment did pour in since the fall of Saddam in 2003 and until now the biggest industrial revolution in Iraqi history was revitalising a moribund economy and underwriting mega-construction projects like millions of new homes, highways, Sports City and the Baghdad to Basrah high speed rail link.

ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Lukoil, Kuwait Energy and China Petroleum are among major players in the south and east of Iraq.  BP's Rumaila is spread over an astonishing 2000 kilometres and accounts for 12% of Iraq's entire reserves.

Shell's Al Majnoon is another monster, although the field's production potential was slowed by the discovery of thousands of tonnes of explosives and other military hardware left over the Iraq's war with Iran.

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Posted in Iraq Industry & Trade News, John Cookson, Politics, Security 14 Comments

Expert Bloggers for Informed Readers

The recent offensive by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) -- also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) -- has shown that events sometimes move very rapidly in Iraq.

Containing the threat to the rest of Iraq has presented Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with a new set of challenges, and his reponse in declaring a state of emergency has been criticised in some quarters.

Meanwhile, his Oil Minister Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi [Elaibi] has assured the world that the oil-producing South is "very, very safe", which is important to remember, but little consolation to those affected by the violence in the North.

As part of our commitment to keeping our readers fully briefed on the rapidly evolving situation in Iraq, we are delighted to welcome a new Expert Blogger to our ranks: John Cookson has been reporting from Iraq for 25 years for international news channels including Al Jazeera English and Sky News. He will be sharing his insights on Iraqi politics and business, and we look forward to reading his perspectives.

(Flag image via Shutterstock)

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