An Iraqi strongman calls

Nuri al-Maliki on his cellphone. Photo Kurd NetBy Sarah Johnstone, Assistant editor, online

As ‘Genghis Khan with a telephone’ in the 1930s, Joseph Stalin routinely picked up the receiver late at night to issue instructions that led to the imprisonment or execution of millions. Author Toby Dodge probably wouldn’t compare current Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to the brutal Soviet leader; at the launch of his new book last week he steered away from describing Maliki as despotic as former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Nonetheless, Dodge’s portrayal of the Iraqi premier is of a man with ‘clear dictatorial ambitions’ who understands the utility of the telephone.

Dodge’s just-released Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism recounts how the PM’s office in Baghdad has subverted the military chain of command, directly ‘ringing up mid-ranking officers and issuing orders to them on their mobile phones’. It is one of the methods by which an initially unremarkable, ‘grey’ politician has managed to centralise power in the weak office of the Iraqi prime minister since his appointment in early 2006.

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Iraq: new boss better than the old boss?

AP 434-5As the international community debates how to respond to the crisis in Syria, it’s worth remembering that we’re approaching the ten-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The country regained full sovereignty in 2011, after years of post-conflict reconstruction, counter-insurgency campaigns and state-building. However, serious questions loom over its post-intervention future.

In the IISS’s latest Adelphi, Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism, Dr Toby Dodge focuses on three: ‘Can Iraq avoid sliding back into civil war and can it reduce the still-appreciable levels of lethal violence seen since 2010? Will Iraq evolve towards a law-governed, pluralistic polity that in some way resembles the interventionists’ dream of an Arab democracy? Will Iraq once again pose a security threat to its neighbours?’

Dodge also provides some insight into perhaps the most important debate of all: are the lives of ordinary Iraqis better today than under Saddam Hussein?

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Myanmar ‘delivers’ nuclear transparency

President Barack Obama tours the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Burma. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

In the run-up to presidential visits aides look for achievements that can be announced, typically agreements on trade and the like. Called ‘deliverables’ in the diplomatic argot, they are often the currency of exchange for deciding on travel destinations.

So when it was announced that US President Barack Obama would include Burma in his mid-November trip to Southeast Asia, there were concerns and questions, including from Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, about whether Myanmar deserved the honour. What ‘deliverable’ would warrant bestowing a presidential visit on a country that had not yet fully emerged from its decades of authoritarianism and human-rights abuses?

But as it turned out, the quid pro quo for Obama’s visit was significant indeed. To the delight of the
non-proliferation community, Myanmar said it would accept the global standard for nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), known by the catchy name of the ‘Additional Protocol’.

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Numbers count in counter-insurgency

Ben Barry at CLAWS in India

By Brigadier Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare

How do British and Indian views of counter-insurgency (COIN) differ? How much are they the same? During a recent trip to India, I had the chance to contrast and compare experiences. Joining India’s Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) in a roundtable discussion with the faculty of the Indian Army War College and the students of their Higher Defence Orientation Course, I shared my analysis of the lessons from British stabilisation operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I pointed out that in Northern Ireland, the British had controlled the relevant state levers of power, whilst in Iraq and Afghanistan they were junior partners in US-led coalition and NATO operations. They also had to manage a sometimes difficult relationship with increasingly assertive and less malleable host-nation governments. The environment was extremely complex and subject to great friction and uncertainty. The strategic, operational and tactical levels overlapped with a political dimension. Both wars became increasingly unpopular at home.

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Iraq slides towards a new dictatorship

Iraq is undoubtedly moving towards dictatorship under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, IISS Senior Consulting Fellow for the Middle East Dr Toby Dodge said this week in a discussion at IISS-US. However, Dodge argued that a more muscular US commitment to promoting democracy in Iraq might prevent Maliki from assuming absolute control of the country.

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Bombings rise sharply in Iraq

Bomb attacks in Iraq. Figures from IISS-US researchBy Becca Wasser, Program Officer and Research Analyst, IISS-US

A series of coordinated bomb attacks shook Iraq yesterday, on the ninth anniversary of the US-led invasion and just days before the Arab League summit, scheduled for 27-29 March. The blasts bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which soon claimed responsibility, saying that it had wished to derail the ‘meeting of Arab tyrants in Baghdad‘. Parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi had already blamed the terrorists for wanting to keep Iraq ‘feeling the effects of violence and destruction’.

The latest bombings – in Kirkuk, Karbala, Samarra, Baghdad and other cities – are part of an upsurge in violence following the withdrawal of US troops on 18 December 2011. In the first three months since troops left (to 18 March 2012) there were 204 bombings – a 70% increase on the same period last year. With no more real US military targets in the country, the spike necessarily means that Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has increased, and illustrates the need for a strengthened local security force.

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