Three recent events in Iraq have underscored that the country, one of the world’s most important oil and gas producers, continues to be highly volatile with many political, ethnic and sectarian issues remaining notably unresolved.
1. Yesterday, Iraq’s Shia-dominated government in Baghdad demanded that the country’s Kurdish regional government hand over to them the country’s Sunni vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi. In December the government issued an arrest warrant against him on charges of running death squads during the country’s recent sectarian conflict, leading him to seek refuge in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. Sunday’s demand for al-Hashemi, the most explicit yet made by Baghdad to the Kurds, highlights not only continuing tensions between Arab Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, but also unresolved tensions between the Iraqi national government and the autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq.
2. A further troubling development occurred earlier this morning when a large number of unknown gunmen attacked a series of police targets in Haditha, formerly one of the hubs of Iraq’s anti-US insurgency in western Iraq. A total of 27 security forces were killed in the highly planned operation that saw a several senior police officers abducted from their homes and killed by suspected insurgents who were reportedly themselves disguised as police-officers. The attack, which local police said was carried out by al-Qaeda, is one of the most dramatic attacks carried out in Iraq’s Sunni areas for several months. It signifies that such militant groups retain the capacity to cause serious disruption in parts of Iraq.
3. Separately, in a further potentially destablising development, Sunni tribes in Western Iraq are increasingly raising their voices against their government’s support for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. “We do not accept that a single bullet reach the opposition from our sovereign land, from Iraq”, one tribal leader told Reuters. The Iraqi government is broadly aligned with the Shia-led governments of Syria and Iran. However many Sunni tribes in western Iraq however feel a strong kinship with Syrian Sunnis, potentially creating a fresh source of tension between Iraqi Sunnis and the national government.
These events, all occurring over the space of only a few days, are a clear reminder that Iraq remains far from stable. Sectarian, ethnic and religious frictions in Iraq have the potential spiral out of control and many of the country’s underlying problems remain far from resolved.
In particular, there is constant political tensions in Iraq relating to an unclear divisions of powers between Baghdad and the regions, while the extent of regional autonomies often left perilously undefined. Similarly, Shia political leaders are often too quick to see the country as a personal fiefdom while, c0nversely, Arab Sunnis - historically Iraq’s ruling elite – too often assume that they are entitled to veto any national policy that they dislike.
In this context, oil and gas firms operating in Iraq need to monitor events in the country closely and to remain aware that the country, although more stable that in previous years, still has the potential to slide back into sectarian conflict.
For more information on Maplecroft’s recent in-depth Country Risk Report on Iraq, please see here: http://maplecroft.com/about/news/country-reports-february29.html#crr_iraq