Las alternativas de #Iraq

Por Elbay Alibayov, analista invitado a La mirada a Oriente, colaborador de un servidor entre 2002 y 2004 en la Misión de la OSCE en Sarajevo (Bosnia y Herzegovina) y experto en Iraq donde trabajó como asesor internacional del gobierno central entre 2011 y 2014

En este ensayo conclusión Elbay Alibayov considera y analiza tres escenarios posibles para Iraq: la partición, el federalismo y una reforma más limitada de las instituciones existentes.

This is Iraq’s Call: The Road to Take

I asked a child, walking with a candle

“From where comes that light?”

Instantly he blew it out. “Tell me where it is gone—

then I will tell you where it came from.”

Hasan al-Basri (642-728)

In a manner predating the signature Sufi tradition, al-Basri’s verse quoted above provokes thought and is open to numerous meanings and interpretations. One is that, where you go (or choose to go) in practical terms is more important than identifying your point of reference, where you came from (or where your problems originated from). It is particularly important to those who are at the crossroads—don’t look back (because where you already are matters more), look ahead and decide which way better suits your plans, aspirations, and resources—and then take it. It well may be that, by succeeding in your selected route you may end up better understanding yourself and your past.

Things are fast developing in Iraq, and as always in this life it is a mixture of threat and opportunity, death and birth, joy and sorrow, damage and revival. Strategically and symbolically important Fallujah is retaken from ISIL, which is losing its territories; a quarter of its Iraq and Syria territory have been liberated in the last eighteen months. A massively devastating terrorist attack in Baghdad’s Karrada district claimed close to 300 lives sending a shock wave across the world. Oil production has increased by 13 percent. The Council of Representatives is divided, with various blocs further fracturing, and appears impotent to enact much needed legislation in the face of political stalemate and obstructions by various political actors. The economy has contracted by 2.4 percent (with non-oil economy contracting 19 percent). More than 656 thousand Iraqis have returned to the areas freed from ISIL. The Federal Court decisions to nullify Council of Representatives’ sessions undermine Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s authority to undertake reforms in public administration. The International Monetary Fund announced a $5.34 billion, three-year loan program for Iraq, to help strengthen the country’s finances. And so it goes–

Iraq today is at crossroads, and it is entirely up to the Iraqis—their political leaders and prominent influencers, tribal heads, communities and ordinary citizens—to decide which way to take. How to advance along the route elected is a different question, but first they must decide. Despite conspiracy theories held by some observers, everyone else expects exactly this—for the Iraqis to decide their own fate, and anyone else with good (and even selfish) intentions would be ready to join forces. This reminds me of the dialogue between Alice and the Cheshire Cat at the road fork, in Wonderland: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”…“ That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”…“I don’t much care where –“…“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Three options: disintegration, federalism, institution building

The problems of Iraq are multiple, but most of them seem to originate from few deep rooted and long suppressed causes that, once released in 2003, started their uncontrollable tornado-like movement. However, in spite of their scary manifestations, neither the problems nor their effects are inherently deadly—they do not pose an existential threat to the present Iraqi state. There is a real danger though, that if not properly addressed they would keep unfolding and paralysing the state and the society and, as a result, bringing more dysfunctionality, misery and suffering: as the old saying goes, there is no such thing as bottom; only endless milestones along the downfall into abyss.


The only way out of this impasse is for the country’s polity, backed by regional and global powers, to negotiate and enforce a set of political arrangements that reflect both the historic tradition and political culture, and the aspirations of contemporary Iraq’s diverse populations. Theoretically, there are two alternatives to consider.

One is to disintegrate—partition into independent states with dominant Sunni, Shi’a, and Kurd population (and with Turkmen being where Kirkuk and surrounding area belong to; unless of course the Iraqi Turkmen claim their own right for self-determination—which, considering their recent political activism may quite turn into reality). A few publications have mentioned this partitioning option recently as a possible solution (and some even extended it to Syria). Even though presented cautiously, these projections indicate that (1) there is an attempt of assessing the consequences of such an outcome and (2) they are merely testing the ground, to gauge the public and expert reaction to its possibility.

Another alternative is to preserve the Iraqi state in terms of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, through undergoing political reforms. The difficulty of this task lies in the fact that any solution that intends at keeping the present state intact has to address two fundamental features of the Middle Eastern politics outlined in previous parts of this article—political tribalism and tendency for strongly centralized power—which set in motion respectively centrifugal and centripetal forces that compete, conflict and collide simultaneously.

Under this alternative one can distinguish two scenarios. One is to reorganize the political and administrative system in a fundamental way – that is, creating a fully federal state with much power devolved to three autonomous constituent entities. This will demand the adoption of constitutional changes, if not a brand new constitution. Second scenario aims at strengthening resilience of the present state through a series of reform interventions and consistent institution building efforts and gradual (but meaningfully progressive) decentralisation—to avoid a breakdown and to evolve in line with and adapt to realities on the ground. These two scenarios are not negating each other and certain technical elements of one can be integrated into another in a complementary manner, if the need be.

Below I present an outline of possibilities, opportunities and risks associated with these three options. It should be noted that neither of them is easy, straightforward or free from limitations and controversies. Any and all of them will demand a commitment to concerted and sustained effort, through consensus building between all major sides concerned.


Although it may look to some as a quick-fix solution, the partitioning of Iraq does not appear a feasible solution when brought to close light, for a number of reasons.

First, it does not solve the issue of minorities, ethnic and sectarian divides, since the population elsewhere across the country is heterogeneous—one cannot find a large enough area populated exclusively by Arabs (whether Sunni or Shi’a), Kurds, Turkmen, let alone Assyrians, Christians, Yazidis, to this matter. It became even more complicated as, according to some reports (namely, about Christians in Kurdistan), the land left behind by villagers fleeing the ISIL occupation has been retaken by their neighbours of different ethnicity or confession. Therefore, the sense of insecurity will remain as it cannot be solved automatically in such a set-up, and inter-group tensions will be inherited by now newly established states. Exchange of population to create homogeneous populations, in turn, runs risks of abuse, forceful deportation bordering with ethnic cleansing.

Second, as noted earlier, divisions within each ethnic or sectarian group won’t disappear with the creation of new states. To the contrary, the chances are high that once left on their own the local factions (whether tribes, movements, or political parties) will fight each other for controlling the power even more fiercely. The history of Talabani vs. Barzani in Kurdistan or al-Sadr vs. al-Maliki in the South stand-offs can serve as examples. This rivalry tends to be quite violent and destructive, considering that each group has own militia at disposal.


Further, there is a risk that divisions and violent confrontation will inevitably weaken these new states and put their survival as sovereign entities into question. On the one hand, this will create a space for various extremist groups to take advantage and fill the power vacuum. Sunni populated state, in particular, may turn into easy prey for religion-inspired extremist militant organisations. On the other hand, establishing small states with predominantly mono-ethnic or mono-sectarian population and weak political institutions make it possible for influential neighbours turning them into their satellites, through installing puppet governments and taking control over their resources openly (unlike present situation when cross-border influences are exhibited covertly and somewhat counter-balance each other).

But that is not all. There is also an international dimension to partitioning. From the international law and practice point of view, there is a conundrum not resolved since the end of the Second World War. The United Nations and most of human rights declarations recognise both the right (of group, people, or nation) to self-determination and the right of sovereign states to territorial integrity (regardless of when and how those borders were set up)—without providing any proper mechanism of resolving potential tensions between these fundamental concepts when they conflict. And they have conflicted on numerous occasions all over the world, leading in the very soft outcome to confusion and diplomatic impasse, but more frequently turned into civil wars, long lasting terrorism, repressions, mass deportation and massacres.

In the situation of Iraq, the creation of new states based on ethnic and sectarian principle will be formally framed as a “special case”, not to inspire many others to follow suit. That is not going to convince anyone with similar aspirations for independence, or those who are afraid of those aspirations as potentially threatening the integrity of their states. Think of sectarian minorities across the region (and all this at the time of heightened tensions due to jihadists targeting Shi’a along with traditional “infidels”, on the one hand, and ever escalating rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran over hearts and minds of Muslims in the Middle East, on the other). The partitioning of Iraq into Sunni and Shi’a states will awaken and may set in motion a chain of movements across the Middle East and North Africa region (country like Kuwait, with its reputation for tolerance and cross-sectarian coalitions in the parliament, is rather an exception).

Think also of reactions of the governments in Ankara, Damascus (irrespectively of whether it is Bashar al-Assad led or not), and Tehran to creating an independent Kurdistan state. Turkey is home to almost half of the world’s Kurds (estimated globally between 35 and 40 million), while Iranian Kurds are estimated at about 3.8 million – these are not “tiny” minorities at all. Whether the Kurds, as the Middle East’s stateless nation, deserve having an independent state of their own is not much of a question for the international community. The problem is with different, conflicting perceptions of key stakeholders to the issue. Even though the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Syria and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of Turkey take softer approach to independence that the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), it is difficult to predict what sentiments and practical moves the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan—if turn reality in the immediate term—would trigger among the Kurds and the governments from neighbouring countries. Turkey is the case in point: the confrontation between the government forces and the Kurdish fighters has escalated into an open war since the summer of last year. In turn, after decades of calm, the Iranian Kurds have taken up arms; and it is difficult to predict what would be the mood in Syria’s Rojava once the land is liberated from ISIL and the West-backed and well-equipped and capable militarily Kurdish forces will take a close look at domestic issues.

Therefore, before the Iraqi Kurdistan becomes an independent state (if its people ever decide to) there must be a prior process of diplomatic negotiations with involvement of all interested parties from the countries concerned—to avoid or, at least, anticipate and minimize to extent possible, future surprises. One thing is clear that today no one is ready to deal with this issue, under constraint of other pressing problems and the uncertainty of outcome—neither in the countries with Kurdish population, nor in the region, in Europe, United States and Russia.

And finally, from economic perspective this option does not look attractive either. On the one hand, the Sunni populated state will be at disadvantage as its soil is scarce in mineral resources. Today, these provinces are receiving their share from the central government’s purse. Who is going to compensate for this loss? In turn, the economies of Kurdistan and Shi’a populated areas, too, are vulnerable due to their heavy reliance on oil exports. Industrial production and agriculture are at rudimentary levels, while for building a “smart”, technology-driven production and services they lack basic components such as communications infrastructure and skilled labour. Diversification, even if undertaken thoroughly, will take years to deliver. This is not impossible but demands continuous investments all the way long—something that these new states with weak economies will struggle to generate. The fact is that today the Iraqi economy is immature and thus cutting it in smaller pieces and distorting even those tiny existing value chains will further expose weaknesses and limit the capabilities for economic regeneration and growth in those states. Most probably, this will lead to even more inequality in wealth distribution, higher poverty and disenfranchisement of ordinary people. To sum up, the partitioning risks creating three failed states in place of the one struggling to avoid failing.


By the constitution of 2005, Iraq is a federal state whereby Kurdistan region is an autonomous federal unit with its own government. The relations between Baghdad and Erbil haven’t been always smooth and have been marked by numerous tag-of-war-like situations when important decisions and pieces of legislation were blocked in the Parliament or in the Council of Ministers. One point of continuous tension has been the revenue sharing formula from the oil exports (what else?). This rather tactical manoeuvring notwithstanding, it is right to say that federalism in Iraq has survived its test thus far.

Under this scenario Iraq would comprise three federal units—Kurdistan and other two with Sunni and Shi’a majority population, respectively. This set-up is not impossible but requires a new constitutional arrangement with new devolved powers clearly stipulated. If properly designed and, most importantly, respected and implemented afterwards this constitution and the system it introduces may well work. It will to certain degree equalise the rights of Kurds, Sunni and Shi’a Arabs, in exercising the power and control of resources while (again, to certain degree) guaranteeing the rights of minorities in each federal unit. What it will not solve in and by itself is patrimonialism, corruption, divides between the country’s multiple political players, and the inefficiency of its public administration.

There are two features of federalism that must be accepted by Iraq’s political elites (especially its Shi’a establishment) before they all decide to endeavour in this direction. One is that, although federalism offers a solution through decreased ethno-sectarian tensions (especially in a short term), it also encourages and fosters demands for secession over time. To borrow from the English constitutional theorist A.V. Dicey, “there is no midway between federalism and independence.” This is already an issue in Kurdistan, where the leadership has announced their intention to take course on the independence referendum—a move that makes Baghdad’s political establishment feeling uneasy. How would they react if two entities decide to secede one day? These are not easy things to digest. Therefore, accepting a legitimate right of each federal entity to break away through a popular vote at some point is one precondition to this scenario.

Another feature is about the degree of decentralisation. How much power does the federal government retain? In which policy and decision making domains, areas? And how deep down the hierarchy the power would devolve (entity, region, province, municipality, community)? What about tax collection? Which provisions would allow federal government taking full control and command and how do they define those exceptional and extraordinary circumstances (like wars and natural disasters)? These questions sound rather technical, but as ever the devil is in this sort of details. Finding the right balance between the empowering of federal units and the limiting of central government’s powers is a delicate business, but also vital one for the functionality of the future federal state. More clarity is there from the start, more of these are agreed upon and stipulated formally higher chances are that it will work smoothly.

Ideally, the creation of a new federal state of Iraq would go through an inclusive process of constitution building rather than closed-door elite talks. It has been demonstrated on many examples in the recent decades that extensive community engagement and participation in the design of a constitution (especially in post-conflict country) has a number of benefits—it helps create a sense of belonging to one polity, underlines common values and shared vision, as well as helps enhancing post-conflict reconciliation and community cohesion. Therefore, the quality of constitutional process may be equally important as the textual fineness of the document it is ought to produce. It is believed that, developed in such a participatory fashion the constitution stands better chances to be respected by its citizens and political leadership.

As any process of deliberation that is built on broad participation, the constitution making in Iraq is not expected to be a straightforward endeavour. First concern is (obviously) security: how to conduct numerous town hall meetings and discussions across the country without making those public gatherings a target for extremists? I am far from idealistically believing that, once the war with ISIL is finished the peace, law and order will be immediately established across the land and terrorist attacks would belong to history. It may happen eventually, but not in one day and not right after the war; the constitution building though cannot wait—if this route is taken, then the country has to move towards its arrangement of choice.

Second complication derives from the very fact of broad participation, when diverse groups bring too many issues of concern to their communities onto agenda. Not all of them are equally important or relevant to constitutional design, but individuals and groups feel strong about those issues and insist on discussing them, otherwise being disappointed by “selective categorisation”. Therefore, it may take much more time and effort to focus on major issues than envisaged at the outset.

Another challenge to broad political discourse comes from the tendency to group polarisation, as observed on numerous deliberative political processes. The essence of this social psychology phenomenon is that, resulting from an open discussion groups tend to move towards even more extreme and oppositional positions than they initially held. This considerably complicates the job of consensus building and finding solutions to common problems.

These challenges notwithstanding, it is still believed that broad based, inclusive constitutional process in post-conflict countries is one of the best ways to empower people and to enable them to listen to and better understand each other. The local political actors along with commitment and political will to act will need an expertise to facilitate the process in constructive and effective manner. This is where the international organisations, specialised agencies and donors can step in to offer both diplomatic and technical assistance.

Institution building

As noted throughout this series of posts, the real problem of Iraq lies in its institutions, which struggle to adapt to the changed regime type, on the one hand, and to the fast evolving external circumstances, on the other hand. Ability of an institution to assess the environment and modify itself in line with changes in external world (known as adaptability) has been the main factor behind successful development of numerous states throughout history. To the contrary, inability to adapt and adjust flexibly their internal procedures and underlining behaviours to demands of the day caused by stiffness, rigidity of institutions and the lack of resilient capability (especially when pushed to the boundaries) has frequently been the reason behind their demise and failure. This phenomenon is known under different names, depending on the nature of system observed: in social sciences it is called political decay, and all regime types, from tyrannies to liberal democracies, are vulnerable to it (in this or another way).

But this is only one part of the story. There is no society or state that lives through only decay without simultaneously experiencing regeneration. And there have been small and large initiatives by the Iraqi government (with strong backing and technical assistance from international actors) to reform various sectors of economy and society and to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of public administration. Those reform attempts (sometimes successful and sometimes not) are the very manifestations of regeneration.

Take, for example, the recent political deadlock triggered by the attempts of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to reform the decision making process and to improve the effectiveness of government. The aim was getting rid of poorly functioning and highly extortionate system of muassasa (a power sharing arrangement where Cabinet posts, and respectively public bodies reporting to them, are divided between political blocs based on sect and ethnicity) and creating instead a technocratic Council of Ministers. At the heart of this impasse is a situation (which is not unique to Iraq but exists in various forms in all government systems) when certain elite groups benefit from existing institutional arrangements and therefore defend the status quo by blocking any attempt at change. Interestingly, in this move the elites otherwise divided by ethno-sectarian principle exhibited an exemplary cohesion and unanimity.

Iraq is undergoing an evolutionary process, albeit under extreme circumstances, where it has to transition into a stable and modern democratic state. The fact that the collision between political decay and regeneration has taken an extreme, at times violent, forms does not change or deny the nature of this process—which is and remains inherently dialectical.

This scenario therefore aims at strengthening the regenerational, reformist forces within the Iraqi political system. It will do so by institution building and strengthening the resilience of current government apparatus without attempting to change the country’s constitutional set-up. In fact, it has been recognised by practitioners and in academic literature that the Iraqi constitution has all provisions in it to ensure democratisation and devolved governance, to guarantee the rights of minorities. The problem, as frequently the case, is not with the constitution itself but with its implementation.

There are four factors necessary for the success of any reform. First is about the constellation of power—that is, how strong are the pro-reform forces, how well organised and cohesive is their coalition, and how inclusive it is in covering the geographic and administrative areas as well as various segments of society.

Second is about the independence of bureaucracy (understood in Weberrian, technocratic terms) from undue political influence—that is, the ability of civil servants and public employees to do their job without being significantly constrained by political parties and blocs.

Third factor is about technical capacity of government to perform. It concerns both the capacity of individuals and the quality of administrative processes. Besides senior office holders (like minsters and their deputies) and managers (like directors general who are in fact responsible for the daily business of public administration), the middle level officials at all levels (from central executive office to provincial governorates) are part of the equation. Technical capacity at regional and provincial levels of authority is one important precondition for a meaningful administrative decentralisation to take place. With regards to processes, this factor concerns the quality of coordination and decision making across main horizontal systems of public administration (such as public finance and procurement, human resource, IT and communications) both vertically and at each given level.

Fourth factor is about domestic ownership. It is driven by commitment to reform of politicians, public and private employees, entrepreneurs, citizenry at large and their organised groups who see the change necessary, not merely desirable. This factor, especially in social domain, has been frequently underrated, although the practice has shown that without strong and capable civil society, independent think tanks, and the free media behind the change the state is not kept accountable, thus leaving the reform champions without broad public platform to rely upon.

I won’t speculate on the parameters under each factor, for such an assessment requires a research with institutional appraisal and extensive stakeholder interviews, to be conducted. That said, analysis of available information and personal observations allow to say that all four factors are present in Iraq today, although not to the same extent and even so, neither is strong enough to make it through without sustained, long-term, and quite intensive and targeted effort. This explains the difficulties faced by the teams of Messrs al-Maliki and al-Abadi in advancing the much needed reform agenda over a decade now.

The present situation in Iraq does not invite further criticism (too much of it has been aired from all angles, frequently without any constructive offer attached) or lamentation, but calls for action. It needs political communication and outreach (in order to build the public support for reforms and to organise the individual and small-group desires and drives) and more negotiation and bargaining between political leaders (perhaps with the brokerage and certain incentives offered by powerful external actors). It also will require a dedicated technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of government and civil society in key areas needed for the reform to happen and take root, and most importantly, to deliver benefits.

The latter point is particularly important, because the success of this scenario is strongly conditioned on performance and tangible outcomes. The government will need to achieve and convincingly demonstrate results continuously, in order to prove its effectiveness and maintain its legitimacy and credibility. To do so, the government, along with resources, will have to adopt flexible approaches that would enable it to manage by discovery, timely adapt to the changing circumstances and to build the overall resilience of the system. For example, the appointment of technocratic Cabinet has proven problematic thus far. Perhaps, it makes sense then to employ a different, alternative plan which may prove as effective. One option would be to strengthen the government’s technical capacity through reinforcing its central executive office—that is, the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, COMSEC.

Well functioning COMSEC will ensure both vertical and horizontal coordination within public administration, the continuity (especially at times of political blockages, but also in-between elections), and also consistency and coherence of policy making in long term and across various domains. There are three things which would bolster the chances of this plan to deliver the expected outcomes.

First (as ever) is commitment of political elites to maintain the COMSEC’s technical role and keep political interference to minimum, while enabling them to exercise the discipline and simultaneously conducting the democratic oversight. Second is separation of political and technical functions within the broader Government Office, between the COMSEC and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). And third is to design a system where COMSEC serves as a central nod in the network of technocrats active across ministries, regional and provincial authorities—without undermining the decision making and service delivery capacity of vertical systems (represented by individual ministries sector-wise and by regional and provincial authorities, geographically).

*                      *                      *

I do not conclude this piece with traditional summary of findings and recommendations; the aim was to outline the options with certain degree of detail on their advantages and limitations—this all is a work-in-progress, after all. However, it is clear from the above that I favour the institution building scenario. Because it points clearly to the way forward without grand theories behind (which are good only for well-ordered situations, but hardly anyone would agree that Iraq today represents the one). Because it rests on a series of relatively small, tactical interventions (many of which would be implemented simultaneously but being decoupled to extent possible, to insulate the risks of failures). And finally, because it is the only option which is practically implementable in the immediate term—and time matters.


Political Crisis in Iraq: The Things Must Change earlier posts:

Part I: Political institutions, Politics, Governance

Part II: Economic institutions, Financial stability

Part III: State security, Human security


About the author: Elbay Alibayov is an international development professional specialising in state building and political processes in post-conflict countries. In 2011-2014, he worked in Baghdad assisting the Iraqi Government’s central executive offices and key ministries on a range of administrative initiatives and policy reforms.


Publicado en inicio, Norte de África y Oriente Medio, Posts | Etiquetado , | 1 Comentario

Iraq y el desafío de la seguridad

Political Crisis in Iraq: The Things Must Change

Part 3: State security, Human security

Por Elbay Alibayov, analista invitado a La mirada a Oriente, colaborador de un servidor entre 2002 y 2004 en la Misión de la OSCE en Sarajevo (Bosnia y Herzegovina) y experto en Iraq donde trabajó como asesor internacional del gobierno central de 2011 a 2014.

La desintegración de Iraq no solo afecta a los iraquíes, un Estado fallido del tamaño de Iraq es un potente factor de desestabilización de Oriente Medio. En este artículo, el tercero de una serie sobre la crisis política de Iraq, Elbay Alibayov analiza la situación y la política de seguridad del gobierno iraquí.

State security

As I was finalising this paper, the news came out that the Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi had announced the military campaign to retake Fallujah, on 23 May. In spite of the town being under siege by the government forces for months, the news came as a surprise: it was known that the U.S. and other allied military advisers were recommending focusing all the efforts on retaking Mosul, and it looked like the plan for some time. However, the decision by Prime Minister was not dictated by military strategy but by political necessity. The deadlock in the Parliament, which does not allow the Government to pursue the reforms, and the pressure of popular protests led by Muqtada al-Sadr—all indicate of the Government rapidly losing its credibility. There is an urgent need for a victorious campaign, to boost the image of the Prime Minister and his aides. Mosul may take long months to liberate; hence, the decision to go first after Fallujah.

Politics and security are intertwined in the Middle East; numerous coups, military backed regimes, and infamous mukharabat are evidence to that. Iraq is no exception. This mutually reinforcing relationship has created many problems in the past, and today the politicisation of security sector remains the Iraqi state’s ‘the enemy from within’.

Present situation

For more than two years already, large parts of Iraq are controlled by the ISIL militants in a territory of self-proclaimed caliphate which, combined with the land seized from Syria, has about 10 million of population. The ISIL’s emergence as al-Qaeda outfit initially, and then quick expansion and seizure of territories back in 2014 became possible in many ways due to mistrust and political tensions in Iraq, between the Sunni tribes and the Shi’a dominated government in Baghdad. As a result, both the central Government and the Shi’a dominated Iraq Security Forces (ISF) had little credibility in Sunni populated provinces. In turn, former Ba’athist high ranked army officers (expelled from ISF) joined the Islamist militant organisation, thus strengthening its operational capacity to successfully combat the government and allied forces.

Today, due to continued, sustained campaign by the ISF, backed by tribal fighters and Coalition airstrikes, ISIL has lost approximately 40 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq. According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), over the past two months alone the allied forces have made significant gains in the Euphrates River Valley, recapturing almost the entirety of the southern bank (including the area between Hit district and Baghdadi Sub-district). Neither do the militants have a unanimous support they once enjoyed in the controlled lands, because of harsh rules imposed and atrocities committed against domicile Sunni population—it is right to say that they hold the ground by force now. According to nationwide survey held earlier this year, about 95 percent of Iraqi Sunnis oppose ISIL.


Security forces

Since the coalition forces have stepped-up in full, through the increased presence of their military personnel (instructors, advisers), supply of arms and intensified airstrikes at the militant-held targets, the situation on the ground started to change gradually. However, despite losing much of the support and both financial and human resources ISIL continues to hold territories (among them the highly valued by all sides to political contestation, the city of Mosul) and fiercely battles off the offense by the Government’s security forces along with various Kurdish, Shi’a, and Sunni integrated and not-so-much-integrated paramilitary groups. The truth is that, in part, the military success of ISIL from the outset in 2014 offense and up to this day owes to the inherent weaknesses of the Iraqi security sector.




One of the problems comes from the legacy of building Iraq’s security forces after fully dismantling the previous regime in 2003. Experienced security cadre were gone, and instead a large-scale recruitment took place to staff the army, police and intelligence agencies. It was a massive (and by its parameters, an insurmountable) undertaking to build the national security forces under the pressing circumstances of time, spiralling insurgency, terrorist attacks, and sectarian in-fighting all across the country. As a result, it was done hastily, without proper procedures and consideration given to professional qualifications and fitness for service, let alone screening the recruits’ social and political background. By the end of 2010, the Iraqi army and police personnel were estimated between 660 thousand and 800 thousand members. The formation shortcomings notwithstanding, the ISF led operations since 2008 were assessed as mostly successful.


The major problem however is not technical; it is political, since Iraq’s security sector mirrors and is under constant influence of the country’s political set-up, its ethno-sectarian divides and related rivalry. Politicisation has immediate effects on security sector performance—this hold true for any country. This is how the unexpected and quite dramatic collapse of the Iraqi army under the ISIL offense in 2014 was described at the time by the security firm, Soufan Group: ‘Four out the ISF’s 13 divisions melted as the Islamic State seized Mosul and other Sunni-inhabited cities along the Tigris River, leaving U.S.-supplied weapons to fall into the Islamic State’s hands. The ISF was not only poorly led—a product of an appointment process that favored allies of the Shi’a Muslim-dominated government—but also was viewed as a Shi’a “occupier” of Sunni areas. Lacking local support and the political will to risk their lives to maintain control of Sunni areas, the mostly Shi’a ISF commanders simply fled, and their units collapsed.’ [1] This account offers quite a telling story of how politicisation of the country’s security forces weakens its capabilities and allows for strategic surprises.

This problem has two dimensions. One is internal to security forces (ISF which comprises army and police, but the problem is the same with the National Intelligence Service, INIS), which have been filled with people from various backgrounds—from former paramilitaries and insurgents, to sectarians and the remnants of previous regime (whether army officers or former members of Saddam’s secret service, Jihaz alMukharabat al-Amma). They mistrust each other and are believed to keep their loyalties to those political forces which promoted them rather than to a single national chain of command. This immediately results in fragmentation and lack of accountability of the system as a whole, while transferring the political divides into the army, police and intelligence. The task of fully integrating both Sunni and Shi’a Arabs in security forces sill remains a major task, in spite of efforts (like the integration of several thousand Sons of Iraq) undertaken after the 2014 failures.

Second dimension originates from the multiplicity of actors involved—there are multiple (and quite numerous) militia formations of all sorts fighting alongside government forces. This creates a lot of coordination problems and eventual failures and at times results in open confrontation and the use of force, among these parallel forces, who while joining efforts at tactical level live to their own (and their backers’) agendas. Recent clashes in Tuz Khormato in the north of Iraq, between the Kurdish peshmerga forces and the Iraqi Government-sponsored (mostly Shi’a) Popular Mobilization Units serves as yet another evidence to that: the town populated by about 60 thousand Kurds, and Shi’a and Sunni Arabs and Turkmen is a disputed zone claimed by both the Kurdish Regional Government and the Government in Baghdad.


As an outcome, the Iraq’s security forces remain less capable than could have been expected of them, after years of intensive training and tens of billions spent on their maintenance and modern military equipment. Moreover, leaving the security system in its present shape, under the excuse of being preoccupied with the host of other urgent tasks, will turn into much bigger trouble in hands of the Government, over time. The war with Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria will take years, but one day the land will be liberated from their occupation. At this point, if not well prepared in advance, the Iraqi state will face even bigger challenge—the demobilization will release into society tens of thousands of young men with no other qualifications and limited opportunities for employment or entrepreneurial activity; many of whom also happen to belong to various competing tribes, fractions, sectarian groups.

It is a dangerous myth to believe that with too much weapons and ammunition in hands of too many battle-hardened and too diverse groups, Iraq will automatically become safe and secure place once the ISIL, al-Qaeda and other militants are defeated. A profound security sector reform, creating an apolitical, professional, and democratically accountable army, police and intelligence matched with a well-though-out strategy and resources for reintegration of demobilised soldiers into economy and society—must be high on the Government agenda already today.

Economic dimension

There is another dimension to the damage caused by the years of insurgency and fighting—that is the damage to the country’s image as an attractive place for foreign investment. As such, it represents the threat to the country’s future economic security.

The war with ISIL takes tens of billions of public resources, disrupts the regular government and commercial operations, and brings large-scale destruction to the country’s physical infrastructure. Significant number of assets has been destroyed and as of recent, ISIL started targeting oil and gas facilities. The war also puts the investors on high alert due to the escalated political risks (which anyways were among the highest in the world since 2003), and thus minimizes the much needed foreign direct investment flows. Violent conflicts coupled with high unpredictability of government (and thus high possibility of unilateral, predatory move against foreign investors’ assets) are among key factors considered when assessing a country’s political risks. It is enough to say that mostly due to the war in Syria and Iraq, some risk consultancy firms have not included the Middle East in their investor confidence indexes for this and the following year.

Iraq will need those investors, once the war with ISIL is finished, whenever it happens. The future-oriented damage to the country’s image by the terrorists is undisputed, but the government will have to do much more than it has done to date, to offer guarantees and business-friendly environment for the foreign companies to come—not only on words and through the lavishly organised conferences abroad (which are all important and necessary investment promotion activities—like the conference and exhibition on Iraq’s financial and banking sector held recently in Lebanon, March 2016)—but, and above all, by real action.


Human security

It is right to say that the Iraqis haven’t lived in quiet, stable, and well-ordered situations for over three-and-half decades already. Since 1980, when Saddam Hussein launched his war campaign against the neighbouring Iran, the country has transitioned from one conflict to another, then lived through the misery and restrictions of sanctions, only to be replaced by disorder, insurgency, civil war, and now fighting with terrorists and all sort of militants on its own soil. It is a depressing fact that a generation of already mid-aged Iraqis have not lived a normal decent life in their otherwise resource rich, perfectly located, beautiful country.

Terrorism casualties

Along with conventional combat, terrorist attacks by various militant groups are being conducted at broad scale, almost uninterrupted since 2003—tearing apart communities, taking thousands of lives, and striving to achieve their primary goal of intimidating the population and the government, coercing and taking off their will to resist. Since 2003, the Iraqis have been subjected to more than 16 thousand terrorist attacks. According to UN, only in the course of the last three-and-half years (from November 2012 through April 2016) over 95 thousand casualties have been reported (31,729 killed and 63,608 injured). Although the intensity of attacks and the number of civilian casualties have drastically decreased compared to 2014, still they remain shockingly high.

To appreciate the scale of the terrorist damage on Iraq, let’s compare the attacks and human loss with the European countries. In 15 years, from September 2001 through March 2016, there have been 71 terrorist attacks (from all kind of perpetrators) conducted at the territory of 14 west European countries (of them 45 were attacks which caused one death, like the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby in London in 2013). Altogether, those attacks have claimed the lives of 606 individuals (most casualties were in Spain—212; followed by France 162; and Britain 74). Each of those attacks, whatever small or large in scale and whatever the number of casualties, has triggered an emotionally-charged wave of rightful public anger that followed by a long lasting anxiety bordering with panic.

Now, looking at Iraq, only in the last month of April alone, as the result of terrorist attacks there were 410 civilians killed and 973 injured, while the casualties among the security forces amounted to 331 and 401 individuals, respectively. The attacks were conducted all across the country eventually leaving no safe place around, with most of targets being in Baghdad but also in the troubled Ninewa, Diyala, Kirkuk, and Anbar provinces. Combined, this means hundreds of killed and hundreds or thousands injured every single month in a span of thirteen years, with average casualties about 90 individuals per day—an enormous human loss, but also unbelievable psychological pressure of continuous brutal intimidation, on the Iraqi people.

Refugees and internally displaced persons

The effects on human security since 2003 have been unprecedented by the Iraqi prior experience, and have been acknowledged as immense by the regional and global standards. In a decade after 2003, an estimated one million Iraqis have fled violence turning in people without permanent residence within their own country (a category known as internally displaced people, or IDPs). In 2014 alone, since the ISIL offense, another estimated 2.6 million IDPs were reported, bringing the situation to the level declared a humanitarian crisis. Today their numbers are approaching four million individuals, comprising as much as 12 percent of the country’s population—with their established life disrupted, and all of them living in shelter, deprived of jobs and property. In addition to its own IDPs, Iraq also hosts over 246 thousand refugees from Syria (by data as of end-March 2016). The Government is struggling to settle and serve all these people with shelter and minimum living conditions, even though international organisations and specialised refugee agencies have stepped in to offer their expertise and assistance on the ground.


All this only adds to their misery, and many Iraqis have taken their chances to seek refuge in other countries. Already by the end of 2014, there were 369 thousand Iraqi refugees registered in neighbouring countries (mostly Iran, Syria, and Jordan) and Europe (predominantly in Germany). Further, in 2015-2016, approximately another 168 thousand Iraqi refugees have arrived in Europe’s Mediterranean ports, by sea. Today, Iraq is among the world’s top ten refugee origin countries contributing to a million-strong stream of desperate people fleeing their homes for a safe place in Europe.

Human capital

The most devastating result of the years of insurgency, terrorism, combat and lack (if not absence at times) of law and order in vast parts of the country is the depletion of Iraq’s human capital. On the one hand, poverty has reached its record highs: in 2014 the poor comprised over 22 percent of population nationwide. In the ISIL directly controlled and surrounding governorates the impact of economic and social disruptions resulted in poverty rates going above 41 percent. According to the World Bank, about half of million people leaving below the poverty line were IDPs.

On the other hand, the population’s health condition has further deteriorated, prompting key health indicators for Iraq at the bottom of rankings for the entire region. In 2015, life expectancy here was the lowest (next to Yemen) at 69.2—compared to 72.7 years average for west Asia. Meanwhile, another critical indicator, infant mortality rate, has reached 32 per 1,000 live births in 2010-2015—again, next highest to Yemen and Azerbaijan in west Asia (with the region’s otherwise unacceptably high rate of 24 on average). To compare, the World Health Organisation’s European Region estimate for 2015 is 10 per 1,000 live births.

Of particular concern is the situation with the young people. The youth aged between 15 and 24 comprise about 20 percent of Iraq’s population (about 6.8 million). Part of them live in the ISIL controlled areas of militancy and medieval backwardness. Another part, estimated at over one million persons live in shelter, as IDPs. Additionally, there are over one million children of school age from the internally displaced families. One more disadvantaged and highly vulnerable group are orphans. According to UNICEF survey of 2011, there were estimated 800,000 to 1 million children without one or both parents, in Iraq. Today, the Iraqi Orphan Foundation claims that their number has risen to over 3 million (children aged under 18), and is ‘growing exponentially every week’. Majority of them are homeless, and various criminals take advantage of them, including the ISIL and other militant and terrorist groups. Earlier this year, there were reports on child soldiers being used by ISIL in Iraq and Syria (most of them recruited locally): the authors estimated their numbers about one and half thousand.

In another critical development area, the education system (both primary and higher) has consistently and miserably failed over these years (despite of huge amounts spent from the budget and international technical assistance offered and provided) to reform, modernise and offer their young generation the knowledge and skills they need. Unfortunately, formal indicators based on the catchment area and similar statistics do not give a real picture in this sector. Although Iraq fairs well, compared to other countries, in terms of literacy rates, the coverage by primary schools per population numbers, or teacher/student ratio—all this does not reflect the quality of education being provided. For example, the inflated teacher/student ratio is merely a result of the government’s employment policy (as all across the public sector) and therefore may be misleading. The truth is that even the leading Baghdad universities do not have a qualified staff to teach modern science; their libraries are not computerised and are thus not linked to global academic exchange system. Many haven’t received new books published in America or Europe for over two decades, while students are taught on and referred to textbooks and literature written only in Arabic and published sometime in the 1970s.

In strategic perspective, all these years since 2003 (and perhaps even since the Gulf war) have created a ‘lost generation’ of Iraqis. Part of them have left with their families abroad (and some keep leaving the country for good), another part were killed, and of those who stay in the country many are demoralised, radicalised and exploited in various ways. These young people living in Iraq have very limited opportunities for licit and decent employment or entrepreneurial activity, and altogether they lack modern knowledge and skills to drive their homeland from trouble, civil war and poverty towards prosperity, rule of law and the respect for fundamental human rights. Without meaningful investment in health and education of its young population for a prolonged period of time, Iraq has put its future under a big question mark.


The awakening call

Many Middle East commentators agree that the Iraqi state as it stands today (and for quite a time for over a decade now) is falling apart as it cannot fulfil its main function—to keep the law and order within its borders, to protect its fellow citizens, and offer them an acceptable quality of life. In turn, the Iraqi society (the other part of political equation) is divided, threatened, increasingly frustrated, and incapable of keeping the state accountable while desperately seeking ways of escaping the downfall into total chaos.

Increasingly, Iraq resembles the features of a failed nation: ‘Nations fail today because their extractive institutions do not create incentives needed for people to save, invest, and innovate. Extractive political institutions support these economic institutions by cementing the power of those who benefit from the extraction. … The result is economic stagnation and civil wars, mass displacements, famines, and epidemics, making many of these countries poorer today than they were in the 1960s.’ [2]

The commentators, as well as many development practitioners who have worked in Iraq also agree that Iraq has made tangible progress in terms of revitalising its oil industry, expanding the electrification and other critical infrastructure, communication and service delivery networks in an effort to rebuild the country from the ashes of the 1990s sanctions, 2003 invasion and its immediate insurgent aftermath. But that is not enough; there is an urgent need for fundamental changes in political institutions, to achieve improvements and sustainable growth in many other vital economic and social areas. The Iraqi state cannot hold on in the same fashion anymore, under the mounting pressure of domestic political tensions and centrifugal forces, foreign interference (of powerful neighbours who have turned the country into a battleground for their proxy wars), public administration plagued with systemic corruption, and disenfranchisement and deep suffering of its people.

On a positive note, we have witnessed a desire for change, among the ordinary Iraqis. And there is energy to translate it into practice, as recent protests in Baghdad’s Green Zone have demonstrated. What is missing is a democratic process of dialogue, as between politicians and their backers and influencers, so between political establishment and the people they claim to represent—all in all to channel this energy into constructive direction.


[1] The Soufan Group, TSG IntelBrief: Iraqi Forces Central to Fight Against Islamic State,
November 13, 2014

[2] Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why the Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (London: Profile Books, 2012), p. 372-373


About the author: Elbay Alibayov is an international development professional specialising in state building and political processes in post-conflict countries. In 2011-2014, he worked in Baghdad assisting the Iraqi Government’s central executive offices and key ministries on a range of administrative initiatives and policy reforms.

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Political Crisis in Iraq: The Things Must Change [Part 2, the economic side]

Por Elbay Alibayov, analista invitado a La mirada a Oriente, colaborador de un servidor entre 2002 y 2004 en la Misión de la OSCE en Sarajevo (Bosnia y Herzegovina) y experto en Iraq donde trabajó como asesor internacional del gobierno central de 2011 a 2014.

En esta segunda parte dedicada a la dimensión económica de la crisis de Irak, Elbay Alibayov analiza principalmente los desafíos derivados de la dependencia del petróleo, la ausencia de un entorno favorable a las empresas, el endeudamiento y el coste astronómico de la reconstrucción de las infraestructuras después de casi dos años de guerra contra el DAESH.


140615000716_mapa_irak_grupos_etnicosEconomy and Economic Institutions

Oil dependency

The Iraqi economy is struggling. It fully depends on oil & gas industry and, thus, is exposed to market volatility and highly vulnerable. Today, oil exports comprise 99 percent of the country’s exports. This, combined with the old-fashioned central planning, strict market regulation, and outdated methods of management only makes the problem insurmountable. In charge is the Ministry of Planning, which also happens to be very influential due to holding the economic and social sphere information in their hands (and keeping it close to chest), a replica of (Soviet) socialist-style central planning committee.

As across the Middle East, diversification of economy is a fancy word in Iraq, but: first, as shown elsewhere in the region, it is easy said than done, especially in a short time span (considering the external factors of harsh competition, but also internal human factor and the quality of physical and social infrastructures); and second, it requires not only well written strategies but concerted efforts and leadership by political elites (something that the United Arab Emirates have demonstrated in turning their economy from oil-driven to service-based, but Iraq, as some other oil-dependent economies, struggles to do).



Non-hydrocarbon industrial production (or what is deemed as such) is concentrated in the Iraqi public sector. While comprising a tiny one-and-half percent of the country’s industrial units, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are producing over 90 percent of the sector’s output. But even these SOEs are non-profitable: in 2012, almost 80 percent of them were functioning on the government subsidies. They use obsolete equipment, do not follow international technological standards, and are managed in outdated ways. Except for cement, fertilizers and transformers, the Iraqi industrial products from state-owned, private and mixed-ownership enterprises are not competitive at either domestic, regional or international markets.

Business enabling environment

In spite of these striking deficiencies, there have not been any serious attempts undertaken towards market economy and deregulation, let alone privatisation. Economic reform plans have been developed by the Government (mostly with the assistance of international actors) but never transformed into action. The examples are numerous, from Integrated Energy Strategy, Industrial Strategy, to the Roadmap for Restructuring the SOEs and the Strategy for Supporting the Private Sector. Here, again, it was more about rivalry, vested interests of political blocs and lack of trust between them rather than inability or unwillingness of Government technocrats that did not allow making even initial steps towards deregulation or introducing mixed forms of ownership in key sectors.

Business enabling environment in Iraq has been long neglected and as a result, remains largely underdeveloped and market-unfriendly (the Government’s ambition for and on-going negotiation on the acceptance to WTO notwithstanding). Private sector is weak and not supported by the effective policy, legislative and regulatory framework; to the contrary, there are thousands of laws, regulations and improvised circulars which only confuse and slow down the entrepreneurial activity, while creating conditions conducive for Iraq’s systemic corruption to thrive. It does not come as surprise then that Iraq is consistently at the bottom of the global ranking for Doing Business report: in 2015-2016, it ranked at 160 and 161 among 189 surveyed countries, respectively. Importantly, even within one year, it fell dramatically in a central category of ‘Starting a Business’ by 10 points. Otherwise, successful businesses are closely linked to political elites, thus feeding further the systemic corruption (such as those enterprises providing off-grid electricity to residential areas across the country, from their privately owned generators).

The result is that extractive economic institutions feed on the country’s rich resource base, but do not reinvest into its growth (typical rentier economy, some would say). Moreover, instead of incentivising and enabling, they constrain the free choice of people to undertake entrepreneurial activities and to invest into their country’s economy—thus, constraining the Iraqi talent and money of strengthening the country’s economy and creating a strong middle class as the society’s backbone. Friedrich Hayek, one of the most influential economists of the last century, has well described the contradiction of this kind economic thinking: ‘It is often said that political freedom is meaningless without economic freedom. This is true enough, but in a sense almost opposite from that in which the phrase is used by our planners. The economic freedom which is the prerequisite of any other freedom cannot be the freedom from economic care which the socialists promise us and which can be obtained only by relieving the individual at the same time of the necessity of the power of choice; it must be the freedom of our economic activity which, with the right of choice, inevitably also carries the risk and the responsibility of that right.’ [1]

Financial Situation and Sovereignty Crisis


About 95 percent of Iraq’s Government budget comes from oil revenue. Even at better times, any unfavorable fluctuation in oil prices had immediate and very painful implications on the country’s financial standing. As in many other areas, the Government and its Oil Ministry (another bastion of power and vested interest by elites) had been unprepared to the market shocks, because it had continuously failed to introduce modern planning and decision making processes (one such planning support tool, oil resource management system equipped with industry data software, was envisaged by the Integrated National Energy Strategy adopted in 2013 but by that time it was too late—ISIL was knocking at the door). In the last couple of years, the Government’s revenues have dried out due to record-low oil prices at the global market and the excessive spending from public budget, on the administration’s running costs, the war with ISIL and its humanitarian consequences.

The budget has been approved for 2016 at $100 billion, with predicted deficit of about $25 billion. But even this grim outlook is unrealistic: the budget calculations were based on oil price of $45 per barrel, while so far Brent prices have been hovering around $30 to $40 (they are expected to average $42 per barrel in the second and third quarters of 2016, before rising to $44 in the fourth quarter). This means billions more added to the deficit. Five years ago, in 2011 the deficit was projected by the Budget document approved by Parliament at 16.2 percent ($13.4 billion to $82.6 billion budget, respectively), and this was at the time of oil prices keeping high at $76.50 per barrel.

Sovereign debts

In a rather frantic move, the Government has recently resorted to using its foreign reserves (under a pretext of short-term measure) to cover its daily expenditures—and thus has taken a dangerous route which may head towards eventual insolvency. This will make the reserves fall from $59 billion in last October to about $43 billion this year. But that is not all. In the meantime, the Government is seeking yet another loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in an attempt to regulate its financial situation. This is at the top of receiving $1.24 billion emergency loan last year (through the Poverty Reduction and Growth Fund). With another international lender, the World Bank Group (WB), the Government signed an agreement at the end of 2015, for a $1.2 billion loan. This also comes atop of other liabilities to the WB: by the end-March 2016, there were four active loans, through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and five credits through the International Development Assistance (IDA) – altogether about $3.1 billion already disbursed. Governments have stepped in, too: the United States has offered a $2.7 billion loan for military spending, and Germany has lent Iraq over $550 million for reconstruction.stock_market_oil_crash

Looks like a lot money, but it is not. Altogether, these loans would barely cover the Government’s one-month administrative expenditure under the current circumstances, but instead will make Iraq more indebted, under mounting liabilities while with no repayment prospects on the horizon. The Iraqi Government simply cannot afford intensively borrowing. The borrowing from international lenders is always conditional, and it is proven helpful only in a short term as cash injection to maintain the equilibrium; while in the situation when government fails consistently to perform structural reforms, the financial discipline and austerity measures (let along being under the pressure of war and destruction of infrastructure and assets) the additional liability may turn disastrous and lead to the bankruptcy and the loss of sovereignty. What these attempts tell is more about the Government being desperate and confused rather than about well thought-out financial policy.

The cost of reconstruction

Another problem is that in order to get back on track and restore the normal economic activities, along with liberating the territories captured by ISIL, the Government will need hundreds of billions to be invested in the reconstruction of physical infrastructure (to revitalize what has been destroyed in the course of the last two years, by now). The cost of reconstruction has not been calculated yet. According to Iraqi economists, the country will need about $60 billion to recover. I think it is a very modest estimate: just recall how the U.S. Government initial estimate of $50 to $60 billion on the Iraqi war and reconstruction turned into $2.2 trillion by 2013. The international organisations and bilateral donors would step in, and so will do various public and private foundations and donor conferences, but the host government has to take its share of responsibility and match those reconstruction funds, which would be yet another challenge to the cash-stripped authorities. The question is, if the things (in this instance, the Government’s economic policies and practices) don’t change, can they stand to the task when the time comes?



[1] F.A.Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (London: Routledge, 1997 [1944]), p. 75


About the author: Elbay Alibayov is an international development professional specialising in state building and political processes in post-conflict countries. In 2011-2014, he worked in Baghdad assisting the Iraqi Government’s central executive offices and key ministries on a range of administrative initiatives and policy reforms.

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Political Crisis in Iraq: The Things Must Change [Part 1]

Por Elbay Alibayov, analista invitado a La mirada a Oriente, colaborador de un servidor entre 2002 y 2004 en la Misión  de la OSCE en Sarajevo (Bosnia y Herzegovina)  y experto en Iraq donde trabajó como  asesor internacional del gobierno central de 2011 a 2014.

“For the King, yes, of course. But which King? … Unless we     ourselves take a hand now, they will foist a republic on us. If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change. Do you understand?”

Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard

Iraq is in turmoil. The terrorist attacks and ongoing war with Islamist militants, which catch the headlines, is only one of the crisis’ many manifestations. It is not just a toughest challenge, but a survival test the Iraqi state is facing today. Unless the root causes of the problem are addressed and a political solution that satisfies all the major actors (including the diverse groups of population along with political elites) is found and agreed upon, Iraq will struggle to establish peace and order in its territory, let alone offer its fellow citizens a prosperous and dignified life they long deserve. To borrow from di Lampedusa’s masterpiece, if Iraq is to remain a sovereign functioning state in its present borders, certain things in its fundamental rules will have to change.

The Multiple Facets of the Iraqi Political Crisis

A Background

Today, the Arab and the entire Muslim world are going through a very dynamic, and at times highly volatile, process of transition. The mixture of cultural (including political) heritage with the processes and products of globalization offer a unique set of contexts that differ from each other locally, in dynamics and forms, but altogether give rise to diverse global trends and movements. It is a complex, unpredictable, and quite painful process, were emergence of extremism and religious militancy coexists and effectively competes with secular forces and post-Islamist movements which, unlike their predecessors, recognize the compatibility of promoting Islamic values with respecting democratic procedures. It is also an innovative process, meaning that it allows testing diverse range of approaches, sometimes failing and reverting back to square one, and sometimes producing some novel political outcomes never experienced before—the evidence from countries as different in terms of political system as Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait, Iran, Pakistan, and Indonesia clearly proves that.

Those political experiments are not innocent though—this is the struggle for power, after all. And their proponents keep looking for vulnerabilities, capitalize on the weaknesses of existing political regimes, and continuously adapt. Even seemingly stable Arab states (namely, the Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain) are struggling under the pressure of internal problems, where diminishing revenues, growing population, voluntary and real unemployment, inequality and poverty are taken against the ruling regimes by their opponents, who capitalize on the growing dissatisfaction and frustration of their citizen with economic and social problems, censorship and violation of human rights. Some commentators went as far as to suggest that these regimes, at least in their present form, will cease to exist within few years.

However, first affected by the popular uprising across the Middle East and North Africa, dubbed the Arab Spring of 2010-2011, were so called presidential monarchies. Dictators who made themselves their respective countries’ presidents for life, indeed, had ruled in increasingly authoritarian fashion, for four decades: Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya since the 1969 coup; the al-Assad family in Syria since the 1970 coup; Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen since the 1978 coup (in North Yemen); Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia since taking power in 1987 coup; and Hosni Mubarak since becoming a president of Egypt in 1981. To date, all but one are gone. Whatever happens with Bashar al-Assad at the eventual end of the civil war, it is clear that there is no way back to presidential monarchy in Syria. And in this context, it is safe to suggest that, if not toppled by the US-British invasion in 2003, Saddam Hussein would have faced the challenge of Arab Spring in Iraq, and the fate of the other rulers of similar kind.

The Iraqi Political Landscape

Political dynamics in Iraq in many ways reflect the mosaic of political landscape characteristic to the Middle East and broader Muslim world. It combines a centuries-long tradition of tribal politics with tendency for strong central power, inheritance of the failures of pan-Arabism nationalists and pan-Islamists in modern times, with sectarianism, cross-border influence of powerful neighbours, and a genuine search for a new, post-Saddam, political identity.

At the country level the politics is divided along ethnic (Arabs vs. Kurds) and sectarian (Sunni vs. Shi’a) lines. At the local level further divisions and rivalry exist within each of those polity segments—among Sunni tribes and political parties (e.g. Iraqi Islamic Party, Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI), and Council of Iraqi Scholars); Shi’a parties (e.g. Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), Islamic Dawa Party, Badr Organization, Sadrist Movement); Kurdish parties (Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), but also new players such as Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), and Gorran); and Turkmen fractions (e.g. Iraqi National Turkmen Party (INTP), Turkmen Democratic Movement, and Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkoman which represents Shi’a Turkmen).




As a result of all these divisions, there is neither much issue-based politics nor is there genuinely inclusive secular political movement or party in Iraq. Perhaps, the fate of the Al-Iraqiya Alliance (a cross-confessional and mostly secular coalition of parties led by the former Interim Prime Minister A’yad Allawi) offers a telling story in this respect. Almost as prescribed in the seminal works of Mancur Olson, as a rule the cooperation between various Iraqi political groups at the central or local levels happens only in the face of an eminent common threat, or under coercion. No one trusts anyone else.

Such a political set-up predetermines the character of transitional processes underway in Iraq, but at the same time it itself is profoundly influenced by the rapidly changing social, economic, and security contexts of the region and the country itself. This reciprocity has been famously noted by Michel Foucault, back in 1977: ‘The political is not what ultimately determines (or over-determines) elementary relations. … All relations of force imply a power relation … and each power relation can be referred to the political sphere of which it is a part, both as its effect and as its condition of possibility.’ [1] Therefore, understanding this interplay is crucial for making sense of what is going on in Iraq, and eventually helping the local political actors to find a solution—without attempting to picking winners, taking sides, or engineering the outcome.

Governance and Political Institutions

The Parliament, Council of Representatives of Iraq, has been largely dysfunctional in every mandate since 2005. Many crucial pieces of legislation have been blocked because of inability to come to consensus and to overcome narrow political stands by political opponents. It mirrors the major divides between Iraq’s political elites, and its members find it increasingly difficult to give concessions and make mutually acceptable agreements; the game by the Iraqi politicians played is strictly zero-sum, with desirable outcome of ‘winner takes all.’

The Government is oversized and costly: today, it keeps about 7 million people on public payroll, which costs it US$4 billion in salaries and pensions every month. Partly because of that, the Government is also ineffective as it employs an army of individuals most of whom don’t have a work to do, are unqualified and disinterested, in addition to the environment which does not offer any incentive for learning, innovating and improving.

In 2008/2011 survey by the World Bank, on the quality of public administration and its professionalism, Iraq was placed right at the median position of the global ranks. This was a time when the last generation of well-educated and experienced Iraqi civil servants was still around. In the recent five years, most of them have retired (even those who, in line with the effective regulations, were allowed to be employed as senior advisers to the Prime Minister and the key ministries). With their departure, the technical quality of the bureaucracy has fallen sharply.

In turn, the local (provincial) authorities lacked capacity from the onset and even though prescribed by the law, do not have in reality enough authority and resources to serve their constituents effectively. There is also big deal of competition and confusion between them and the representatives of central ministries in the field, in terms of who is in charge.

Unsurprisingly in such a set-up, the relations between the legislative and the executive continue to be troublesome. The ministers being political appointees hold their allegiance to their political parties, not to the Cabinet: on numerous occasions in the recent years, some would leave the office for indefinite time, in sign of solidarity with their political party’s/ bloc’s disagreement with Prime Minister or their failure to reach an agreement with the ruling bloc in the Parliament. Ironically, in a survey conducted in 2012 by World Justice Project/ Rule of Law, Iraq has scored much higher than the region’s average in terms of government powers being ‘effectively limited by the legislative’. They are effectively limited indeed, but not always in the ways one would expect from a functioning democracy.

Overall, the authorities, both elected and appointed, lack credibility—citizens see the officials as corrupt, self-serving and unwilling (if capable) to undertake the fundamental reforms for the people’s benefit. Transparency International consistently rates Iraq as ‘highly corrupt’, ranking it 175 (out of 178 countries) in 2010, 170 (out of 174 countries) in 2014 and 161 (out of 168 countries) in 2015. The countries which fare worse are Libya, Angola, South Sudan, Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somali.

Understanding the cultural features

At the same time, certain behaviours of public office holders (both elected and appointed) are tolerated by the society. Nepotism and patronage are considered normal practice in Iraq (to quite a degree), as they are across the Middle East and broader, Eurasian socio-political realm. It has its roots in a culture and tradition built around strong kinship and nomadic or rural community bonds, and therefore is well accepted by local people. For example, such practices as ‘trade in influence’ and undue interference in appointments to public institutions are considered corrupt by the Council of Europe and international anti-corruption bodies, but not necessarily in Iraq and countries with similar political tradition.

iraq-culture-smart-card-01There are plenty of examples from the international development field which point to the importance of respecting the local political culture and tradition. This is an insight from Samuel Huntington: ‘While studying the topic [political order], he was asked by the Johnson administration to assess the progress of the Vietnam War. After a tour of that country, he argued, in 1967 and 1968, that America’s strategy in South Vietnam was fatally flawed. The United States was trying to buy the support of the population through aid and development. But money wasn’t the key, in Huntington’s view. The South Vietnamese who resisted the Viet Cong’s efforts did so because they were secure within effective communities structured around religious or ethnic ties. The United States, though, wanted to create a modern Vietnamese nation, and it refused to reinforce these “backward” sources of authority.’ The author of the article, Farid Zakaria, went on to conclude that, ‘[s]adly, this 40-year-old analysis describes our dilemma in Afghanistan today.’ [2]

This is one of many examples pointing to necessity of taking more nuanced approach when assessing the prospects of democratic reforms in the countries which have political tradition different from the Western tradition, as well as when designing and delivering technical assistance programmes aimed at helping those countries along the path towards market reforms and governance systems that respect political, social and economic rights of their citizens.

[1] Michel Foucault, Foucault Live: Collected Interviews 1961-1984, S. Lotringer, ed. (New York: Semiotext(e), 1989), p. 211

[2] Washington Post, 4 January 2009

About the author: Elbay Alibayov is an international development professional specialising in state building and political processes in post-conflict countries. In 2011-2014, he worked in Baghdad assisting the Iraqi Government’s central executive offices and key ministries on a range of administrative initiatives and policy reforms.

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¿Qué hay de nuevo en Libia?

El primer ministro Serraj con su Gobierno de Unidad Nacional ha desembarcado en Trípoli hace unas semanas en virtud del Acuerdo Político Libio negociado por la ONU el pasado diciembre entre los dos bandos que se han disputado el poder desde junio de 2014. Los desafíos que tiene por delante son mayúsculos. El primero de ellos será conseguir el aval del Parlamento oficial de Tobruk surgido de las elecciones de junio de 2014 para permitir el fin de las hostilidades. Solamente un gobierno legítimo internamente, que una a las FF.AA otrora enemigas, tendrá alguna oportunidad para contener a DAESH, que se ha abierto camino en el frente de batalla entre las coaliciones “Dignidad” y “Amanecer”, y controla varios cientos de kilómetros alrededor de Sirte. El gobierno libio necesitará el compromiso decidido de Occidente y sus vecinos árabes para estabilizar el país y golpear a DAESH. Si esto ocurre el petróleo fluirá de nuevo, llegará a los mercados y mejorarán las condiciones de vida de los libios. Todo esto no será nada sencillo de conseguir y la inestabilidad continuará, por lo menos, hasta que se resuelva el choque de legitimidades entre el Gobierno de Unidad Nacional de Serraj y la Cámara de Representantes de Tobruk.


El 17 de diciembre pasado los representantes de las autoridades de Trípoli y Tobruk, que se han disputado el poder en Libia desde las malogradas elecciones de junio de 2014, firmaron un acuerdo político en la bonita ciudad marroquí de Skhirat, a orillas del Atlántico. También acudieron representantes de los partidos políticos, sociedad civil,  y municipios del país norteafricano. La clave de bóveda del “Acuerdo Político Libio”, negociado con la mediación de Naciones Unidas y refrendado por el Consejo de Seguridad de las Naciones Unidas mediante la Resolución 2259, se encuentra en la formación de un Gobierno de Unidad Nacional (GUN) negociado por la ONU. Además, prevé un Parlamento bicameral que integre las instituciones legislativas de Trípoli y Tobruk  (1).


El Acuerdo Político Libio pretende poner fin a dos guerras que se libran en paralelo desde hace años. Por un lado, la guerra civil que se inició a raíz de las controvertidas elecciones legislativas de junio de 2014 que perdieron los partidos Islamistas. Estos se aferraron al poder e instauraron un Gobierno de Salvación en Trípoli con la ayuda de las milicias islamistas y de la milicia de Misrata, la tercera ciudad del país. La Cámara de Representantes de Tobruk, surgida de esas elecciones y reconocida por la comunidad internacional, recibió la adhesión de la Coalición “Dignidad” liderada por el general retirado Jalifa Hafter. Esta coalición reúne entre sus filas a una Brigada de Fuerzas Especiales y los restos de las FF.AA. libias. Ha contado con el beneplácito de Egipto y Emiratos Árabes Unidos.

Por otro, la lucha contra DAESH (el acrónimo en árabe del Estado Islámico de Irak y Levante). La fragmentación de la gobernanza libia favoreció la instalación de esta organización yihadista en Derna a finales de 2014 y su avance hacia el centro del país. Las milicias islamistas y la coalición Dignidad han combatido por separado a DAESH  pero no han conseguido frenarlo. La milicia de Misrata, la más poderosa del país según The Military Balance 2016 (página 313), se retiró de Sirte ante el empuje del Califato en agosto de 2015. En la actualidad, DAESH, con más de 5000 efectivos en sus filas en Libia, se extiende 200 kilómetros a lo largo de la costa alrededor de Sirte y controla muchos pozos e instalaciones de petróleo aunque se desconoce si comercia con el petróleo para financiarse como hace en Irak y Siria.

La descomposición interna no es el único catalizador del crecimiento de DAESH en el país sahariano. Jason Pack, investigador de Oriente Medio en la Universidad de Cambridge, asegura que a medida que su Califato en Siria e Irak se ha visto más golpeado por tierra y aire, significándole la pérdida de un 22% del territorio que controlaban, se han visto forzados a un progresivo traslado de sus combatientes a la ciudad libia de Sirte. DAESH demuestra, en definitiva, resiliencia y capacidad de adaptación a las nuevas circunstancias.


 Un rayo de esperanza, el Gobierno de Unidad Nacional

Hace dos semanas el primer ministro del Gobierno de Unidad Nacional, Fayez Serraj, llegó a Trípoli acompañado de seis ministros para hacerse cargo de la situación. Para sorpresa de muchos, el Gobierno de Salvación transfirió pacíficamente el poder, una vez que las milicias dejaron de apoyarle.

El primer ministro Serraj se ha rodeado de tecnócratas alejados del primer plano de la política libia de los últimos años. Sus principales valedores en el exterior se encuentran en Naciones Unidas y la UE. Francia, Italia, Alemania y R.U.  han enviado a sus ministros de Asuntos Exteriores para mostrarle su apoyo. Nuestro país ha anunciado una visita del ministro Margallo para la semana próxima: la presencia de DAESH en Libia también amenaza España. Dentro de Libia Serraj ha recibido el aval de las instituciones centrales: el Banco Central que paga los salarios de las Fuerzas Armadas de los dos Gobiernos y de muchas de las milicias, la Empresa Nacional del Petróleo que gestiona la principal fuente de ingresos del país y la Autoridad Libia de Inversiones. No obstante, el primer ministro Serraj carece de capacidades militares de envergadura para imponer su autoridad más allá de la lealtad interesada de algunas milicias.

Menos suerte ha tenido Fayez Serraj con el otro bando del conflicto armado, el Parlamento y el Gobierno de Tobruk, que se ha partido en dos facciones enfrentadas en torno a la adhesión o no al acuerdo político de Skhirat y la aprobación del Gobierno de Unidad Nacional. Un obstáculo principal radica en el futuro político del general Jalifa Hafter, Jefe de las FF.AA. del gobierno de Tobruk, que no tiene demasiados amigos en el gobierno de Serraj pero es muy popular en la Cámara de Representantes. 

La supervivencia del Gobierno de Unidad Nacional

Una tarea de titanes aguarda al gobierno del primer ministro Serraj. Su supervivencia dependerá de su pericia a la hora de superar los siguientes desafíos:

  1. El refuerzo de la legitimidad del Gobierno de Unidad Nacional requiere que la Cámara de Representantes ratifique el Acuerdo Político Libio, toda vez que solo lo aprobó en principio hace unos meses.Esta semana la facción contraria al acuerdo encabezada por el presidente de la Cámara de Representantes impidió la votación del acuerdo y del Gobierno de Unidad Nacional.  Para conseguir el aval de Tobruk, el primer ministro tendrá que encontrar  un acomodo al General Jalifa Hafter, muy popular entre los parlamentarios. Además, Serraj necesitará ensanchar la base de apoyo de ese acuerdo, en particular, entre los líderes tribales, municipios, jóvenes, y sociedad civil.
  2. La integración de los grupos armados y milicias en el ejército y la policía se encuentra pendiente y resulta necesaria para centralizar el uso legítimo de la violencia en suelo libio. Muchas de las más de 1500 milicias y grupos armados
    actuales adquirieron legitimidad en la lucha contra Gadafi y han asumido desde entonces las tareas de seguridad y orden en el vacío de poder que dejó tras de sí el derrumbamiento del régimen anterior. 
  3. La contención de DAESH solamente es posible con un gobierno legítimo con capacidad militar y policial unificada.La batalla contra DAESH dependerá, a su vez, de dos factores externos.
    1. Un Gobierno que goce de legitimidad interna estará en disposición de solicitar ayuda internacional. De hecho, EE.UU., Italia, Francia y R.U. esperan la invitación del primer ministro Serraj para poner en marcha unos planes militares para desplegar una misión de estabilización de 6.000 soldados y, además, impulsar una campaña más enérgica contra el grupo yihadista en Libia.
    2. Y la resistencia de DAESH en Siria e Irak. Jason Pack (citado más arriba) observa que si Rakka y Mosul siguen siendo hostigadas, Sirte podría convertirse en un centro de mando del “Califato”.
  4. La mejora de la situación socioeconómica, muy  precaria actualmente.La economía se contrajo en 2015 un 10% y la producción de petróleo descendió a su mínimo histórico, 400.000 barriles de petróleo diarios. Solamente prospera un sector, desgraciadamente, el tráfico ilegal de personas hacia las costas de Italia y Grecia en condiciones infrahumanas. Así las cosas, una quinta parte de los libios sufren malnutrición. El Banco Mundial proyecta un crecimiento del 22% y 45% para 2016 y 2017, siempre que la Cámara de Representantes de Tobruk ratifique el Acuerdo Político Libio y se estabilice la situación.Pag_10_Acnur_denuncia_naufragio

Se antojan muchos condicionantes para un Gobierno de Unidad Nacional que se ha limitado, por el momento, a sustituir al Gobierno de  Salvación de Trípoli, un ejecutivo carente de toda legitimidad internacional desde junio de 2014.  Toda una paradoja que ahora nos encontremos con dos autoridades, ambas dotadas de cierta legitimidad: el Gobierno de Unidad Nacional negociado por la ONU y fruto del Acuerdo Político Libio, y el de la Cámara de Representantes de Tobruk surgida de las elecciones generales de junio de 2014. 

Con este choque de legitimidades pendiente de resolver y DAESH sólido en Sirte, la inestabilidad y el caos continuarán en Libia por algún tiempo, favoreciendo las oleadas de inmigrantes ilegales que salen de los puertos libios a tan solo 350 kilómetros de la isla italiana de Lampedusa.

Por último, no olvidemos que las vicisitudes del entorno regional también afectarán el devenir del país sahariano. El Norte de África y Oriente Medio es una región convulsa sacudida en los últimos años por una serie de terremotos políticos y geopolíticos de magnitud siete: la Primavera Árabe, las embestidas del DAESH y el extremismo,  la multiplicación de los Estados fallidos, el desplome de los precios del petróleo, el descuido negligente de los europeos o el creciente desinterés estratégico de EE.UU.

José Luis Masegosa / @joseluismase / Blog: La Mirada a Oriente

(1) El Acuerdo Político Libio establece que la Cámara de Representantes de Tobruk, reconocida internacionalmente como el único interlocutor del pueblo libio, se convertirá en el nuevo Parlamento mientras que el Congreso Nacional General de Trípoli se transformará en el Consejo de Estado, una cámara con funciones consultivas.

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Implementation Day: Irán y Oriente Medio encaran una nueva etapa.

El pasado sábado (implementation day) comenzó la ejecución del acuerdo nuclear alcanzado en julio pasado entre Irán y el Grupo de 5+1 una vez que el Organismo Internacional de la Energía Atómica (OIEA) ratificó que Irán había enviado el 98% de sus “stocks” de uranio enriquecido a Rusia y desmantelado alrededor de 12.000 centrifugadoras. El OIEA ya cerró la otra pata del caso contra Irán hace unas semanas, la posible dimensión militar del programa nuclear iraní. El Organismo verificaba así la transparencia y el carácter civil del programa nuclear iraní. Ahora le tocaba el turno a Occidente y no defraudó.  EEUUs y la UE levantaron las sanciones financieras y a la industria del petróleo que han asfixiado la economía iraní en los últimos años.


Irán tendrá acceso a 100.000 millones de $ congelados (50.000 según otras fuentes) en cuentas extranjeras procedentes de la venta de crudo y se espera que aumente la exportación de crudo en más de 600.000 barriles de petróleo diarios a partir de este año, creciendo su economía a un 5% anual, según el FMI.

Todo ello afectará a un Oriente Medio en plena transformación merced a la resaca de la mal llamada Primavera Árabe y al nuevo contexto estratégico. El repliegue militar de EEUUs después de décadas de intervenciones militares, el desinterés estratégico americano que perciben los saudíes y la política “pívot to Asia” del presidente Barack Obama han dado alas a una pugna sin cuartel entre A. Saudí e Irán por el liderazgo regional. La ejecución del acuerdo nuclear modificará, sin duda, la distribución del poder en beneficio de Irán, un país que aspira a recuperar las cotas de poder que tuvo en su pasado imperial con las dinastías Aqueménida y Sasánida.

El fin del aislamiento diplomático y el despegue económico reforzarán la política exterior iraní centrada en la defensa de sus aliados clave en la región, Siria,  Irak y Hezbollah, amenazados por el avance del Estado Islámico. En esos escenarios y en el Líbano, Bahrein y Yemen, Irán choca con Arabia Saudí, el bastión del status quo en Oriente Medio y de la dominación sunita de antaño. La vuelta de Irán a la comunidad internacional coincide con el debilitamiento de las potencias sunitas: la caída de Saddam Hussein en Irak, otrora un contrapeso efectivo de las aspiraciones iraníes, y el ensimismamiento de Egipto en sus problemas internos. Actualmente Arabia Saudí se encuentra bajo la amenaza de una “tormenta perfecta”, enfangada en una guerra sin fin en Yemen contra los houthies (chiítas) que la distrae de otro enemigo declarado aún más peligroso, el Estado Islámico, y con problemas para mantener la paz social que el generoso Estado del Bienestar saudí ha garantizado gracias a los cuantiosos ingresos del petróleo.

La ejecución del acuerdo coloca un nuevo ladrillo en la recomposición de las relaciones diplomáticas con EEUUs, interrumpidas desde 1979. Además, la negociación exitosa de un canje de prisioneros entre ambos países que incluía al periodista del Washington Post Jason Rezaian y la reciente liberación en pocas horas de los marinos norteamericanos que se adentraron por error en aguas territoriales iraníes aportan más confianza a esas relaciones. Todo parece presagiar una probable ampliación de la cooperación a otras áreas, por ejemplo, la lucha contra el Estado Islámico que es prioritaria para ambos.

El levantamiento de las sanciones económicas modificará, en mayor o menor medida, el equilibrio de fuerzas en la política interna iraní. Impulsará las aspiraciones de las facciones reformista y moderada en las elecciones del próximo 14 de febrero al Majlis (Parlamento) y a la Asamblea de Expertos (institución encargada de elegir al Líder Supremo). A la vista de la delicada salud del Líder Supremo Ali Jamenei, esos comicios se antojan decisivos en la lucha por el poder dentro del régimen. La facción ultraconservadora, que ha intentado por todos los medios abortar la apertura diplomática del presidente Rouhani, perderá adeptos. No obstante, se necesita ser cautos:

1. Estamos a menos de un mes de la cita electoral, poco tiempo para que se dejen sentir los beneficios de la integración de Irán en la economía internacional.

2. El precio del petróleo, el principal ingreso de Irán, está por los suelos, por debajo de los $30 por barril y las expectativas no son nada halagüeñas.

3. El Consejo de los Guardianes, una suerte de tribunal constitucional controlado por el Líder Supremo y con prerrogativas de veto de los candidatos a las elecciones, puede frustrar las aspiraciones de los candidatos de las facciones moderada y reformista. Ya lo ha hecho en elecciones anteriores y Ahmad Jannati, su presidente, ha anticipado que lo hará de cara a estos comicios.

4. Por último, otro polo principal de poder, la Guardia Revolucionaria, la joya de la corona de las Fuerzas Armadas iraníes, se encuentra en manos de los más conservadores y responde directamente al Líder Supremo.

Los efectos positivos del fin del aislamiento económico sí se notarán en 2017,  cuando el presidente Rouhani se someta a la reelección. Fue él el que apostó por la negociación en la campaña electoral del verano de 2013 para resolver el conflicto  nuclear, con el apoyo condicionado del Ayatolá Ali Jamenei.iran540-640x400-e1443215477252

Sin duda, el Hojatoleslam Rouhani acaba de dar un paso de gigante en su carrera hacia un segundo mandato presidencial gracias a este éxito diplomático.

17 de enero de 2016

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Arabia Saudí en un callejón sin salida.

El contexto de la crisis diplomática entre A. Saudí e Irán.

La peor crisis diplomática en décadas entre Irán y Arabia Saudí es fruto de las presiones crecientes que ejerce un contexto regional convulso y en transformación sobre el Reino del Desierto y las amenazas in crescendo que perciben los gobernantes saudíes.

El origen de la escalada de tensión se encuentra en la ejecución de un popular clérigo chií por parte del gobierno saudí: Nimr Baqr al Nimr había cometido el espantoso crimen de criticar a la familia real y fomentar el secesionismo de Al-hasa, la provincia oriental de Arabia Saudí que concentra la comunidad chiita (entre el 10 y el 15% del país) y la riqueza petrolera. No era un disidente violento según el New York Times.

Su suerte, compartida por otros 43 reos pertenecientes a Al-qaeda y responsables de la campaña terrorista de 2003 contra la monarquía, desató protestas entre las comunidades chiíes de todo Oriente Medio, incluyendo un incendio de la Embajada saudí en Teherán por parte de radicales iraníes. La respuesta de los gobernantes de Riad fue contundente: la ruptura de relaciones diplomáticas con Irán, a la que se han sumado otros tres países árabes, Bahrein, Yibuti y Sudán.

Este choque diplomático solamente se entiende a la luz de un entorno regional cada vez más amenazante para la Casa de Saud  que reina en esta monarquía absoluta. Las intervenciones norteamericanas en Oriente Medio en 2002 y 2003 y la Primavera Árabe han debilitado a las potencias sunitas de la región, Irak y Egipto, a la vez que han favorecido a la República Islámica de Irán, libre del contrapeso histórico del Irak de Saddam Hussein. Ahora cuenta con un gobierno chiita hermano en Bagdad.

El ascenso de Irán, cuna de una civilización milenaria y baluarte del Islam chiita, representa el peor de los males para Arabia Saudí, defensora del statu quo en Oriente Medio y bastión de la rama predominante del Islam, la sunita, que profesan más del 80% de los musulmanes.


Arabia Saudí se encontraba cómoda con el orden regional anterior en el que el Irán revolucionario tenía un papel destacado en el “Eje del Mal” del presidente Bush y se encontraba aislado y arrinconado por sus vecinos y la comunidad internacional por sus conexiones con el terrorismo. De hecho, el ministro de asuntos exteriores saudí, Adel al-Jubair, recuerda estos días esos vínculos para culpar a Irán del choque diplomático, una acusación que levanta cada vez más suspicacias en la comunidad internacional. No olvidemos que 15 de los 19 terroristas del 11S que causaron casi 3.000 muertos en EEUUs eran de nacionalidad saudí al igual que OBL; una poderosa fuente de financiación de DAESH se sitúa en fundaciones religiosas saudíes; y la participación de los saudíes en la guerra contra el Estado Islámico es, en el mejor de los casos, mejorable a pesar de contar con el ejército mejor equipado del mundo musulmán (representa en torno al 40% del gasto militar en la región MENA frente a Irán que no alcanza el 8% en 2015, según The Military Balance 2015).

No obstante, el califa del Estado Islámico Abu Baquer al Baghdadi ha exhortado a sus adeptos a derrocar a la monarquía saudí a la que ha acusado de connivencia con Israel. Otro frente abierto para la Casa de Saud.

El acuerdo nuclear de julio pasado entre las grandes potencias e Irán, consistente en el levantamiento de sanciones a cambio de limitaciones estrictas al programa nuclear persa, ha sido el golpe de gracia a ese statu quo. Se trata de un cambio geopolítico de primera envergadura que  reintegrará Irán en la comunidad internacional y liberará las energías contenidas del país persa. El levantamiento de las sanciones impulsará la economía iraní, permitirá a Teherán acceder a cientos de millones de dólares de fondos congelados en cuentas en el extranjero y incrementará las exportaciones de petróleo (0,6 millones de bdp/d en 2016 y 1,2 millones de bdp/d en 2017 según el IMF).  No hay duda que este escenario afectará el desenlace de las guerras indirectas que libran A. Saudí e Irán en Oriente Medio, en particular, en Siria. Por tanto, los saudíes observan con inquietud la modificación acelerada de la distribución del poder en Oriente Medio en beneficio de Irán. 

Los saudíes extrañan otros tiempos en que su petróleo (primer productor mundial actual con alrededor de 11 millones de bdp/d) cotizaba al alza en la política exterior de Estados Unidos, garante de la seguridad del reino de los Saud en las últimas cinco décadas. La Revolución energética norteamericana gracias a la extracción hidráulica o “fracking” ha permitido a EEUUs producir casi tanto petróleo como los saudíes (y los rusos), y ha contribuido al hundimiento de los precios del crudo en el último año y medio (desde los 115$ de junio de 2014 a los 37$ actuales).

Por tanto, el Golfo ha perdido parte del valor estratégico que tuvo para EEUUs desde tiempos del presidente Carter, máxime con la política “pivot to Asia” que caracteriza la agenda exterior del gigante norteamericano en el último lustro. Si añadimos las cautelas del presidente Obama en Egipto y Siria, todo ello se traduce en una percepción saudí de desinterés estratégico de los Estados Unidos en Oriente Medio.

Las derivadas del hundimiento del precio del petróleo, que representa alrededor del 75% del PIB saudí, alcanzan el plano doméstico. La monarquía saudí capeó bien la oleada de cambio político de la Primavera Árabe gracias a la paz social que aporta su potente Estado del Bienestar; en la actualidad, atraviesa dificultades para salvar el contrato social que une a gobernantes y gobernados debido al desplome de los precios del petróleo. El déficit se ha acercado a los 100.000 millones de dólares en 2015 (15% de su PIB) y el gobierno se ha visto obligado a recurrir de nuevo a las reservas de divisas que se han reducido de 728.000 a 640.000 millones de dólares. Y el gobierno ha aprobado recortes en los generosos subsidios y prestaciones sociales.

El empeoramiento del contexto geoestratégico y el abaratamiento del crudo han coincidido con la sucesión en el trono del Rey Salman en enero de 2015. El nuevo rey ha designado un ejecutivo más conservador para alinear el clero suní en torno a la familia Saud y ha entregado el poder a dos hombres fuertes, Mohamed bin Nayef y Mohamed bin Salman (sobrino e hijo del rey). Este gobierno enfrenta el contexto internacional más adverso con una política exterior más agresiva y proactiva no exenta de riesgos para reafirmar la autoridad y determinación de la dinastía reinante dentro y fuera del país. Evidencia de este enfoque novedoso en la otrora política exterior pausada de los saudíes es la intervención militar en Yemen que se ha saldado hasta ahora en un fracaso a la hora de restablecer la autoridad del presidente yemení Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi que continúa exiliado en la capital saudí.




La ejecución de 47 reos acusados de terrorismo y sedición forma parte del guión para salir del callejón sin salida al que el entorno regional ha llevado a las saudíes. Una encrucijada que amenaza el poder de la Casa de Saud. Constituye un aviso categórico para navegantes internos y externos. El Rey Salman no tolerará el disenso y muestra su disposición para emplear la mano dura con los terroristas yihadistas que atenten contra la monarquía y con activistas que reivindiquen los derechos de la minoría chiita o los derechos civiles, todo ello para garantizar la estabilidad del Reino del Desierto.

La crisis con Irán, al igual que la guerra en el vecino Yemen, se convierte en una oportuna cortina de humo para desviar la atención del pueblo de los problemas económicos que acechan al Reino saudí. La monarquía juega la carta nacionalista, sectaria al dar satisfacción a los sentimientos anti-iraníes y anti-chiíes de la mayoría sunita.

La aplicación de la pena capital al disidente chií Nimr Baqr al Nimr, a pesar de las advertencias norteamericanas, sirve otros propósitos externos. La celeridad con que han roto relaciones diplomáticas con Teherán sugiere el último intento saudí para abortar la reintegración de Irán a la comunidad internacional. El conflicto con Irán sustituye la distensión de los últimos meses en que sus ministros de asuntos exteriores se sentaron en la mesa de negociaciones para facilitar un acuerdo de paz para Siria. Por tanto, este escenario favorece los intereses saudíes de mantener el statu quo y ralentizar la aplicación del acuerdo nuclear.

Ciertamente la escalada de tensión no beneficia al presidente iraní Hassan Rouhani y a su gobierno que preparan el país para la fase posterior al incipiente levantamiento de las sanciones económicas internacionales. Hace unas semanas un alto cargo de la Administración Obama sugirió en el Congreso que la fecha de inicio de esa fase se podría adelantar a enero puesto que el cumplimiento iraní del acuerdo avanza a buen ritmo. Además, la Organización Internacional de la Energía Atómica ha cerrado en diciembre el dossier de la posible dimensión militar del programa nuclear iraní. Todo ello va en interés del presidente Rouhani y de las facciones moderada y reformista que esperan recoger los frutos del acuerdo nuclear en las elecciones legislativas y a la Asamblea de Expertos del próximo 16 de febrero.

Se trata, por último, de un intento a la desesperada del gobierno saudí de meter presión a los EEUUs y su política de distensión con Irán. Los saudíes ponen en un brete a los americanos al forzarlos a decantarse por su aliado tradicional en la región o el país que mejor representa su prioridad actual en Oriente Medio: la lucha contra el Estado Islámico.

@joseluismase @lamiradaaoriente

6 de enero de 2016

Publicado en Norte de África y Oriente Medio | Etiquetado , , | 7 comentarios

Los atentados de París y la “gestión del salvajismo” del Estado Islámico

David González

La noche del pasado 13 de noviembre permanecerá grabada en la memoria de la opinión pública internacional como una sucesión de imágenes de dolor, de sinrazón y de crueldad infinita. Durante algo más de tres horas, París ha sido escenario de la cadena más mortífera de actos de violencia colectiva que se registra en Francia desde el final de la ocupación nazi en 1944. En consecuencia, algunos periódicos abrieron sus ediciones del sábado con titulares que hacían referencia a “la guerra en el centro de París”.

El presidente francés, François Hollande, también ha afirmado que su país “está en guerra” con el Estado Islámico. Mientras que entre la opinión pública europea siguen imperando a un mismo tiempo las sensaciones de impotencia y las manifestaciones de solidaridad con las víctimas, el ejército galo ha bombardeado la localidad siria de Raqqa, capital del autoproclamado “Califato” yihadista. Asimismo, Hollande ha anunciado que piensa pedir a Estados Unidos y Rusia que apoyen la creación de “una verdadera coalición” contra “la amenaza yihadista global”.

paris-attacksPor su parte, los Ejecutivos de varios Estados de la UE, entre ellos el de España, han mostrado su respaldo a Francia y han apelado a la unidad frente al Estado Islámico, lo que lleva a pensar que la tragedia de París puede haber marcado un antes y un después en la lucha contra el yihadismo internacional. Eso sí, Washington no está a favor de una intervención terrestre en Siria, y gobiernos como el español tampoco se muestran especialmente dispuestos a colaborar en los bombardeos, que según Hollande se intensificarán en los próximos días. Pero de lo que no cabe duda es que los atentados de la sala Bataclan, los restaurantes del Canal Saint-Martin y el Estadio de Saint-Denis suponen un punto de inflexión en la estrategia del Daesh.

El cambio de paradigma del Estado Islámico

Hace tan sólo diez meses, 32 personas fallecieron asesinadas en el asalto al semanario ‘Charlie Hebdo’, en el secuestro de varios rehenes en un supermercado judío y en los demás atentados que se produjeron en el área metropolitana de París. Desde entonces hasta ahora, las fuerzas de seguridad y los servicios de inteligencia europeos han mantenido sus sistemas de alerta antiterrorista en niveles elevados, a la espera de que, tal y como ha sucedido, se produjesen más ataques. Precisamente, a principios de noviembre la Policía Nacional detuvo en Madrid a tres presuntos integrantes de una célula yihadista que podrían haber estado planeando un atentado similar a los de Francia, aunque a menor escala.

Según diversos expertos, el ataque a ‘Charlie Hebdo’ –perpetrado por dos terroristas que decían pertenecer a la rama de al-Qaeda en Yemen- ya fue un punto de inflexión en sí mismo, y evidenciaba cómo la organización fundada por el difunto Osama bin Laden y el Estado Islámico podrían dar comienzo a sendas campañas de atentados en Europa dentro de su pugna por el liderazgo del yihadismo global.

Sin embargo, la oleada de terror que ha asolado el centro de París parece ir mucho más allá de todo esto. Hasta ahora, el ‘Daesh’ había combinado la cruenta utilización de los asesinatos de rehenes como mensaje propagandístico con el empleo de tácticas militares más o menos convencionales en Siria e Irak y con los atentados efectuados por medio de terroristas suicidas.

Y ello, sin tener en cuenta atentados como el de Copenhague o el del hotel de Port el-Kantaoui de Túnez, cometidos por supuestos ‘lobos solitarios’ cuyos vínculos con el Califato se limitaban probablemente a un mero juramento formal de fidelidad al líder supremo del Estado Islámico, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Pero lo sucedido el viernes en París sólo puede asemejarse, por su extremado grado de brutalidad y el elevado nivel de coordinación con el que se piensa que han actuado los terroristas, con otros ataques a gran escala como fueron los de Bombay de 2008, el del centro comercial Westgate de Nairobi de 2013 y el de la universidad keniana de Garissa del pasado mes de abril.

El modelo de Bombay

Para Bruce Riedel, director del Proyecto de Inteligencia de la Brookings Institution, la cadena de atentados que sacudió Bombay entre el 26 y el 29 de noviembre de 2008 son claramente el modelo en el que se han basado los autores de los ataques del 13-N, cuyo presunto responsable intelectual, el yihadista marroquí Abdelhamid Abaaoud, se encuentra en paradero desaparecido desde principios de año.

Los ataques de Bombay, que causaron 164 víctimas mortales y 300 heridos, fueron llevados a cabo por 10 miembros de la organización paquistaní Lashkar e-Taiba (“el ejército de los puros”), relacionada con al-Qaeda. Tras desembarcar con dos lanchas neumáticas en el sur de la ciudad, se dividieron en varios grupos armados con fusiles de asalto AK-47 y cinturones explosivos y sembraron el terror en puntos neurálgicos como la estación de ferrocarril Chhatrapati Shivaji o el hotel Taj Majal. Sólo uno de ellos pudo ser detenido con vida.

Las similitudes entre las tácticas de los terroristas de Bombay y las de los siete autores materiales de la matanza de París son evidentes: grupos que actúan de forma más o menos coordinada en plena noche, con un notable grado de sincronización, y que combinan los ataques suicidas con acciones encaminadas a irrumpir en locales de tamaño considerable y atrincherarse en su interior, asesinando a decenas de rehenes.

En este sentido, algunos especialistas opinan que terroristas como los que se inmolaron en el Estadio de Saint-Denis y ametrallaron a los comensales de los restaurantes del Canal Saint-Martin tenían como misión provocar una situación de caos orientada a  facilitar la entrada del tercer grupo de yihadistas en la sala Bataclan, que habría sido por lo tanto el objetivo principal de los ataques.

Mumbai_attackPTI.JPGLas tácticas de al-Shabaab

No obstante, la organización terrorista que ha recurrido con más frecuencia a atentados diseñados siguiendo el patrón de los de Bombay ha sido al-Shabaab, activa en Somalia y en Kenia. Esta es la banda responsable de los ataques al centro comercial Westgate y al campus de Garissa, pero también de otros 224 asaltos armados y secuestros de rehenes en los que han perdido la vida más de 500 personas desde 2012. Hasta esa fecha, al-Shabaab sólo había cometido atentados por medio de suicidas armados con cinturones explosivos.

El asalto al centro comercial Westgate se prolongó durante tres días y en el fallecieron 67 personas. El número real de atacantes –en las grabaciones de seguridad se identificó únicamente a cuatro- continúa siendo objeto de discusión, si bien se ha podido constatar que algunos eran somalíes que hablaban también inglés y que, tal y como ocurrió también en la universidad de Garissa, separaron a los rehenes que no eran musulmanes de los que sí lo eran para después dispararles a sangre fría.

Algunas informaciones periodísticas publicadas meses después del atentado apuntaban a que los fusiles semiautomáticos fueron introducidos en el centro comercial con ayuda de cómplices unos días antes, y a que los yihadistas que efectuaron el asalto habían sido cuidadosamente seleccionados a través de una ronda de votaciones para formar “un grupo multinacional”. Pero lo más llamativo es que antes de empezar a disparar todos ellos realizaron varias llamadas por teléfono móvil, lo que refuerza la idea de coordinación con una supuesta instancia superior que se pudo apreciar en el caso de Bombay y que también se piensa que ha constituido el trasfondo de los atentados de París.

“Regiones de salvajismo”

La apuesta de al-Shabaab por los asaltos armados coincide con el replanteamiento de las tácticas de al-Qaeda, incapaz de volver a realizar atentados con una magnitud como los del 11-S tras los reveses sufridos en Irak y Afganistán. También coincide con la crisis intestina que se produjo en la organización y sus filiales tras la muerte de Osama bin Laden, y que culminó con la proclamación del Califato de al-Baghdadi. Ahora, la decisión de trasladar a territorio europeo el modelo de atentados que se ha usado a gran escala en el Este de África parece indicar que el Estado Islámico está decidido a llevar al último extremo los postulados de lo que los propios ideólogos de al-Qaeda denominaron en su día “estrategia de gestión del salvajismo”.

Este es el título de un controvertido manual publicado por primera vez en soporte online en 2004 por Abu Bakr Naji, una enigmática figura que según el think tank saudí al-Arabiya fue uno de los mayores teóricos de la doctrina terrorista de al-Qaeda y que habría muerto en un bombardeo estadounidense en Pakistán en 2008.  Los postulados de Naji se basan en aplicar al yihadismo la teoría clásica de las tres fases de la guerra de guerrillas de Mao Zedong.

En la primera fase, los yihadistas buscan crear o explotar “regiones de salvajismo” por medio de acciones violentas que terminen por colapsar la autoridad de los Estados “gracias al daño y al agotamiento”. La segunda fase implica establecer formas primitivas de gobierno para gestionar estas “regiones de salvajismo”, que a juicio de Naji serán aceptadas por la población una vez haya sido lo suficientemente asustada como para que esté dispuesta a renunciar a sus derechos a cambio de seguridad. La tercera fase es la transición de la “administración del salvajismo” en varias regiones hacia un Estado Islámico dotado de todas las infraestructuras de gobierno y regido por la sharia.

Estas tres fases pueden superponerse en un mismo momento; así, al-Shabaab habría llegado a encontrarse en un punto intermedio entre la primera y la segunda fase. Sin embargo, el Daesh parece haber acelerado todo el proceso descrito sobre el papel por el estratega de al-Qaeda, haciendo especial hincapié en la intensificación de la violencia en todas sus formas como mecanismo de legitimación de las infraestructuras de su protoestado. De hecho, las alusiones a la violencia como instrumento propagandístico son continuas en la publicación oficial del Califato, la revista ‘Dabiq’. Según Naji, para que sea efectiva la violencia debe llevarse a niveles extremos, hasta hacer que las dos partes involucradas en el conflicto sean conscientes de que están “al borde de la autodestrucción”.

El fanatismo que impregna la doctrina yihadista de gestión del salvajismo parece haberse combinado sobre el terreno con las tácticas recogidas en otro polémico libro, el “Curso práctico de la guerra de guerrillas” de Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin, que lideró la rama de al-Qaeda en Arabia Saudí hasta su muerte en un enfrentamiento callejero con la policía en 2004. En este texto, al-Muqrin hace hincapié en las potencialidades que tiene la guerrilla urbana, bien por medio de terroristas suicidas como los que se han inmolado recientemente en Beirut, o bien por medio de “grupos operativos” como los que han cometido las matanzas de Bombay, Kenia y París.

La guerrilla urbana también es algo atractivo para Naji, que recomienda a los yihadistas “leer todo lo que pueda sobre este tema”. Con todo, el gran pilar de la gestión del salvajismo es el principio de “hacer que los enemigos paguen por lo que nos han hecho”. Esta perversa argumentación es exactamente la que se ha venido utilizando para justificar todos los atentados: no en vano, los ataques de París tuvieron lugar horas después de la muerte como consecuencia de un bombardeo selectivo de John el Yihadista, presunto responsable del asesinato de varios rehenes en Siria. Además, el Estado Islámico ha alegado que los atentados habían sido cometidos en respuesta a las acciones de Francia en Oriente Medio.

Ahora bien, la “gestión del salvajismo” puede ser aplicada en contextos muy distintos. En el caso de al-Qaeda y al-Shabaab la evolución hacia ataques más letales y complejos se puede entender como una especie de huída hacia adelante con la que tratar de solventar sus serias crisis internas y su pérdida paulatina de poder en las áreas en las que operan. En el del Daesh, atentados como los de París serían más bien una maniobra salvaje para poner fin a la situación de estancamiento que estaría afrontando el Califato, cada vez más dañado por las derrotas ante las milicias kurdas y el ejército de Bashar al-Assad, así como por las intervenciones de Rusia y de la coalición internacional.

El otro gran objetivo de la estrategia de “gestión del salvajismo” es el reclutamiento de muyaidines e incitar a los “lobos solitarios” a la acción. Francia, con una comunidad de cerca de cinco millones de musulmanes afectada por serios problemas sociales, que se ha convertido en uno de los grandes destinos de los refugiados procedentes de Oriente Medio y el Norte de África, y de la que se estima que más de 1.400 yihadistas han partido hacia Siria e Irak desde 2014, se ha convertido por desgracia en el mejor teatro de operaciones para poner en práctica la “gestión del salvajismo” en Europa.

La activa postura que el país mantiene en Oriente Medio, derivada de su propia condición de potencia internacional, le proporciona al Daesh la excusa perfecta para desarrollar el argumento de “hacer que los enemigos paguen”. Para ello cuenta además con yihadistas retornados como los que cometieron la masacre del pasado viernes, y que constituyen una de las mayores amenazas que debe afrontar Europa en su conjunto. Resulta difícil pensar que, como señalan algunos analistas, el Estado Islámico vaya a realizar atentados con armas de destrucción masiva, al menos por el momento. Pero es muy posible que, como ha indicado el ministro francés del Interior, Manuel Valls, los atentados de los “grupos operativos” de guerrilla urbana del Estado Islámico realicen de nuevo ataques de gran envergadura a corto y medio plazo en París o en otra gran capital europea. Frustrar la estrategia de “gestión del salvajismo” de los terroristas requiere más que nunca de medidas conjuntas y de planteamientos comunes que eviten que el Daesh traiga su guerra al corazón de la UE.

David González es administrador civil del Estado e investigador en Relaciones Internacionales y seguridad.


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Somalia, Año Tres: entre el “Estado frágil” y el Estado Islámico

David González

Entre 2011 y 2012, Somalia vivió los doce meses más difíciles de su historia desde que el ejército etíope la invadiese seis años antes para poner fin al régimen de los Tribunales Islámicos. Cerca de 260.000 fallecidos murieron a causa de la peor hambruna registrada en el Cuerno de África en dos décadas. Y la guerra que asolaba el país desde 1991 se recrudeció a raíz de la Operación ‘Linda Nchi’ de Kenia y Etiopía contra al-Shabaab.

La operación contó con el respaldo de la ONU y se combinó con una ofensiva de las tropas del por entonces Gobierno Federal de Transición y de la AMISOM, la misión de la Unión Africana para Somalia. El ejército keniano se enzarzó en una guerra de desgaste con los yihadistas y no pudo expulsarles de su bastión de la ciudad portuaria de Kismayo hasta octubre de 2012. Tan sólo unos días antes, la comunidad internacional había dado oficialmente por cerrada la transición iniciada en 2004.

2012 fue presentado como el Año Cero de la nueva Somalia, a la que se dotó de una constitución y unas instituciones renovadas. Las elecciones presidenciales del 10 de septiembre, que dieron la victoria al profesor universitario Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, fueron consideradas un hito democrático que encajaba a la perfección con las esperanzas suscitadas en el Gran Oriente Medio por la Primavera Árabe.

Tres años después, las graves deficiencias de una transición que ni ha terminado ni parece que vaya a hacerlo a medio plazo siguen conjugándose de modo alarmante con la amenaza del yihadismo en el Este de África. En menos de siete días, Somalia ha visto cómo una parte muy reducida pero significativa de al-Shabaab ha jurado fidelidad al Estado Islámico (DAESH) y cómo más de 15 funcionarios, políticos, empresarios y periodistas perdían la vida en el doble atentado terrorista cometido contra un hotel en el corazón de Mogadiscio.


La tierra de los desamparados

En 2014, Somalia dejó de ser el arquetipo de ‘Estado fallido’ por excelencia, al pasar a ocupar Sudán del Sur el último puesto del Índice de Estados Frágiles del think tank estadounidense The Fund for Peace. Es más que probable que la ligera mejora de la posición de Somalia se deba sólo a un mero efecto estadístico. En Somalia coexisten dos “Estados frágiles”: Somalilandia, un protoestado sin reconocimiento alguno de la comunidad internacional, y las demás partes del territorio, supuestamente bajo la autoridad del nuevo Ejecutivo Federal.

Por lo que respecta a Somalilandia,  la vida política continúa dominada por el clan isaaq, predominante en la zona, y por el Somali National Movement, el partido que proclamó la independencia de la región tras el derrocamiento de Siad Barre. Las expectativas de que se produzcan avances hacia la democracia han quedado congeladas después de que el presidente, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamud Silanyo, cancelase sine die la celebración de las elecciones previstas para 2016.

Con todo, las perspectivas son mucho mejores que para el resto de Somalia. La ayuda internacional procedente de Occidente, que ha perdido peso frente a actores como Turquía, China e Irán, ha contribuido a paliar los graves problemas humanitarios que se vivían en Mogadiscio, donde el Gobierno prevé celebrar asimismo elecciones presidenciales en 2016. Sin embargo, los continuos atentados de al-Shabaab hacen que la ciudad esté sumida aún en un estado cercano a la guerra, mientras que el Ejecutivo tiene serias dificultades para hacer efectiva su autoridad a causa de su incapacidad para controlar a facciones como la milicia sufí Ahlu Sunnah Waljamaa, uno de sus principales aliados frente a los yihadistas.

La corrupción es otro preocupante factor de desestabilización, hasta el punto de que amenaza con hacer inviable la reconstrucción de las fuerzas armadas somalíes. En 2013 se levantó parcialmente el embargo de armas vigente desde 1992: tan sólo un año después, de acuerdo con el Grupo de Supervisión de Naciones Unidas para Somalia y Eritrea, se había vendido en el mercado negro un porcentaje considerable de las 13.000 armas que se habían importado para equipar al ejército y la policía. Al contrabando de armas se une el tráfico ilegal de inmigrantes a través del Golfo de Adén y el contrabando de qat y carbón vegetal.

Asimismo, los esfuerzos de Ahmed Sheikh Mohamud por configurar gabinetes de marcado perfil tecnocrático e implantar reformas educativas, judiciales y en el ámbito de los medios de comunicación han chocado frontalmente con un juego político que sigue viciado por la debilidad del sistema de partidos y los intereses de los clanes y de los antiguos señores de la guerra, así como por un complejo y cambiante juego de alianzas que ha hecho que en tres años se hayan producido cuatro crisis de gobierno.


Refugiados, señores de la guerra y piratas

El territorio que se autodefine como leal a Mogadiscio puede dividirse en tres bloques: Azania-Jubalandia, en el sur; el centro, formado por dos regiones autónomas, Galmudug y Himan y Heeb; y Puntlandia, en el extremo nororiental.

Jubalandia es la zona más castigada por la guerra y las hambrunas: entre el río Juba y la provincia keniana del Nordeste se concentran 857.000 refugiados. Más de 250.000 viven hacinados en el campo de Dadaab y en el área circundante, donde según diversas ONG sufren discriminación y malos tratos por parte de la policía keniana. Estas circunstancias les convertirían en caldo de cultivo de futuros yihadistas de no ser por el rechazo que la mayoría de ellos dice sentir hacia al-Shabaab tras vivir varios años bajo un régimen fundamentalista islámico en el que las ejecuciones eran algo habitual. Eso sí, al-Shabaab domina aún un tercio de Jubalandia, en la que las tropas kenianas permanecerán estacionadas hasta 2017.

El hecho de que Nairobi haya apoyado al que hasta hace sólo un mes fue presidente de Azania-Jubalandia, Ahmed ‘Madobe’ – un antiguo señor de la guerra islamista cuya milicia, las Brigadas de Ras Kamboni, combatió junto a al-Shabaab antes de cambiar de bando en 2010- ha dado pie a todo tipo de especulaciones sobre el futuro de la región como un eventual Estado-tapón entre Kenia y Somalia. Ahora bien, esta hipótesis parece más difícil de ser llevada a la práctica después de que ‘Madobe’ haya sido sustituido por una administración interina alineada con el Ejecutivo federal.

Al-Shabaab domina a su vez la mitad de Galmudug y el puerto de Harardheere, que fue en su día la base de uno de las principales bandas piratas del centro de Somalia: los Marines Somalíes, responsables del secuestro del Alakrana a finales de 2009. Según el Grupo de Supervisión de Naciones Unidas, su líder, Mohamed Abdi Hassan ‘Afweyne’, amasó una fortuna con los rescates y el contrabando de armas y de qat antes de anunciar su retirada del crimen organizado.

El siguiente paso de ‘Afweyne’ fue similar al que muchos señores de la guerra habían dado antes que él: tratar de entrar en política, en este caso involucrándose activamente en la vida pública y empresarial de Himan y Heeb. Asimismo, ‘Afweyne’ estrechó lazos con el Gobierno Federal creando su propia agencia antipiratería y proponiéndole a Hassan Sheikh Mohamud que decretase una amnistía general para los piratas. Pero su pasaporte diplomático no le impidió ser detenido y procesado en Bélgica en 2013.


Los muyaidines del Golis

La presencia de piratas en las costas de Puntlandia es a día de hoy poco más que un recuerdo anecdótico, gracias a la ‘Operación Atalanta’ y al desarrollo de la fuerza de guardacostas puntlandesa con la asistencia de la UE. Las dos mayores amenazas a la estabilidad de Puntlandia se derivan de su conflicto con Somalilandia por las áreas fronterizas de Sanaag y Sool, y, una vez más, de la presencia de bandas de yihadistas supuestamente afines a al-Shabaab en su territorio. Las más activas –algunos informes hablan de “cientos de muyaidines”- son las que operan desde hace tres años en el Golis, una cadena montañosa de la provincia de Bari, la más oriental de Somalia.

Los muyaidines del Golis estuvieron dirigidos hasta 2014 por el sheikh Mohamed ‘Atom’, un antiguo contrabandista de armas que decidió poner fin a su alianza con al-Shabaab y entregarse a las autoridades puntlandesas a causa de sus presuntas divergencias con el líder de la organización, Ahmed ‘Godane’. ‘Atom’ acusaba a ‘Godane’ de seguir directrices “extranjeras” después de anunciar la unión de al-Shabaab a al-Qaeda en 2011, y de rodearse de una especie de “servicio secreto” o “guardia pretoriana”, el Amniyaad, para purgar a los disidentes y ejercer el terror de forma cruel sobre la población somalí.

‘Godane’ falleció en un bombardeo estadounidense el 1 de septiembre de 2014, y fue sucedido como “emir” de al-Shabaab por Ahmed Umar. Inmediatamente, los rumores sobre la existencia de un profundo vacío de poder y de una dura pugna interna entre los partidarios de mantener los vínculos de al-Qaeda y los defensores de la adhesión al DAESH en el seno de al-Shabaab se dispararon. Aún así, ha habido que esperar a octubre de 2015 para que una pequeña partida de 20 yihadistas del Golis, encabezados por su comandante, Abdiqadir Munim, jurasen lealtad al califato de Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi en un vídeo difundido en YouTube.

“Llegarán días negros”

¿Cuál es el contexto en el que se ha producido esta noticia? En primer lugar, hay que tener en cuenta la actual coyuntura de al-Shabaab. Se piensa que los yihadistas han sido los principales beneficiarios del levantamiento parcial del embargo, que les habría permitido adquirir fusiles ligeros y municiones. Aunque la muerte de ‘Godane’, las deserciones y el progresivo aislamiento han mermado notoriamente su capacidad de actuación, al-Shabaab ha incrementado sus acciones terroristas dentro y fuera de Somalia por medio del Amniyaad, que habría comenzado a captar adeptos entre musulmanes de idioma suajili de Kenia y Tanzania.

El 21 de septiembre de 2013, tan sólo unas horas después del asalto al centro comercial de Westgate, en Nairobi, la organización afirmó en Twitter que iban a llegar “días negros”. Hasta ahora, ha cometido 800 atentados en Somalia y 80 en Kenia. El 48% de los ataques han estado dirigidos contra militares, mientras que el 39% ha tenido como objetivo a la administración y las instituciones gubernamentales somalíes.

El 34% de los ataques lo han protagonizado células de terroristas como los que irrumpieron en el centro comercial de Westgate y en el campus de la universidad keniana de Garissa. Para Mark Bryce, del Center for Strategic and International Studies de Washington, los “días negros” pueden explicarse como parte de una reorganización de la estructura y de la estrategia del grupo que empezó ya bajo la dirección de ‘Godane’, después de la caída de Kismayo, y en la que el DAESH puede tener un papel determinante.

¿Hacia el emirato de Habasha?

En segundo lugar, es necesario analizar las repercusiones reales que puede tener la decisión de una parte de al-Shabaab, por pequeña que sea, de unirse al Califato, en un momento en el que Somalia continúa haciendo frente a una situación extremadamente delicada.

No se puede olvidar que en tiempos de ‘Godane’ al-Shabaab reclutó a unos 2.000 combatientes extranjeros, procedentes en su mayoría de otros países árabes y de la diáspora somalí en Europa y Norteamérica, a los que habrían empezado a unirse los originarios del Este de África. Pero tampoco parecen menos ciertas las informaciones que apuntan a que, una vez desaparecido el anterior “emir”, su sucesor se ha decidido a limitar ampliamente la influencia que los elementos “foráneos” podrían haber llegado a ostentar dentro del grupo. El objetivo de esta iniciativa podría ser, quizás, evitar que el DAESH trate de captar seguidores a través de los muyaidines llegados del exterior. Para ello, Ahmed Umar contaría con el respaldo de al menos una parte del Amniyaad, que se presenta cada vez más como un poder fáctico dentro de al-Shabaab.

No obstante, todo parece señalar de nuevo a las hipótesis acerca del vacío de poder y de una lucha soterrada entre al-Qaeda y el DAESH que recuerda a los enfrentamientos entre el Estado Islámico y el Frente al-Nusra en Siria y entre los partidarios del califato de Raqqa y los talibanes en Afganistán. Paradójicamente, esta supuesta lucha por hacerse con al-Shabaab, que se retrotrae a los últimos meses del liderazgo de Godane, coincide con el aumento de la campaña de ataques y con el atentado a gran escala de Garissa.

En este sentido, el doble atentado del fin de semana de Mogadiscio podría ser interpretado como una sangrienta maniobra orquestada desde el Amniyaad para reafirmar su autoridad frente a la defección de los yihadistas del Golis. La cúpula de al-Shabaab aún no ha hecho pública ninguna respuesta al juramento de Abdiqadir Munim y sus milicianos, pero tiene buenas razones para tratar de mantener el control sobre las montañas de Puntlandia, que le sirven de nexo geográfico de unión con las bandas de Somalilandia y con los puertos del Índico y el Mar Rojo, a través de los cuales pueden recibir armas y pertrechos.

Por otra parte, resulta difícil considerar verdaderamente representativo a un grupo de 20 yihadistas, máxime cuando se desconoce cuántos combaten realmente en el Golis, y si estas bandas de milicianos cuentan con algún tipo de coordinación tras la deserción de ‘Atom’. Lo que en realidad puede ser inquietante para los dirigentes de al-Shabaab es que este sea el comienzo de una crisis interna como la protagonizada en 2011 por ‘Godane’ y su antecesor, el jeque Aweys, que no hizo más que debilitar a la organización terrorista.

(FILES) -- A file photo taken on January 7, 2010 shows an armed Somali pirate along the coastline while the Greek cargo ship, MV Filitsa, is seen anchored just off the shores of Hobyo, northeastern Somalia, where its being held by pirates. On the 20th anniversary of president Mohamed Siad Barre's ouster that triggered Somalia's descent into chaos and one of Africa's longest civil wars, prospects for peace remain slim, analysts said. The Horn of Africa country is now best known to the outside world for being the place that inspired the Hollywood war movie

Pero, pese a ello, el escenario no puede ser más preocupante: el DAESH anhela con crear en el Cuerno de África el emirato de Habasha, que podría llegar a servirle de enlace entre sus filiales de Yemen y el Mashrek y Boko Haram y las células yihadistas del Este de África. Desde luego, la fragilidad del Estado somalí supone una excelente oportunidad para el Estado Islámico, por muy mal que puedan irle las cosas a al-Shabaab. La pelota está en el tejado de la UE, de Estados Unidos, de la Unión Africana y de los demás actores que han desembarcado en Somalia en defensa de sus intereses estratégicos tras la avalancha de ataques piratas de la última década. Y, también, de Kenia y Etiopía, que históricamente han puesto en práctica en Somalia una política basada en el principio del “divide y vencerás”.

Pero si la comunidad internacional continúa avalando una transición a todas luces inacabada sin sentar las bases para un proceso sólido de reconstrucción nacional, es posible que ni el éxito de la EUNAVFOR Atalanta pueda mantenerse en el tiempo.

Somalia lleva 20 años sumida en la guerra civil, y bien podrían pasar otros 20 hasta que la transición que acabó oficialmente en 2012 dé como resultado un Estado que pueda garantizar a sus ciudadanos una mínima seguridad. De lo contrario, todo lo que les queda a los somalíes es la frase de una de sus grandes poetisas contemporáneas, Saado Ali Warsame, asesinada en 2014 por al-Shabaab: “Dejadnos seguir caminos separados si no vais a gobernarnos o no nos vais a dar ninguna oportunidad de que podamos gobernarnos”.

David González es administrador civil del Estado e investigador en Relaciones Internacionales

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Entrevista en la revista Ciudad Nueva sobre las claves del conflicto sirio.

Os paso un enlace al artículo “Siria, las claves del conflicto”   de la revista Ciudad Nueva que se basa en una entrevista que me hicieron hace unas semanas.


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