Afganistán, en busca de la identidad nacional. Parte Primera

By Elbay Alibayovanalista invitado a La mirada a Oriente, ha trabajado en Afganistán con el PNUD, en Iraq con USAID y en Bosnia con la OSCE.

En esta serie sobre Afganistán Elbay Alibayov analiza un país marcado por las heridas de un conflicto que dura ya décadas, un país que se mueve entre la tradición y la modernidad, con unos pueblos orgullosos de sus instituciones antiguas, la costumbre y las tradiciones tribales que muestran una vitalidad asombrosa, de su cultura milenaria, al tiempo que se plantean la incorporación de instituciones modernas  que carecen de la madurez necesaria para transformar la sociedad. Se trata de un país heterogéneo desde el punto de vista étnico y lingüístico, mayoritariamente de confesión sunita, forjando unas comunidades que funcionan como potentes entidades de protección de los individuos. Fue el escenario de la derrota del ejército soviético, una lucha en la que se gestó el nacimiento de Al-qaeda a finales de los años 1980. Un país, en definitiva, que debemos conocer para entender el Gran Oriente Medio.  


All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I am sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”

—Jalal-al-Din Mohammad Rumi

The recent developments in Afghanistan indicate that the conflict there may have entered a new phase, which has a potential of setting ground for gradually ending the violence and establishing a lasting peace. A series of events at first glance look rather random and business-as-usual, but they send messages that taken together imply that something new is in making at the background beyond the events.

To appreciate the significance of these developments, one has to place them into a right analytical framework where local contexts (structures, institutions) and political actors contesting the distribution of power continuously interact and keep interpreting these interactions and the opportunities they offer at any critical juncture in time. At the end of the day, whatever large-scale and intensive, this is not the external factor that will decide the final outcome of the Afghan war and the destiny of the Afghan state—but the local political actors.

This article is an attempt to reflect on the political conflict in Afghanistan in the context of an enduring rivalry between modernisation and traditionalism, which is itself a manifestation of a search (and shaping and reshaping) of national identity for a country as culturally diverse as Afghanistan. The topic is not new, but it has not been explored at the interface of a long-lasting process and momentous opportunities opening up at some crucial points. These moments are impossible to foresee, let alone to engineer. But it is possible (and imperative, for political agents) to be ready to take advantage as soon as they avail themselves.

“The political conflict in Afghanistan reflects an enduring rivalry between the proponents of modernisation and traditionalism, in their search for national identity”



I put an effort to keep it concise (hope you would appreciate that ;-). The paper consists of four parts. In the first post I will give an overview of current narratives about Afghanistan, resulting models, and their flaws. In the second part I will position the conflict in the context of enduring rivalry between modernisation and traditionalism in Afghanistan. The third part will look at coincidence of the current, most recent events and how they are interpreted by the agents as offering them opportunities for further action. And in the final part I will look beyond the events, to make some conclusions and outline the possible directions to explore.

Part One: Prevailing Narratives

The hidden works of narrative fallacy

There are scholarly works by historians and anthropologists written mostly in the past century, offering valuable insights into the Afghan history and culture (among them my favourite Afghanistan by Louis Dupree). There are also various narratives created over time (especially in post-2001 era), about Afghanistan’s institutions of power and statehood tradition, political actors, their interests, and the drivers of lasting wars.

The difference between the two is that the first group was written by people who based their studies on the primary sources collected through the field work in-country and with an intention to learn (and if possible, to understand) the culture of people inhabiting this ancient land; while the latter, to the contrast, were produced mostly by people who intended to explain (and do it authoritatively) all those complex matters of a distant culture and offering concepts backed by the narratives often-time built upon incomplete, or unconfirmed secondary and tertiary sources.

The second group of works and concepts was and still is driven by the day’s practical demands, as they have been produced to inform action by international actors (quite heavily) involved in Afghanistan. As such, they simplify and frame the reality to offer (if not impose) a logical model that makes sense of the otherwise random sequence of events and seemingly unrelated to each other, at times interrupted processes—with an ultimate aim of defining effective solutions to existing problems. And this is where the risk of narrative fallacy (to borrow from Nassim Taleb) is hidden and where theories turn into myths.




The modern myths

There are many myths created about Afghanistan in the last decades with various degree of uptake by policymakers, but three of them are most persistent (interestingly enough, they have been accepted fully or in considerable part by various foreign actors over time, in spite of difference in their ideological stands and interests).

Central among them is the myth claiming that there has never been an Afghan state, only a mass of continuously and fiercely warring tribesmen who do not recognize any form of central power or unification. It rightly notes that in terms of loyalty for Afghans of all groups and subgroups first comes their kin and then clan or tribe, but makes a wrong conclusion that they lack (if have at all) any allegiance to the state. As all across north of Africa and west, central and south Asia tribes have historically played significant role both socially and politically. This centuries-long tradition sits deep in bone of anyone having origins from these regions; however it does not (and has not) exclude the possibility of having a functional state, whether strong or less effective, centralised or not.

Another myth goes on to say that there had been a somewhat state in Afghanistan but it was annihilated in the wars of the 1980s-90s, and the attempts to rebuild it won’t work as the balance of power has changed from the capital to the rule of ethnically and sub-ethnically diverse (and largely Islamist) countryside that is too heterogeneous to be united.

It correlates with the tendency to see the stand-off between the government and insurgents as merely medieval war waged by local warlords, criminals and terrorists against the legitimate central government (albeit backed by foreigners and dominated by foreign ideology), without taking account of ideas and aspirations of the warring parties, and of the history of propagation of and resistance to reforms (such as claiming that the Taleban’s “attitude  toward the state and reforms are not the continuation of some ‘tradition’, but the result of their own uprooting”).

And finally, there is a myth which holds that Afghanistan is ”not a natural state”, pointing to “very special” culture and social institutions of Pashtuns as politically dominant faction and their (deemed) irreconcilable differences with other ethnic groups and tribes. Moreover, some authors also marry this notion of Pashtun tribalism with the legacy of historically more recent “Afghan Jihad” to arrive at totally biased portrait picturing Pashtuns as hostile to anything different (if not alien) from their own.

Common to these myths is that they oversimplify the historic processes and the present-day situation, focus only on one arbitrarily selected element while ignoring the rest, and above all, deny the Afghans (comprised as they are of diverse and distinct ethnic and sub-ethnic groups) their history of coexistence, political traditions and institutions. Taken together they lead to yet another misconception, this one with practical implications—the false assumption of the possibility to control the end state of the Afghan war.

“The prevailing narratives created about Afghanistan deny its diverse populations their history of coexistence, political traditions and institutions.”

This “control of the outcome” myth, first, implies that there is a military solution to the conflict and thus feeds into the dominant doctrine seeing the end-state in coercion. And second, this myth impedes the possibility of finding a workable solution to assist the country in establishing peace and state-building as it suggests that a state model can be imported to Afghanistan and sustained through pouring abundant money and technical advice into its structures. Thus far it has not worked well as we can see, if not served contrary to the purpose claimed.

The models: imported and (revived) home-grown

Fifteen years after the intervention, Afghanistan is still in the process of seeking a political settlement to state-building and an administrative structure and mechanisms that would be compatible with its political culture and institutions—and thus viable. I will briefly outline the concepts in play with regards to (a) general approach to state-building, (b) vertical distribution of power within public administration, and (c) options proposed as alternatives to the present constitutional set-up in Afghanistan.

Deconstruction vs. co-optation

Of broadly defined two available (or practiced in post-conflict state-building) alternatives the international community decided to pursue the path of (partial) deconstruction of existing state apparatus in Afghanistan and then building a new one, instead of taking the approach of co-opting  “all social forces and power centres into state-building within the existing institutions and trying to redirect their competition for power and [resources] from violent to peaceful channels.” In so doing (given the nature and the initial justification for the military occupation and overthrowing of the government and political factions behind it) the intervening authorities (US and allies) have effectively excluded the Taleban and some other influential actors from the process (starting from the Bonn conference of 2001 and the creation of interim administration), and thus setting the entire endeavour in a direction of zero-sum game and coercion.

After the departure of Hamid Karzai from the helm of the state (but not from the politics) in 2014, Afghanistan has had even more troubling period following the contested elections and months of tortuous negotiations which resulted in the creation of a Government of National Unity (GUN) between two (tempted to say “former”, but they effectively still are) rivals, President Ashraf Ghani and the Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah.

Among other contextual and institutional challenges, the problem with the Government effectively fulfilling its functions lies in the lack of its legitimacy and credibility with large segments of (predominantly rural) population. Limited political representativeness of the central government, due to exclusion of other key players from decision making, will remain the major barrier to stabilisation and development in Afghanistan.

“The biggest fallacy about Afghanistan is the view that the conflict can end in coercion through decisive military victory, and then an imported statehood model implanted and sustained”


Jadi Maiwaman, Kabul's main boulevard, lined with rubble, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1995

Jadi Maiwaman, Kabul’s main boulevard, lined with rubble, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1995

Sub-national governance

Strong central government in Kabul, as initially supported by the international community, may have seemed as easy-to-go option and also appealed to personal and group aspirations of certain political actors holding power, but it very quickly proved as a nonworking model. In order to enable the government reach down to the villages and across the country while keeping intact the territorial integrity of the state within the constitutional provisions, decentralisation was promoted and introduced as a concept since 2007.

The implementation of sub-national governance reform, even accepted as critically important, has proven problematic for many reasons, including such systemic and institutional challenges as corruption, dominance of politics over bureaucracy, unclear distribution of functions, lack of real delegation of power, and competing interests and overlapping mandates of various bodies in charge.

Key legislation is either pending (lost in the procedures for years) or not implemented. The system itself is quite complex owing, in part, to the difference in conceptual approaches of donors (such as United Nations, World Bank, and USAID) and different government bodies in charge at all levels, from central ministries through provinces, to districts and municipalities (under the overall responsibility of Independent Directorate of Local Governance, IDLG).

Add to this a parallel system of sub-national development councils (operating at village and district level through community, district and cluster networks—all managed by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, MRRD) with own governance ambition—and you have a complex structure which is difficult to map on a piece of paper, let alone to manage. [*I have witnessed and went through all this confusion when assisting the MRRD in their work with District Development Assemblies, back in 2011].

Federalisation and partition

Devolution of power is imperative in Afghanistan—this seems to be appreciated by both foreign and domestic actors involved in state-building. But this is where the views are divided. Some observers and practitioners advocate and keep turning into reality the administrative decentralisation efforts (whatever cumbersome).  Others are sceptical about the success of this endeavour and have come up with scenarios which go beyond the present structure set by Afghanistan’s Constitution. The discussion, and even very light critique of those proposed constructs and their justification is a topic in its own right, therefore I will only touch upon it here. Roughly, there are two groups of options proposed over time that demand the amendment or even the adoption of new constitution.

One group comprises various scenarios of organising Afghanistan as a federal state. This effectively takes one (albeit significant) step further to the current administrative organisation of Afghanistan with thirty-four provinces, with much more power and authority and resources devolved to the federal units. The number and administrative borders may vary but in essence this is an approach to which the Afghan state is not prepared yet, as the vacillations over the implementation of sub-national governance reform have shown.

Another group of option can be subsumed under partition banner, whether suggesting a confederational set-up or the creation of new sovereign states. This is not a new idea either. Back in the 1960s, there was a proposition to set a confederation comprising three entities—Afghan, Pakistani, and Iranian. Today, the proponents of this idea offer a number of other scenarios (dividing the country along ethnic lines), such as a two-entity confederation of South (Pashtun) and North (Uzbek-Tajik) or three entities, with Hazara state added to the two.

These ideas mostly are deriving from the narratives discussed in the beginning of this paper, especially the one justifying the creation of a separate Pashtun state. Indeed, Pashtuns today are estimated at about 45 million, as per mid-2016 estimates: they comprise 15.42 percent of Pakistan’s population (approx 31.2 million) and 42 percent of Afghanistan’s population (approx 14 million). The idea of independent Pashtunistan has been entertained by various local political actors since 1947 (with or without relation to the disputed but still respected by both countries Durand Line); this always made the Pakistani authorities feel uneasy, with periods of escalated tensions, such as in the 1960s-70s.

This article is a first in a series on the conflict in Afghanistan. It was first posted on PolicyLabs

Photo credits:

[1] Kabul, 1961 (Photo: AP/Henry Burroughs)

[2] Map of Afghanistan (Nations Online)

[3] Jadi Maiwaman, Kabul’s main boulevard, lined with rubble, 1995 (Photo: Steve McCurry)

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Publicado mi artículo “Irán y el Acuerdo Nuclear de 2015” en la Revista de Estudios en Seguridad Internacional

Queridos Amigos de La mirada a Oriente:

Aquí os dejo un enlace a mi artículo Irán y el Acuerdo Nuclear de 2015. Una explicación desde el Realismo Neoclásico” publicado en el número actual de la Revista de Estudios en Seguridad Internacional de la Universidad de Granada.

José Luis Masegosa

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Pacta sunt servanda

El futuro del Plan de Acción Integral Conjunto (en adelante PAIC o Acuerdo Nuclear) entre Irán y el Grupo E3 / UE + 3 está en el aire después de la elección inesperada de Donald Trump como 45 presidente de los Estados Unidos de América el pasado 8 de noviembre. Durante la campaña el presidente electo criticó de forma reiterada el Acuerdo Nuclear alcanzado el 14 de julio de 2015 con la República Islámica de Irán después de 13 años de conflicto en torno a la naturaleza militar o pacífica del programa nuclear iraní. Las agencias de inteligencia occidentales y los analistas, Graham Allison de Harvard entre ellos, afirmaban a mediados de 2015 que el Régimen de los Ayatolás se encontraba a unos meses de construir una bomba nuclear.

El Acuerdo Nuclear se fundamenta en un quid pro quo entre Irán y la comunidad internacional. Irán renunció a avanzar en su programa nuclear y aceptó limitaciones temporales al mismo a cambio del levantamiento de las sanciones que han ahogado la economía iraní desde 2012 (provocaron una contracción de un 9% del PIB iraní entre 2013 y 2014.

Cuando tome posesión el presídete electo en enero de 2017 se cumplirá un año y medio desde la entrada en vigor del Acuerdo Nuclear. En los últimos meses los mayores artífices del PAIC por parte iraní, el presidente Hassan Rouhani y el Líder Supremo de la Revolución, el Ayatolá Ali Jamenei, han acusado a la administración Obama de no hacer más para despejar todas las dudas que desalientan la inversión en Irán e impiden la recuperación económica del país persa. Aunque el círculo íntimo del presidente Rouhani acepta que EE.UU ha cumplido con su obligación de levantar las sanciones vinculadas con el programa nuclear iraní, las expectativas del régimen son altas. Teherán espera que Washington se implique en despejar las dudas de los bancos e inversores internacionales. Sin un aumento considerable de las inversiones en su industria del petróleo y en el resto de la economía, difícilmente se podrá volver al crecimiento. Se trata de una cuestión política clave para el futuro del presidente Rouhani que se juega su reelección en mayo de 2017

Será en estas circunstancias que el presidente electo Donald Trump y su equipo afrontarán qué hacer con el Acuerdo Nuclear de 2015. A la hora de considerar qué alternativas barajará la administración Trump debemos advertir que sabemos muy poco de los planes del presidente electo. Además, la decisión sobre el Pacto Nuclear formará parte del anunciado replanteamiento general del compromiso de EE.UU con el orden internacional.

Por otra parte, en enero el presidente electo tendrá que pasar de las musas al teatro y veremos si aplica las recetas de política exterior que ha prescrito en campaña para recuperar la grandeza de EE.UU. En este asunto existen dos escuelas de opinión: los optimistas piensan que el pragmatismo del hombre de negocios llevará al presidente electo a abandonar a partir de enero sus medidas más disruptivas mientras que los escépticos replican que Donald Trump pondrá en práctica un cuerpo de ideas que le ha acompañado a lo largo de las últimas tres décadas (ver artículo del prof. Daniel Drezner in the Washington Post del pasado 4 de noviembre).

La génesis de su política exterior con Irán y en su conjunto también dependerá de la personalidad del finalmente elegido para representar a la Casa Blanca en el mundo. Los candidatos mejor situados son Mitt Romney, anterior candidato presidencial del Grand Old Party y abanderado del establishment republicano, y Rudy Giuliani, ex alcalde de Nueva York y muy leal a Donald Trump durante la campaña. Los dos candidatos suscitan dudas en el presidente electo que ha entrevistado a otros candidatos para el puesto. De momento, los elegidos para los puestos de consejero de seguridad nacional y director de la CIA se han mostrado muy hostiles al Pacto Nuclear.

Los cambios de opinión y la retórica errática que caracterizan al presidente electo han llevado a analistas tan prestigiosos como Suzanne Mahoney de Brooking a afirmar hace unos días que la perspectiva de conflicto militar entre Irán y EE.UU no puede descartarse.

El margen de maniobra del presidente en este asunto es directamente proporcional a la debilidad del Acuerdo Nuclear, el cual no está blindado contra los cambios de gobierno. Es un acuerdo cuyo cumplimiento depende del poder ejecutivo. De hecho la Administración Obama ha levantado las sanciones mediante decretos presidenciales que establecen exenciones temporales o suspenden las sanciones aprobadas por el Congreso. En breve el presidente Trump gozará de esas mismas prerrogativas para revocar o renovar esas exenciones.

El presidente Trump podría utilizar la amenaza de la revocación unilateral de las exenciones o la no renovación de éstas para presionar al régimen iraní en los ámbitos de su programa de misiles balísticos y su política regional. Con estas amenazas incluso podría pretender forzar una renegociación del Pacto Nuclear. Un enfoque contrapuesto al a la política de compromiso constructivo exhibida por el presidente Obama que aisló la negociación nuclear, a nuestro juicio de forma acertada, de la resolución de otros contenciosos que enfrentan a las partes.

Una segunda opción sería debilitar el Pacto Nuclear de forma indirecta, sin retirarse del acuerdo o renegociarlo. Podría mirar para otro lado y no ejercer su derecho de veto de la normativa que el Senado pretende aprobar en breve para sancionar a Irán. Actualmente circulan en las cámaras casi treinta propuestas de nuevas sanciones contra los sectores económicos que apoyan la joya de la corona de la industria iraní de la defensa, el sector de los misiles balísticos dirigido por la Guardia Revolucionaria, y también contra la proyección regional de Irán y los abusos de derechos humanos. La Cámara de Representantes aprobó hace una semana de forma abrumadora un paquete de sanciones adicionales contra Irán y ahora está pendiente el voto en el Senado que está controlado por el Grand Old Party.

Existe una tercera opción menos agresiva que puede valorar la futura administración Trump. La redacción de las estipulaciones del Pacto Nuclear sobre el levantamiento de las sanciones contra Irán se caracteriza por una ambigüedad evidente que alimenta las dudas de los inversores y bancos internacionales para volver a Irán. Cada vez que las autoridades iraníes se han quejado de la lentitud de la recuperación económica y la ausencia del prometido dividendo de la paz, el presidente Obama y el secretario de estado Kerry han actuado como los valedores de Irán para tranquilizar a los inversores y bancos internacionales. Trump no tiene qué continuar necesariamente con ese enfoque.

Sin duda, cualquiera de estas opciones por separado o de forma combinada pondrá a prueba el compromiso iraní con el Pacto Nuclear. El presidente Hassan Rouhani, el arquitecto de la solución negociada, rechaza la renegociación del PAIC pero tampoco puede asumir sin coste político unas sanciones adicionales que abortarían el reciente repunte de la economía. El centrista Rouhani ganó la presidencia de la República Islámica en 2013 con la promesa de encontrar una solución diplomática al conflicto nuclear e impulsar la recuperación de la economía. La alianza internacionalista de las facciones aperturista, moderada, y reformista, que respaldó su apuesta negociadora, ganó la elecciones legislativas de hace unos meses pero muestra signos de descomposición debido a un dividendo de la paz que se resiste a hacerse realidad casi un año después del levantamiento de las sanciones.

Un golpe de timón de la política iraní de EE.UU, dependiendo de su alcance, podría frustrar los avances que han realizado las fuerzas moderadas en Ia República Islámica desde 2013. Y significaría un nuevo motivo para el descontento in crescendo con el Pacto Nuclear de la opinión pública iraní, la segunda muleta en la que se ha apoyado el presidente Rouhani junto con la alianza internacionalista de las élites iraníes de las facciones aperturista, moderada y reformista. El fin de la política estadounidense de compromiso constructivo con Irán dañaría las probabilidades de reelección del centrista Rouhani en los comicios presidenciales de mayo de 2017. Ello podría conducir a la vuelta al poder de los ultraconservadores iraníes, los cuales han denunciado desde 2015 que el acuerdo representa la rendición de Irán ante el Gran Satán

Sin duda, las derivadas de política interna iraní serán un elemento que pondrá en valor la administración Trump.

Las opciones del presidente Trump en Irán se encuentran limitadas por el amparo unánime que recibió el Pacto Nuclear de 2015 en el Consejo de Seguridad de Naciones Unidas mediante la resolución 2231. Cualquier intento unilateral de renegociación iría en contra de una resolución aprobada por el Consejo de Seguridad y sería difícil de justificar a la vista de los informes del Organismo Internacional de la Energía Atómica, el supervisor de la ONU, que ha informado favorablemente hasta ahora del cumplimiento iraní de las limitaciones a su programa nuclear recogidas en el Pacto Nuclear de 2015. No obstante, hace dos semanas el supervisor llamó la atención de Irán sobre la superación de los límites de agua pesada.

Una renegociación del PAIC distanciaría a la nueva administración de sus aliados europeos que valoran la apertura económica de un mercado, el iraní, de más de 70 millones de habitantes y la utilidad del Pacto Nuclear para la estabilización regional. Es probable que un hombre de negocios como Donald Trump también pondrá en valor las oportunidades de negocio en Irán para las empresas americanas. Un golpe de timón con Irán le enfrentaría con Rusia que es el gran abanderado de Irán, y con China. Una retirada unilateral del Pacto Nuclear o su renegociación tendría un coste adicional para la administración Trump y EE.UU en términos de credibilidad ante una comunidad internacional que, con la excepción de Israel, Arabia Saudí y el resto de Monarquías Árabes del Golfo, respaldó mayoritariamente el Pacto Nuclear de 2015.

images-1Un cambio de política hacia la República Islámica chocaría con otros objetivos y estrategias que el presidente electo ha adelantado para su política exterior, en particular, la derrota del DAESH. La República Islámica de Irán es la potencia regional más comprometida en la lucha contra el grupo yihadista en Iraq. La nueva administración también necesitará una posición constructiva del régimen iraní para estabilizar Iraq tras la expulsión del Estado Islámico.

Por último, el presidente electo ha puesto en solfa el papel de policía internacional que EE.UU ha ejercido después de la caída del muro de Berlín y ha manifestado sus tendencias aislacionistas. Estas son premisas que, en principio, son incompatibles con una vuelta a la amenaza militar para lidiar con Irán a expensas de un acuerdo nuclear que, a pesar de sus defectos, está funcionando. El presidente electo, al igual que el presidente Obama, ha conectado con una corriente de fondo de la sociedad norteamericana que está harta de las guerras de la era Bush.

Estas serán algunas de las limitaciones de peso y el contexto que tendrá que considerar el presidente electo en la cuestión iraní.

No obstante, el presidente Trump sentirá la necesidad de hacer algo en este asunto. El partido republicano se ha posicionado mayoritariamente en contra del PAIC y el presidente se está rodeando fundamentalmente de “halcones”. Probablemente mirará para otro lado cuando el Congreso apruebe un nuevo paquete de sanciones y los iraníes acusen a EE.UU, con la simpatía del resto de la comunidad internacional, de violar el espíritu del Pacto Nuclear. No sería necesariamente el fin del Pacto Nuclear.

Las consideraciones anteriores y la dudosa utilidad para los intereses EE.UU o para la seguridad regional o internacional de una retirada unilateral o renegociación del Acuerdo Nuclear sugieren que la administración Trump no adoptará unas medidas tan disruptivas. De hacerlo el Presidente cometería una “locura”, como ha advertido el director de la CIA saliente, John Brennan. Sería un desastre, según Brennan,  en tanto que el desaire de Washington aceleraría la vuelta al gobierno de los más duros del régimen iraní y la reactivación del programa nuclear iraní desencadenaría una carrera nuclear en la región.

Además el presidente Trump encontraría muchas dificultades a la hora de justificar la retirada de EE.UU de un acuerdo que está funcionando y que fue obra suya desde el principio. Irán ha enviado el 98% de sus “stocks” de uranio enriquecido a Rusia y ha desmantelado alrededor de 12.000 centrifugadoras (2/3 del total incluyendo las más avanzadas), ha inutilizado su reactor de plutonio, y está sujeto a un régimen de verificación muy severo en manos del OIEA que ha verificado de forma regular que la República Islámica observa las limitaciones a su programa nuclear recogidas en el PAIC. En definitiva, en palabras de Susan Rice, consejera de seguridad nacional del presidente Obama, el Pacto Nuclear ha inhabilitado todos los caminos de Irán a la bomba nuclear.

No obstante, esta línea de razonamiento lógico, dadas las cautelas expresadas al principio, no tiene por qué prevalecer sobre otras consideraciones.

Sería una lastima si la cordura no se impone. El acuerdo es positivo para la región, es un factor de estabilización que aleja, al menos de forma temporal, la perspectiva de una bomba nuclear iraní y previene un nuevo foco de conflicto en una zona caliente del planeta, abrumada por la violencia estatal y no estatal. El Pacto Nuclear demuestra que se pueden alcanzar acuerdos con Irán a través de la negociación y sirve de ejemplo para la resolución de otros contenciososregionales. Y por último, ha ejercido una influencia moderadora en la política interna iraní que, de mantenerse en el tiempo, tendría efectos similares hacia el exterior.

En definitiva, la mejor opción que tiene el Presidente electo en Irán es mantener en vigor el Pacto Nuclear y contribuir al éxito de un acuerdo que es una creación de EE.UU, está funcionando y es positivo para Washington y la región. Ello no es óbice al lanzamiento por parte de Washington de otras iniciativas diplomáticas o el despliegue de instrumentos de presión que han demostrado su eficacia, siempre que no violen el espíritu o la letra del PAIC. Pacta sunt servanda.


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¿Qué podemos esperar del Presidente Trump?

Donald Trump será el 45 presidente de los Estados Unidos de América, primera economía mundial y primera potencia militar del mundo, después de imponerse claramente a Hillary Clinton en número de compromisarios. El disgusto de los demócratas no acaba ahí. El partido republicano conservará el control de las dos cámaras del Congreso y con una mayoría conservadora clara nombrará un conservador para la vacante actual en el Tribunal Supremo y asegurará su control durante décadas (son cargos vitalicios). En principio será un presidente todopoderoso que pondrá a prueba un pilar de la democracia americana: los checks and balances. Aunque muchos republicanos prominentes se han distanciado del candidato en los últimos meses, los triunfos electorales son el mejor bálsamo para curar heridas dentro de un partido.


El candidato republicano ha ganado también a las encuestas confirmando la existencia de un voto oculto considerable que se resistía a confesar su preferencia por Trump. Es muy pronto para aventurar las razones que explican el triunfo de Donald Trump aunque se citan la animadversión hacia el establishment representado por Hilary Clinton del cual se ha distanciado Donald Trump que ha prometido cambio a los electores de EE.UU.

Ha sido una campaña electoral de las más tensas que se recuerdan en la historia de EE.UU que deja una sociedad polarizada y partida en dos. Por citar algunos ejemplos. Los escándalos y  las reacciones extemporáneas del hoy presidente electo, que amenazó con encarcelar a su oponente si ganaba las elecciones, el robo de cientos de correos internos del aparato electoral demócrata (se acusa a la Inteligencia rusa de estar detrás) y su puesta a disposición del público americano, y la segunda investigación a Hilary Clinton abierta y cerrada por el Director del FBI, a unos días de las elecciones.

Al resto del mundo también le afecta la elección del Presidente de EE.UU que goza de una libertad considerable en materia de política exterior, incluyendo el uso de la fuerza sin aprobación parlamentaria explícita. A la hora de aventurar cuánta retórica de la campaña de Trump se convertirá en política exterior debemos tener en cuenta varios elementos que el candidato republicano ha aireado de forma recurrente en la campaña.No obstante, mucho depende del equipo con el que se rodee el presidente electo, con mayor razón dada su escasa experiencia de gobierno, en las FF.AA o en política exterior.

  1. Sus relaciones exteriores estarán condicionadas por sus inclinaciones aislacionistas, sus tendencias proteccionistas, sus tics autoritarios y su rechazo a la misión de policía internacional que EE.UU ha ejercido después del fin de la guerra fría. El perfil del votante de Donald Trump es alguien muy preocupado con los efectos de la Globalización en su país y con una sociedad  cada vez más multicultural. También ha prometido abandonar los compromisos de EE.UU en la lucha contra el cambio climático.
  2. Donald Trump ha cuestionado la relación especial que EE.UU mantiene con sus aliados tradicionales en Europa y Asia. En particular, ha amagado con abandonar la Alianza Atlántica si los europeos no contribuyen más al esfuerzo económico de la defensa colectiva. Con una Rusia envalentonada los países de Europa del Este deben estar especialmente preocupados en estos momentos.
  3. Su simpatía por el presidente Putin y su animadversión a China a la que acusa de manipular su moneda para inundar el mercado americano de productos baratos. Rusia disfrutará de más libertad de acción en Oriente Medio.  Zbigniew Brzezinski, consejero de seguridad nacional del presidente Carter, ha puesto en valor la vigencia actual de la triangulación de la época Nixon. Si EE.UU mantiene unas relaciones constructivas con China, Rusia se conformará; si EE.UU se enfrenta abiertamente a China, Rusia se aliará con China y arrinconará a EE.UU.
  4. Sus manifestaciones en contra del mundo musulmán, incluyendo su promesa de prohibir la entrada de musulmanes en EE.UU o tomar represalias letales contra los familiares de terroristas yihadistas, sugieren un posible distanciamiento de sus aliados tradicionales en Oriente Medio, las monarquías árabes del Golfo. No obstante,  su promesa de revisión  del Pacto Nuclear,  suscrito con Irán hace poco más de un año, podría dar satisfacción a Arabia Saudí y a Israel al precio de alimentar las esperanzas de los ultraconservadores iraníes de abortar el acuerdo nuclear y recuperar el poder en las elecciones presidenciales previstas para mayo de 2017. Su promesa de acabar con el Estado Islámico es factible ahora que la lucha contra el Califato se encuentra muy encauzada y aquel está acorralado en sus bastiones de Raqqa y Mosul. El Presidente Trump, consciente de las tendencias aislacionistas de sus votantes, continuará el repliegue de Oriente Medio iniciado por el presidente Obama, alentando una intensificación de la lucha por el liderazgo regional entre Turquía, Arabia Saudí e Irán, al tiempo que Rusia intentará ocupar el vacío dejado por EE.UU para reivindicarse como superpotencia.

En definitiva, la victoria de Trump muy probablemente acelerará la tendencia geopolítica del unilateralismo in crescendo a expensas de unas instituciones internacionales en retirada, el cual se evidencia en las intervenciones militares de Rusia en Siria o de Arabia Saudí en Yemen, la salida del R.U. de la Unión Europea o la política expansionista de China en el Mar de China Meridional (IISS Strategic Survey 2016, 10). En definitiva, un mundo algo más inestable y con mayores dosis de incertidumbre.

La llegada de Donald Trump a la Casa Blanca significa un espaldarazo a las políticas populistas y nacionalistas que han ganado peso en Europa en los últimos años y probablemente tendrá  un efecto contagio en Europa donde los alemanes y franceses acudirán a votar en 2017. Su victoria representa una manifestación más de las tendencias hacia el aislamiento en las relaciones internacionales y en contra del orden cosmopolita surgido en los últimos años del siglo XX al compás de la Globalización.









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Clinton vs Trump: política exterior y seguridad nacional en el primer debate presidencial.

El presidente de EE.UU que salga de las elecciones del próximo 8 de noviembre tendrá que lidiar con un contexto internacional complejo y resbaladizo. Un Oriente Medio en transformación e inmerso en una Guerra de los Treinta Años (Haass), una Europa que atraviesa una crisis profunda y se revela incapaz de contener la oleada terrorista, dos “patios traseros” que invitan a una Rusia envalentonada a intervenir mediante acciones que recuerdan cada vez más a la Guerra Fría, y una China que está mostrando músculo militar en el Sudeste Asiático.

Los candidatos presidenciales, Donald Trump (Partido Republicano) y Hilary Clinton (Partido Demócrata), acudieron a su primer debate presidencial el 26 de septiembre de 2016 y tuvieron ocasión de dedicar unos minutos a política exterior y seguridad nacional.


Donald Trump se presentó como el candidato que va a impedir que el mundo siga roba
ndo a EE.UU, que pierde miles de empleos que terminan en México. Denunció los acuerdos comerciales que tanto daño han hecho a las empresas y al empleo en EE.UU, por ejemplo, el NAFTA negociado por el presidente Bill Clinton. Acusó a China de manipular su moneda para inundar EE.UU de productos baratos. Sus inclinaciones aislacionistas salieron a la superficie cuando indicó que no quiere que EE.UU sea el policía del mundo: “No podemos proteger a todos los países del mundo” espetó Trump a Clinton.

Por su parte, Hilary Clinton defendió los beneficios económicos que ha reportado el libre comercio para EE.UU y reivindicó el valor de los compromisos adquiridos por Washington con sus aliados. Pretendía mandar un mensaje de tranquilidad a los socios tradicionales de EE.UU en Europa, Oriente Medio y Asia.

La candidata demócrata señaló que los ataques cibernéticos contra empresas, partidos políticos y administraciones de EE.UU representan una amenaza in crescendo para la seguridad nacional y denunció que sus principales artífices son Rusia y grupos independientes de hackers. Donald Trump cuestionó los indicios que vinculan a Rusia con los ciberataques. En el pasado Donald Trump se ha mostrado conciliador con Rusia, incluso ha llegado a proponer una alianza con el presidente Vladimir Putin para rebajar tensiones en Siria y en el resto del mundo. De hecho, Trump es favorable a dar rienda suelta a una mayor implicación de Moscú en la estabilización de Oriente Medio al considerarla mejor posicionada para influir en los actores principales de la región.

Clinton, por su parte, que ya intentó en 2009 recomponer las relaciones con Moscú y  ha llamado “bully” (matón) a Putin,  señaló  en el debate que urge hacer frente a sus amenazas. En otros foros ha señalado tres vías para contener a Rusia: más sanciones, el reforzamiento del escudo antimisiles en Europa del Este y librar a Europa de su dependencia energética de Rusia.

En relación con la Alianza Atlántica, Donald Trump insistió en reclamar a los países europeos una compensación económica por el paraguas de seguridad que les proporciona Washington. Si no es así EE.UU debería abandonar la alianza. El candidato republicano también ha defendido que la Alianza debe implicarse más en la estabilización de Oriente Medio. Clinton y Trump coincidieron en exigir a la OTAN que dedique más recursos a la guerra contra el terrorismo.

Hilary Clinton señaló dos elementos de su plan para combatir a DAESH, que recibieron el asentimiento del candidato republicano, aunque éste culpó a la administración Obama del caos que sufre Oriente Medio. Por un lado, la intensificación de los bombardeos contra DAESH y el reforzamiento de la alianza con las facciones kurdas y árabes que combaten al Estado Islámico en el terreno. Por otro, la guerra online contra DAESH, un grupo yihadista que ha alcanzado un notable éxito en la utilización de las redes sociales como vehículos de radicalización. Para combatir esta amenaza Clinton pretende cooperar estrechamente con las grandes empresas tecnológicas.

Por su parte Donald Trump ha propuesto en otros foros prohibir la entrada de musulmanes a EE.UU, una medida que Clinton considera no solo inconstitucional sino contraproducente y perjudicial para los relaciones de EE.UU con sus aliados árabes. También ha sugerido la eliminación de familiares de terroristas y una utilización menos restrictiva de la tortura en la guerra contra el terrorismo. La catástrofe siria fue la gran ausente del debate. En este asunto ambos candidatos han defendido una zona de exclusión área en Siria, una medida que chocaría con la estrategia rusa de apoyo al régimen de Bachar al-Asad.

Por último, Trump señaló que el Pacto Nuclear de julio de 2015 entre Irán y las grandes potencias es un mal acuerdo. Los iraníes solamente tienen que esperar diez años y se convertirán en una potencia nuclear. En otras ocasiones Trump ha amenazado con renegociar el acuerdo nuclear con Irán porque permite a los iraníes acceder a 150 billones de euros que serán trascendentales para aumentar su influencia en la región. Clinton fue la madre de la criatura y defendió la oportunidad y la utilidad del acuerdo nuclear con Irán. La candidata demócrata ha prometido compensar a Israel garantizando su superioridad militar en la región.

Hilary Clinton y Donald Trump se verán de nuevo las caras en dos debates presidenciales que tendrán lugar el 9 de octubre en St. Louis y el 19 de octubre en Las Vegas.










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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.


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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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