Why Iraq’s Prime Minister Needs To Win The War on Graft Before Reconstruction Begins

Having put Islamic State to the sword, Iraq’s premier Haider al-Abadi has now set his sights on a new challenge – curbing the country’s endemic corruption, a struggle that must be won if his ambitious plans to revive regions devastated in the war against the insurgents are to be achieved.

The government has estimated that it needs $100 billion in reconstruction funds over the next ten years to restore Sunni cities and regions that bore the brunt of the conflict. Abadi is widely respected across Iraq’s highly sectarian political landscape, but in order to win the support of Sunni voters in elections next year he will need to demonstrate substantial progress on pledges to rebuild their heartlands.

The international community appears ready in principle to back Abadi’s rebuilding efforts though the scale of its support will likely be predicated on whether the country has the systems in place to ensure that funds are used effectively. So far, about half a billion dollars of assistance has been pledged. A donors’ conference in Kuwait early in 2018 is expected to secure more finance – however, Iraqi hopes of a Marshall Plan-like settlement for their country currently seem unrealistic.

While there is no shortage of goodwill towards Iraq, with world and regional powers acutely aware of the need to stabilise the country to avert an IS resurgence and stave off Iranian influence, there are real concerns that funds will be misspent or lost to corruption, as they were following the toppling of Saddam Hussein. A 2013 US government audit of its financing of Iraqi reconstruction over the previous decade, which came in at around $60 billion, found that nearly 15 per cent of  money had been wasted, with American military oversight of projects sharply criticised.

Iraqi leaders will be conscious that donors’ concerns over the distribution of funds may limit contributions, which is why they aim to supplement the latter with private investment. Already, Britain has earmarked $12 billion in loans available to UK companies engaged in Iraqi infrastructure projects. Baghdad is hoping that investment is directed towards public/private partnerships and the nascent small-to-medium-sized business sector, which could play a critical role in helping Iraq diversify its oil-dependent economy.

In the wake of IS’s defeat, Abadi launched what he described as a war on corruption. This has resonated strongly with many fellow Shia leaders – notably the hugely influential Muqtada al-Sadr – and Sunni politicians, whose constituencies want an end to a scourge that has blighted the country. The premier has been under pressure to act for some time. Last year Sadr supporters twice stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and embassies, in protest over perceived government foot-dragging.  But fraud is so endemic that Abadi may struggle to make any headway. Some critics suggest that his combative pledges are little more than rhetoric aimed at boosting his electoral prospects or just a ploy to neuter political rivals.

Yet there are tangible signs that Iraq is committed to tackling fraud. In August a court jailed 26 high-ranking officials for up to 15 years after they were convicted of corruption. They included former ministers of defence, electricity and agriculture. It was a ground-breaking development as political interference in the judiciary has undermined efforts to prosecute and convict those suspected of graft.

The likes of the IMF will probably be looking for concrete state sector reforms which, even if Abadi is minded to introduce them, would meet considerable political resistance, possibly even from his own ruling Dawa Party. Cutting civil service jobs and salaries would undermine a deep-seated system of cronyism and patronage. It enables many parties to fund themselves and keep their constituencies onside – the former from kickbacks and the awarding of contracts to party-affiliated companies, the latter through the provision of public sector posts, which often furnish the incumbent with significant money-making opportunities.

Little wonder then that Abadi has warned that his battle against corruption may be more difficult than the one against IS. It might also explain why he is encouraging more private sector involvement in Iraq’s reconstruction, although overseas investors, like international lenders and foreign governments, will want to be reassured that they will not be channelling money into black holes.

So far, Abadi has been saying and doing the right things, albeit without really addressing government rent-seeking. Among headline anti-corruption measures, the courts will issue warrants against those who have allegedly smuggled money out of the country while contracts for past projects or investments that have failed will come under scrutiny. Sadr has been setting the pace by expelling dozens of people suspected of graft from his political movement.

Abadi has some time to formulate a more thoroughgoing anti-corruption strategy. His defeat of IS and retaking of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk from the Kurds has raised his stock among Iraqi Shia and Sunni communities who, for now, may feel that the jailing of officials for graft and robust pledges to tackle the latter are sufficient sign of progress. But international donors will likely want to see, at the very least, plans for substantial anti-corruption reforms as they assess how much they are prepared to commit to Iraq’s reconstruction efforts.

 

Ambrose Carey is a director at Alaco, a London-based business intelligence consultancy. He has particular experience in the Middle East, and has been involved in some of the most high profile asset-tracing cases of the past few decades.

Terrorism Risks Rising In Malaysia As Islamic State Militants Return

With the demise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the fall of Marawi in the Philippines, how will Malaysia handle the prospect of returning fighters?

Malaysia’s Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed recently expressed concerns over the threat of returning militants from the Middle East and the Philippines. The fall of Marawi, following the deaths of the insurgency’s two most senior commanders, came days after the Syrian city of Raqqa was recaptured by a US-backed coalition of Arab and Kurdish fighters.

Several hundred Malaysians have travelled to the Islamic State since 2013. In a new development, around thirty joined forces with the pro-IS Maute group in Marawi earlier this year. This article examines Malaysia’s capacity to handle the return of some of its fighters. Although coordinated IS-led attacks remain unlikely, the government will take a tough stance in order to mitigate the threat of localised terror cells and ‘lone wolf’ violence.

Will Malaysia be targeted?

The almost simultaneous losses of Raqqa and Marawi, cities of similar size, will force IS to shift to more guerrilla-based tactics. Aside from significant loss of manpower, Raqqa’s loss will yield a mass of information about IS’ strategies and personnel. IS’ de facto capital, Raqqa had generated millions of dollars in oil revenues annually; consequently, funding for its Southeast Asian operatives will be drastically cut. There is always the possibility that wealthy Arab donors will re-inject ISIS with cash. According to one estimate, $40 million was raised this way over the past two years. If so, IS will be able to regroup, re-arm and re-strategise.

IS’ Malaysia operations suffered a heavy blow this year with the death of ‘Malaysia leader’ Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, in Syria, at the hands of a drone strike. Wanndy was a commander of Khatibah Nusantara, the joint Indonesian-Malaysian wing of IS. He had threatened to ‘wreak havoc’ in Malaysia, despite frustrating his superiors for failing to do so. Bahrun Naim, the man behind the 2016 Jakarta attack, has allegedly taken Wanndy’s place, and will be looking to fulfil Wanndy’s failed mission objective. The time to attack is ripe, given Malaysia’s approaching elections, which will provide a useful government distraction.

After the death of Filipino Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the regional militant organisation Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and IS’ apparent ‘emir’ in Southeast Asia, several Malaysians had been rumoured to assume his title. They were Mohammad Amin Baco, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee and Mahmud Ahmad. Baco and Raimee are skilled in bomb-making and experienced in combat, with Baco heading one of three IS Philippines divisions, Jund al-Tawhid. Meanwhile, Ahmad, a 38-year-old former Islamic Studies lecturer from Universiti Malaya, on Malaysia’s most-wanted list since 2014, adept at fundraising and well-connected, had acted as chief recruiter for the Marawi siege.

However, evidence suggests that chauvinist attitudes are likely to prevent these Malaysians from becoming regional leader. Instead, a Filipino is preferred for the post, with ASG cell leader Furuji Indama the most likely candidate. Indama led a bloody conflict with ASG last year in the Basilan jungle; the Philippines will likely continue to provide his primary battleground. Moreover, regional militant groups like the pro-IS Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have generally been less successful infiltrating Malaysia. Militants have poor military capability and lack of support among local people in Sabah

A new generation

Regardless of whether Malaysia is an official ‘target’, returning fighters will inspire a new wave of young and impressionable recruits and provide the foundation for a new network of terror cells. Successful returnees will be battle-hardened, with military training and deep knowledge of IS’ tactical operations.

While the known militant groups in Malaysia are now defunct, pro-IS sleeper cells remain a threat, particularly in Sabah (although past reports have been unsubstantiated). Counterterrorism units will face challenges in locating these cells. Verifying their existence is problematic given the growing problem of distinguishing between actual accounts and ‘fake news’ on social media

Fighters who slip through the security net carry the latent threat of ‘lone wolf’ and suicide attacks. For security authorities, single figures are much harder to track, thus thwart. Admittedly, lone wolves are usually frustrated amateurs who have not been able to join up with their comrades in Iraq and Syria. But last year’s grenade attack in Kuala Lumpur, organised by Muhammad Wanndy, was also relatively minimal and poorly planned. Nevertheless, one successful attack in the capital or another tourist hotspot risks mass casualties.

Malaysia’s response

Malaysian security officials will not be complacent. Along with Indonesia and the Philippines, Malaysia is already making sustained efforts to increase border security in the porous Sulu region, Malaysia’s long-time Achilles heel. Other border areas need tightening, like the Sungai Golok which separates the southern Thailand province of Narathiwat from Kelantan, north Malaysia. In the past, this area has been exploited by pro-IS weapons-smuggling groups.

Generally, there is a strong likelihood that returning fighters will be caught and detained under relevant laws, as over 260 have been since 2013. The police’s special branch anti-terrorism unit closely tracks national terror suspects, and collaborates with other regional and global agencies. Safe in this knowledge, Malaysian fighters will not likely seek to return home in vast numbers. Most will stay on and continue to fight, or join other countries struggling with Islamic insurgencies like Myanmar or Thailand. Unlike Malaysia, many other places will also provide these fighters with refuge.

In July this year, thousands of undocumented migrant workers were arrested, in one of Malaysia’s biggest crackdowns in years. That month also witnessed ‘Operation Joker’, in which 400 terror suspects were arrested and their backgrounds checked against Special Branch’s Lookup database and Interpol’s Foreign Terrorist Fighter Database. More operations on this scale, across major towns and cities, are likely in the future. Despite Malaysia’s stringent enforcement of immigrant background checks, one key weak link is the use of sophisticated fake identity cards by terrorists.

Successful security efforts – so far

Although deemed excessive by opposition and human rights groups, thus far these efforts have prevented a major attack on Malaysian soil. Since April 2014, counterterrorism units have successfully disbanded the majority of Khatibah Nusantara’s Kuala Lumpur cell. Special Branch Counterterrorism Division Head, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, is consequently wanted dead by IS central command; an important obstacle to a successful Malaysia attack.

Measures have been taken to starve the terrorists’ funding networks, through the closure of informal remittance channels, although risks from money laundering remain. More also needs to be done on social media, which continues to undermine central intelligence efforts. Although authorities have terminated a number of pro-IS websites, digital recruitment via Twitter and Whatsapp remains a large threat. Authorities the world over have faced resistance from Whatsapp in getting past its encrypted messaging service.

Despite IS’ limited success in Malaysia and the robust capabilities of national counterterrorism forces, the country remains vulnerable to an attack. Although it remains unlikely that IS will attack Malaysia in the near future, the threats from lone wolf attacks and digital recruitment will keep counterterrorism authorities busy. Overall, despite attracting criticism, Malaysia’s efforts have achieved their purpose. But the next 6-12 months will certainly test this theory.

 

Alexander Macleod is a doctoral researcher at Newcastle University with a focus on Southeast Asian politics and geography. Article as appears on Global Risk Insights: https://globalriskinsights.com/2017/12/islamic-state-militants-malaysia-terrorism/

 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Frontera and its owners.

Indonesia To Tighten Counterterrorism Following Concern Of Islamic State’s Spread Across Southeast Asia

New measures to combat extremism have been tabled in Indonesia. Although at first glance they seem logical given the growing regional militant threat – particularly from the ongoing armed conflict in Marawi – upon closer inspection they come attached with broader risks.

As concern grows that Islamic State’s (IS) influence is spreading across Southeast Asia, Indonesia has revealed plans to tighten its counterterrorism legislation. Relative to Indonesia’s massive population, IS sympathisers are only thought to number in the thousands, with several hundred having left to fight in Iraq and Syria.

Nevertheless, the spectre of terrorism looms large, particularly given the ongoing conflict in Marawi (less than 400km from Indonesia’s northernmost island of Miangas, North Sulawesi). Over 40 Indonesian fighters are thought to have fought in Marawi, reflecting deep and enduring cooperation between regional militant groups. Tightened legislation should prevent battle-hardened Indonesian youths from orchestrating future attacks on home territory. But this article will examine the negative implications this could have for Indonesia going forward.

The proposed changes

Indonesia is to introduce a new law to enable authorities to imprison returning fighters for up to 15 years. Law enforcement agencies will be given the ability to detain terror suspects without trial, and the definition of terrorism will be broadened to incorporate those propagating hate speech; partaking in paramilitary training; or who are members of a banned extremist group.

At a cabinet meeting in May, Jokowi expressed support for a greater role for the Indonesian military (TNI) in counterterrorism operations. That meeting fell several days after a suicide bombing in East Jakarta that killed three policemen. As discussed below, if implemented this measure could prove highly problematic.

The Security Affairs ministry also seeks to ban two Islamist groups: Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, and the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) – which played a controversial role in the Jakarta gubernatorial election.

Tackling IS activity

These measures come at an important time in Indonesia. Despite Jokowi’s drive for economic liberalism and democracy, the Jakarta gubernatorial election showed that Indonesia’s democratic and liberal progress mustn’t be taken for granted. In contrast, illiberal, hardline Islamist forces are gaining traction. Orthodox Sunni Islamic teachings have become increasingly dominant over recent years, providing fertile ground for IS-friendly views for growing and prospering.

In Indonesia, a lack of specific legislation has stifled law enforcement authorities from detaining returning fighters. Arsla Jawaid does note that most known documented returnees were those who had not actually managed to enter the Middle East anyway. However, the case of Marawi is a different question altogether.

Marawi represents the first cohesive, coordinated and sustained attack by IS-linked militants in Southeast Asia, and has changed the narrative regarding the regional terror threat. As IS loses ground in Syria and Iraq, and seeks to consolidate a ‘caliphate’ in the Southern Philippines, similar attacks in Southeast Asia are likely. Nevertheless, according to Jawaid it will still be hard for authorities to prove that certain citizens partook in fighting abroad.

Enhanced police powers should prove useful for tackling the operations of Katibah Nusantara, the South-east Asian wing of IS that spreads propaganda and conducts recruitment and training operations. But combined, those measures will not work as effectively as they do in Malaysia and Singapore, whose smaller populations can be better monitored and contained. Executing these powers across such a complex geographical entity, in terms of logistics, manpower and infrastructure will prove difficult to manage. The case is made more complex when considering the conservative Islamic region of Aceh which is semi-autonomous.

The military’s role

Delegating more responsibility to the army could enhance Indonesia’s terrorism prevention capabilities. Utilising the TNI’s manpower would mean having more boots on the ground. Last year the TNI was lauded for the killing of Santoso – Indonesia’s most-wanted militant – in Poso, Central Sulawesi. According to Francis Chan, that incident was pivotal to strengthening the case for them to play a greater counterterrorism role.

However, a military with enhanced domestic power could lead to abuses of power, infringing upon democracy and civil society. The military became notorious for committing atrocities during the Suharto era. Despite sweeping reforms introduced after the fall of Suharto, specifically designed to keep the military in check, this reputation has never been fully eradicated – as the allegations of atrocities in West Papua suggest. Such involvement would thus likely serve as a ‘last resort’.

Nevertheless, Jokowi’s proposal was endorsed by the Gerindra Party, the party led by Prabowo Subianto, formerly a general under the Suharto regime. Prabowo was Jokowi’s main opponent in the 2014 presidential election and is seeking to challenge him again in 2019. If Gerindra regains power and implements Jokowi’s proposal, this could set back the country’s progress.

As it is, Indonesia already has an effective counterterrorism unit. Detachment 88 was formed with the aid of the US and Australia after the 2002 Bali bombings. It has successfully targeted and dismantled terror cells ever since, foiling numerous potential attacks. Jawaid observes that last year alone, Detachment 88 purportedly arrested 137 alleged terror suspects. That year it foiled 15 attacks, including the Batam Island plot involving Singapore.

Softer measures neglected

It is important that, in targeting harder counterterrorism measures, softer measures are not neglected. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, deradicalisation programmes have had ‘limited success’.

Deradicalisation programmes are allegedly abused by some detainees in order to reduce their sentence. Consequently, repeat offences are common. The perpetrator behind the January 2016 Jakarta attack, Bahrun Naim, was already a convicted terrorist but was somehow released and subsequently went on to mastermind that attack.

The problem of prison recruitment remains critical. As J.C. Liow states, ‘corruption, incompetence, poor monitoring, and poor supervision of visits’ have contributed to the ease with which radical ideologies spread and consolidate within prison institutions. Effective monitoring of released convicts has also been neglected. This surprises Jawaid, considering the likelihood that a lack of economic opportunities and limited skill-sets will push convicts back to jihadism.

Immediate risks remain

Pushing through new anti-terror legislation quickly and efficiently requires immense political will, but it is likely to be approved. The legislation will only come into effect in September, though some officials are hoping that it is implemented sooner. This is certainly in the national interest; over the coming months, Indonesian militants will likely return from Marawi, battle-hardened and with combat experience. This is a time for authorities to be extra-vigilant.

Admittedly, for a country of its size, Indonesia has done remarkably well to prevent extremist violence planned by large militant groups. But it is vulnerable to occasional small-scale ‘lone wolf’ attacks – any one of which has the potential to cause mass casualties.

According to Jonathan Tepperman, Indonesia’s counterterrorism programme has worked ‘through luck as much as skill and improvisation as much as strategy’. It remains to be seen whether the proposed changes will improve upon this already successful formula.

 

Alexander Macleod is a doctoral researcher at Newcastle University with a focus on Southeast Asian politics and geography. Article as appears on Global Risk Insights: http://globalriskinsights.com/2017/06/new-indonesia-counter-terrorism-measures-deserve-scrutiny/

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Frontera and its owners.

Collapse Of The Islamic State Looms, Iraq Looks To Jordan

With the looming collapse of the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq is already taking steps to reestablish security and plans to reignite development in Anbar province. Reconstruction and economic growth along its border region with Jordan will be paramount for Iraq’s political survival.

The defeat of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq is imminent and much of the focus on Baghdad will involve its security prowess. However, the long term test will be the ability to harness and sustain relations with its surrounding Arab countries through trade and freedom of movement. To reassert itself in the post-IS environment, Baghdad depends not just on the future of the restive Anbar province, but on the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to ensure Iraq’s primary gateway to the world remains open.

Al Anbar Province is the largest land area in Iraq and borders three neighboring countries, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Jordan. The sparsely populated region paid a steep price in Baghdad’s quest to liberate the country from IS. Ramadi and Fallujah had entire districts destroyed as the Iraqi security forces and coalition targeted the militants with airstrikes and conducted siege warfare. Across the entire province a deep distrust of the Iraqi government remains high, a sentiment which drove many of Iraq’s insurgents from underground nationalist cells to the jihadist ideology of IS.

A security vacuum filled by three countries

Violence remains a threat to both Iraqi security forces and civilians in Anbar. An attack in the town of Rutba killed 10 troops at the end of April. This strategically-important town is the last major urban area before the frontier with Jordan. Rutba was captured by the extremists in May 2014 who quickly proceeded to seize the border. The latest attacks by IS are likely in response to an uptick in security maneuvers by anti-IS tribal elements north of Rutba earlier in the month.

Iraq has taken measures to enhance security along the highway connecting Baghdad to Jordan. Social media reports that the Iraqi army recently deployed more troops along the main transportation route. In March, a joint effort between the Iraqi “We Are Coming, Nineveh” Operations Command and the Iraqi East Anbar Operations unit landed the arrest of a top IS leader in Anbar province. Iraq is increasing military cooperation with the Syrian government by coordinating airstrikes against jihadist positions along the border region.

However, a spillover of violence from Syria’s civil war remains a real threat. Hundreds of Syrian government troops, bolstered by some-3,000 Iranian-backed Shia militia troops, along with tanks, have moved into the desert town of Sabaa Biyar near where the Syrian, Iraqi, and Jordanian borders meet.

The move, likely made by the Assad regime to secure the Damascus-Baghdad highway, was met with a deadly US airstrike on a pro-Assad militia convoy. This was done to prevent the regime from closing in on the US Special Forces that are based at the al Tanf border facility in Syria near the Jordanian and Iraqi border. The same US garrison had also repelled a IS attack earlier in April. It is now appears that the US intends to prevent the Syrian government from reestablishing its own land route to its ally, Iran. The high likelihood that militiamen who were killed in the airstrikes were Iraqis who were recruited by Iran to fight in Syria may complicate things for both Washington and Baghdad.

Despite wariness amongst the Jordanian security establishment of Iran’s recent activities near the border and Iraq becoming part of the “Iranian land corridor,” Jordan has taken some tentative steps towards normalizing relations with Damascus after the Syrian Civil War. Jordan’s military officials have paid visits to Damascus and Moscow along with being the only predominantly Sunni Arab country to attend peace talks in Astana.

Of course, Iraq still retains one foot in the pro-Western camp as well. Jordan hosted Iraq and several western countries during the 7th Eager Lion military exercise which was held over an eleven day period and featured a border security component. Establishing a solid trade relationship with Jordan will be paramount since the majority of the Sunni world remains apprehensive of forging a new relationship with Iraq due to the heavy presence of Iran in the country.

Diplomacy and geopolitical misgivings

The regional conflicts have taken their toll on Jordan’s economy. With a slow growth rate and an extremely high budget deficit, the Kingdom has struggled to attract tourism and to satisfy an increasingly restive youth. However, Jordan has not only remained stable, it has also successfully managed to retain its place in Washington’s foreign policy arena, especially with the arrival of the impulsive Trump Administration. King Abdullah has so far done well at maintaining the US-Jordan strategic relationship as well as guiding the new president through the nuances of Middle East politics. Baghdad will likely follow Jordan’s lead as it navigates its new relationship with the White House.

The Hashemite Kingdom has been a primary point of entry into conflict-ridden Iraq since the US occupation. Government development projects, military personnel, business travelers, and cultural exchanges programs between the West and Iraq all typically are funneled through Jordan. Due to Iraq’s conflicts, many Jordanians regard the Iraqi refugees with a strong dose of suspicion. Iraq is still heavily dependent on Jordan as a gateway to the outside world, since the long isolated country has few other options. The United States has attempted to ease Iraq’s isolation by helping Iraq to improve its relations with nearby countries, however, the success of these efforts has been mixed at best.

Iraq’s relationship with Jordan is paramount due to the misgivings of its southern neighbor, Saudi Arabia. For instance, Iraq’s southern neighbor, Saudi Arabia, famously contracted Airbus Group to build a 600 mile border barrier along the Iraqi border. Recently, however, relations have slowly been looking up with the Saudis. Iraq was pleased that the Arar gateway to Saudi Arabia, almost 280 miles south of Ramadi, reopened in the summer of 2016. The flow of Iraqi religious pilgrims was able to continue for the first time since the start of the 2003 Iraq War. Relations are far from perfect, however. The Trump Administration’s encouragement of talks between the Saudi government and Baghdad has yielded varying degrees of success, and the resumption of direct flights and a cancellation of Iraq’s $30 billion debt still seem to be well off.

The recent release of a Qatari hunting party from the country’s royal al-Thani family, facilitated in conjunction with a population transfer deal in Syria along with ransom payments to the Iraqi Shia militia Kata’ib Hezbollah will make future dealings will the Arab Gulf States difficult. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi expressed dismay over the incident, a sign of contention within Iraq’s ruling political elite about the status of Iran’s activities in their country.

The new frontier rises from the ashes?

For Jordan, the loss of land trade during the IS campaign has been a major economic pain, especially for a country with high unemployment and few natural resources. The Associated Press reported that trade earnings decreased from $1.16 billion in 2014 to $690 million in 2015. The situation is rapidly changing with new opportunities in sight. The two countries are working on eliminating customs fees from a long list of products aimed at improving and encouraging cross-border trade.

The two countries met in March to plan the development of regional energy resources. Jordan’s Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Ibrahim Saif noted that the first phase of the Basra-Aqaba pipeline, set to begin construction in 2017, would stretch from the southern Iraqi city of Basra through Najaf, and eventually link to the seaport of Aqaba in Jordan.

Jordan’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Supply, Yarub Qudah, said, “Providing facilities, encouraging Iraqi investors in Jordan and expediting the construction of the Jordan-Iraqi oil pipeline topics featured prominently during the discussions.”

This would be the first pipeline to straddle Iraq and Jordan since the ill-fated Mosul-Haifa pipeline, which passed through Jordan and reached the Mediterranean Sea. During the 1930-40s, Arab militants and the Zionist Irgun group frequently targeted it until it was finally terminated as the result of Israel’s victory in 1948. Talk of bringing the Mosul-Haifa line back to life after the US’ overthrow of Saddam Hussein quickly fell to the wayside.

In April, the Jordanian-Iraqi Business Council met in Amman to hammer out plans to revive cross-border trade. Among the items discussed were potential house projects in Iraq, logistical zones in the Iraq-Jordanian border areas and the construction of land ports with the capacity to facilitate the transport of commodities between the two countries. The Council has arranged to meet again in Baghdad this October.

Iraq also signed an agreement with the US-based company Olive Group to repair roads and 36 destroyed bridges, build rest areas, gas stations, and oversee security along the roads connecting the Tebril bordering crossing. In a sure sign of the post-IS political wrangling that lies ahead, many Iranian-backed Shia Iraqi factions expressed dismay that Baghdad would enlist the help of a private US company to achieve border and transportation security. Persistent rumors that the company is connected to Blackwater have added to the negative sentiments surrounding the project. Iraqi parliamentary figures are still pushing for greater cooperation with the Syrian government for securing the border. In addition, the US airstrikes in Syria against the regime-aligned Shia militia could also increase the chance of revenge attacks against US forces by the Shia Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq.

Anbar province was the primary hideout for al Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor organization to IS. A leading Sunni politician, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, recently called for a “historic compromise” to prevent the country from breaking apart. Political reforms, decentralization, infrastructure development, and direct investment in Sunni areas are all key demands on the table. Baghdad has a new opportunity to heal these old wounds. To do this, it will rely on friendship with Jordan, however, events in Syria and at home may make the healing process trying and full of uncertainty.

 

Chris Solomon is the GRI Guest Post Editor and a Senior Analyst. As appears on: http://globalriskinsights.com/2017/06/iraq-looks-jordan/

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Frontera and its owners.