October 30, 2013:
Al Qaeda and other Sunni terrorist violence has left over 7,000 dead in Iraq so far this year. It’s all about the growing religious conflict between Sunni and Shia Moslems. This means little to those outside the Middle East, but to Arabs (especially Saudis) and Iranians (who are not Arab) it is (and has been for over a thousand years) a big deal. Even before Islam appeared in the seventh century, Arabs (and Semitic people in general) were at odds with the Indo-European Iranians. In a rare victory for Arabs over Iranians, Islamic armies conquered Iran in the late 7th
century. This rare victory happened in part because Iran was in the midst of one of its frequent civil wars as the aggressive Iranians fought each other when they weren’t going after their neighbors, which is how Alexander the Great and his Greek coalition managed to conquer another Iranian empire a thousand years earlier. Converting the Iranians to Islam did not eliminate the tension between Iranians and Arabs because within a few centuries Iran became the champion the Shia version of Islam. This was the main rival to the mainstream Sunni. While nearly all Iranians adopted the Shia form of Islam, only a small minority of Arabs did so. Most other new converts to Islam also went for the Sunni version, and today about 80 percent of Moslems are Sunni and only about 10 percent are Shia. But with the aggressive and capable Iranians backing the Shia cause, the Arabs are worried. Even Arab Shia are uneasy at the aggressiveness of the Iranians, who make no secret of their desire to make Shia the dominant form of Islam. Al Qaeda is one of many Sunni Islamic radical groups that is dedicated to making Islam dominant worldwide. That means converting all non-Moslems and forcing “deviant” Moslems (like Shia) to accept the true Sunni way. For al Qaeda, those who refuse to get straight must die. Naturally this creates a great deal of tension between devout Sunnis and Shia, and in Iraq that has resulted in decades of growing violence between the two groups. Saddam Hussein and his Sunni minority dictatorship was supported by most Arabs as a necessary evil that kept the Iranian dominated Shia from advancing into Arabia and taking the Arab oil. The Iraqi Shia (over 60 percent of the population) are determined to defend their version of Islam and also their independence from Iranian domination. So the Shia led government of Iraq is caught between Sunni radicals who want to kill them for being heretics and Iranians who threaten invasion if the Iraqi Shia do not cooperate more closely with Iran.
Iraq does not want a civil war between Shia and Sunni, mainly because this would be seen by outsiders as a genocide by the Shia majority against the Sunni minority. Many Iraqi Sunnis want to avoid this as well, but the Iraqi Islamic radicals will not negotiate and are increasingly violent against Iraqi Sunnis who do not cooperate with the terrorist campaign against the Iraqi Shia. But the only solution may be another round of vigilante violence by Shia against Sunnis in Iraq. That’s what halted most of the Sunni terrorism in 2007. Back then terrorist deaths went from 29,000 in 2006 to 10,000 in 2007 and kept falling until 2011 (when there were 4,100 deaths). Then came the Arab Spring and the Sunni uprising against the Shia minority government in Syria. This energized Sunni radicals and led to a big jump in Sunni terrorism in both Syria and Iraq. At the rate things are going this year, 2013 will have twice as many terrorist deaths as 2011. The Shia majority is growing more enthusiastic about unleashing (or just tolerating) the Shia death squads again. This would mean Shia killers would go after any Sunnis they could find and kill them while the Shia run security forces would stand aside. Back in 2006 the Americans brokered an end to this by convincing Sunni tribal chiefs and politicians to turn their followers against the terrorists. That worked, but since the Americans left in 2011, the guarantees have been largely violated by the Shia dominated government and it has proved very difficult to revive the original deal.
American pressure on Iraq to block Iranian access (by land and air) to Syria has not worked and the Iraqis blame their lack of an air force or much anti-aircraft defenses. So Iraq is pushing the U.S. to hurry up with deliveries of F-16s and the training of Iraqi pilots and maintenance personnel. The Iraqis are also trying to make the U.S. understand the pressure Iraq is under from Iran, which has millions of supporters in Iraq and several armed and willing militias that are quiet now but could be ordered to attack the Iraqi government (run by more moderate but very corrupt and inept Shia).
Iran has apparently ordered its pro-Iran militias in Iraq to hold their fire and wait for the Maliki government to make itself so unpopular that a majority of Iraqis would support a pro-Iran government. Apparently Iran believes Maliki is going to try to keep himself and his moderate Shia cronies in power indefinitely. Maliki and his key supporters have grown rich off the corruption (which is endemic to the region, and that includes the religious dictatorship in Iran). As is common in these situations, the people in charge don’t want to give up power, in part because they could be subject to prosecution for their crimes if they did not control the government. So Iran is waiting for the right amount of popular anger against the current government to give the Shia radicals an opportunity to establish a Shia religious dictatorship in Iraq. This does not appeal to most Iraqis, but neither does the current corrupt and ineffectual (especially in the security area) government. This puts some pressure on Maliki to do something, but the only option he knows that will actually work (at least it did in 2006) is a terror campaign against the Sunni minority. That’s a very dangerous route, as it could result in war with the Arab states to the south (mainly Saudi Arabia, which considers itself the leader of the Sunni Moslem world).
The growing number of Sunni terrorists and their increasing capabilities have caused the Kurdish north to increase their own security measures. The Kurdish north has never had much of a terrorism problem, but that’s because the Kurds are very anti-terrorist and have established border security that is very effective. Now it has become more strict, and that means it is taking Arab visitors longer to get in. The Kurds have become a vacation destination for Iraqi Arabs but now more and more potential visitors are being turned away and everyone must wait longer to get past the security checkpoints. For a long time most Sunni Arab terrorists did not bother to try getting into the Kurdish north, but that is changing and the Kurds are responding.
Despite its own cash flow problems at home, Iran continues to supply crucial support for the Assad government and those efforts are succeeding. Iran has not put a lot of Iranians into Syria but there is a constant supply of cash (in the form of dollars and euros), very effective military, security and other advisors, and some equipment and weapons. The cash and personnel tend to arrive by air on several night flights a week from Iran. These flights cross Iraq, which tries to pretend they don’t exist but American radar operating in Kuwait and aboard ships in the Persian Gulf can spot these flights, but complaints to Iraq continue to have no effect.
There is still a lot of trade between Iran and Iraq and some of the trucks from Iran continue all the way to Syria. This is a dangerous route because western Iraq (Anbar province) is largely Sunni and full of Islamic terrorists. The government has nearly 30,000 police and soldiers in Anbar and thousands of men in pro-government militias. This is keeping al Qaeda from taking over Anbar and the violence there is increasing.
This year Iraq surpassed Iran as the largest exporter of oil to China. This is because of the more severe sanctions imposed on Iran in 2012. Even Iran admits that it’s GDP has shrunk this year as a result.
Al Qaeda terrorists from Iraq are not just fighting in Syria but western Iraq (Anbar province) as well.
Much of the al Qaeda violence in Anbar is directed at pro-government Sunni “traitors.” This is done largely with threats and the murder of individuals. Bombing attacks against Sunnis tends to backfire and the Sunni terrorists have accepted that. So the tactic now is to go after individuals and that is driving a lot of people away from the pro-government militias. At the same time, many Iraqi Sunnis are encountering a return of Shia death squads. Not on a large scale, as the major Shia militias are obeying orders from their leaders (and Iran) to hold off on the retaliation killings of Shia. But there are smaller militias or informal groups of Shia who are doing the killings. Many are believed to be Shia police or soldiers, or operating with local soldiers or police. The Sunni apocalypse is reviving.
About a third of Syria’s 22 million people have been forced from their homes and a third of those have fled the country. That means over two million Syrian refugees outside the country.
Iraq is one of the host countries for these external refugees,
and there are about several hundred thousand in
Iraq (officially or otherwise). Most are Kurds and are in the Kurdish controlled north.
Turkey’s March ceasefire with PKK (Kurdish separatists, many of them based in northern Iraq) is falling apart because the Turks are not willing to grant as much autonomy as the Kurds expect. The fighting could resume on a large scale before the end of the year.
October 27, 2013: Just across the border in northern Iraq, Iranian troops killed three Kurdish separatists and arrested three others.
In western Iraq police imposed a curfew on Fallujah, the second largest city in Anbar province. The police feared an al Qaeda attack on the city.
October 26, 2013:
In the north
west, just across the Syrian border in
Kurdish rebels drove Islamic terrorist rebels away from a border crossing facility on the Iraq border. The road going through this border post is a key supply route for all rebels in Syria.
Iran also executed 16 jailed Sunni (Baluchi) separatists after other Baluchi rebels killed 14 Iranian border guards in southeast Iran.
October 16, 2013: In the northeast, just across the Iranian border, Iranian soldiers shot and wounded Kurdish men. Kurds in the area accuse police and soldiers of killing at least 17 Kurds in the last two months.
October 11, 2013: Iraq recently ordered $20 million worth of Talon IV robots for its bomb disposal teams. That’s probably about a hundred robots, as customers like Iraq tend to pay an inflated price so that various politicians can easily carve out large chunks of the money for themselves. Whatever the price, the Talon is a proven and reliable machine for this kind of work. Iraqi bomb disposal teams have been quite effective in finding and neutralizing roadside bombs placed by Islamic terrorists.
October 10, 2013: The Turkish parliament extended for one year the permission for the government to use air strikes against PKK (Kurdish separatists) camps in northern Iraq. Parliament first approved this in 2007, and despite the current peace talks with the rebels, has extended the arrangement in case the peace talks fail. Iraq protests against these attacks but is helpless to halt or even oppose them.
Iraq has executed 42 convicted terrorists in the last week. That makes 132 executed so far this year. These executions are becoming more common in part because the Islamic terrorists have been more successful at using jail breaks or bribery (and intimidation) to get convicted terrorist killers out of jail.