Iraq: Fun With Factions


July 25, 2008: The success of the surge offensive resulted in an intelligence windfall. Documents and prisoner interrogations (as well as identifying the dead) provided a lot more information on hostile Sunni and Shia groups, as well as interesting observations about the factions currently controlling the government. All this clarified and confirmed the very factious nature of Iraqi society. Seems anybody with a quick mouth and a lot of guns can form their own little army. This factionalism is accompanied by a self-righteousness that seems to justify a wide range of bad behavior. This includes corruption, but also murder, torture, rape, theft and a long list of exotic crimes. The religious factions invoke God a lot, but the more sectarian groups make a big deal about protecting the family or tribe. Not a lot of loyalty to Iraq, or the concept of nationwide law and justice. Iraqis will make a lot of noise about being Iraqi, but the real loyalty begins closer to home, family, tribe or mosque.

Some Iraqis are still loyal to a foreign power. The largest group are those who follow senior Shia clerics and scholars in Iran. These guys believe in the Iranian concept of a world-wide Islamic dictatorship, run by clerics of the Shia persuasion. Al Qaeda, or what's left of it in Iraq, has the same idea, only the leadership would be from the mainstream Sunni form of Islam. There are even some socialists and communists left (Saddam's thugs hunted them for sport), who yearn for their own form of international dictatorship.

Seems like most Iraqis either want someone to tell them what to do, or want to be the guy issuing the orders and death sentences. A really rough neighborhood. And it's getting worse partly because of all the training American instructors have been giving to the new Iraqi army and police force. There are still plenty of incompetent commanders and troops, but about a third of the units are pretty good, The trouble is that most army or police units are led by officers who are loyal to one faction or another. The troops tend to share the loyalties of their officers. Iraq, like most of the Middle East, is a culture of Factions.

The intelligence bonanza has made it more clear what the relationship between Iran and various Iraqi factions (both Shia and Sunni, and even Kurdish) has been. Other captured data has made it easier to shut down the arms smuggling from Iran. But it has also revealed many long term relationships between some Iraqi politicians, and leaders of the clerical dictatorship that runs Iran. This sort of thing worries the Sunni Arab states to the south.

While Sunni parties have rejoined the government, Kurdish legislators are now jamming things up over Kirkuk. This city was, for centuries, a Kurdish place (by population and culture). But in the 1990s, Saddam Hussein began driving Kurds out and giving Sunni Arabs (from the south) their property. After 2003, Kurds began returning, seeking to get their homes, farms and businesses back. Some Sunni Arabs fled, but others joined with al Qaeda to fight. The fighting continues, and the Kurds are insisting that parliament pass a provincial voting law that will favor Kurds regaining political power in and around Kirkuk. Although political compromise is a new concept in Iraq, the issue of who "owns" Kirkuk has proved to be a very contentious one, and is holding up provincial elections (which were to be in October, but now look more likely in December, or even later).

The Shia militias, all under some degree of influence from Iran, have basically decided to accept a truce. Everyone wants to see if a power (and oil revenue) sharing deal can be negotiated without resorting to a civil war. Such a conflict would bring in outsiders (Iranians, Saudis, Syrians, Americans), and would mainly destroy Iraqi property.


The offensive against al Qaeda and the remaining Sunni Arab terrorists continues. For many Iraqi troops involved, this has become a training exercise with real bullets. The Sunni terrorists are outnumbered, out-thought and outfought. Many more are surrendering and accepting amnesty. Continuing police corruption is ruining this reconciliation opportunity. But corruption and factionalism are the twin curses that really make Iraq such a hellhole. It's long been ignored by the rest of the world. But with the religious fanaticism, and all the oil money, these local problems become international ones. The Middle Eastern miasma is not going away by itself.  

July 23, 2008: Turkish warplanes bombed thirteen locations in northern Iraq, all described (by the Turks) as bases for the PKK (a Kurdish terrorist group that uses bases in Iraq to stage attacks in eastern Turkey).


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