Iraq: For A Few Dollars More


December 17, 2009: A recent spate of spectacular (in downtown Baghdad, where the media can easily cover them) terror bombings has forced the government to admit that members of the security forces were involved. This is no surprise. Corruption is still the norm throughout the country, and just about everyone has their price. Bribing police to facilitate a terror bombing often involves lying about what the cop is being paid to let pass (movement of illegal goods or known criminals, not bombs). The government, by publicizing the fact that corrupt cops were partly responsible for these attacks, puts pressure on all policemen, to be more selective on what they take a bribe for.  On the bright side, democracy is working. When these bombs go off, politicians feel the heat from media and an enraged public. Government attempts to prevent angry voters from dumping non-performing politicians (via a complicated nomination procedure that would enable anyone, with sufficient clout, to get "elected") failed, as, so far, have attempts to bring the mass media under state control. Because of the endemic corruption, politicians will continue to try and manipulate elections and control the media.

The smuggling, of terrorists and weapons, from Syria has been sharply restricted (from over a hundred terrorists a month crossing, or ten or less), and terrorist attacks cut by over 90 percent (compared to the peak of two years ago). But Iraqis want an end to this violence. The use of car and vehicle bombs, against large groups of civilians, is considered shameful. These kinds of attacks were rare in the Middle East. Then there were a lot of them used during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90), and that spawned intermittent use by other Islamic terrorists over the last two decades. But the widespread use of these bombs in Iraq is what turned the Arab world against al Qaeda, and left the organization scrambling for recruits and cash donations. One reason for the sharp reduction in such attacks is this public hostility and the rapid growth of cell phone use. The terrorists have to spend more time hiding their activities, and raising cash for the larger bribes demanded by police to look the other way (usually as the terrorists pass themselves off as common criminals.)

Aware of the bribery situation, the government is taking a page from the American and Israeli playbook and offering more, and larger, cash rewards for information about key technical people the terrorists need. Some $85,000 is being offered, for example, to people who provide information on bomb makers (who are still working at it). The Israelis perfected the tactic of going after the terrorist leadership and techies in order to cripple the ability to actually carry out successful attacks.

Security forces have arrested 13 men for complicity in recent car bombings, and it's believed that nearly fifty security personnel were bribed. At the same time, security commanders are complaining that parliament is partly to blame for the continued success of the terrorists. The police and army had a paid informant program, often using informants who had long worked for the Americans, but this was largely shut down when parliament cut the money for it this year. Many politicians believed that the cops were just stealing the informant money (as that is what many politicians would do), but the fact was that the police were using the cash to maintain informant networks, and obtain valuable information on terrorist activities. The security officials admitted that even the United States, now largely dependent on their UAVs and electronic eavesdropping, had warned of the December 8th, five car bomb, attack. But the warning came too close to the day of the attack, and the security forces were not able to mobilize enough of their elite counter-terror units to find and stop the cars carrying the bombs.

December 16, 2009:  Three more car bombs went off in Baghdad, killing four people. A fourth car bomb was found and defused. Another car bomb went off in Mosul, killing six. This was the fourth time in five months that terrorists have been able to carry out car bombings in well guarded downtown areas.

December 15, 2009: The Air Force Academy has been reopened in Tikrit, to train the pilots and maintenance officers needed for the jet fighters the government expects to obtain in the next three years. It was 22 years ago that the Iraqi Air Force reached its peak, with 40,000 personnel and nearly a thousand aircraft. But the 1990-1 war over Kuwait and the U.S. 2003 invasion, destroyed all that. Now the air force has a few thousand personnel and about a hundred transports and helicopters. The Air Force Academy was shut down in 2003, and used as an American base until recently.

December 12, 2009: For the second time   this year, the government tried to interest foreign oil companies in bidding to develop Iraqi oil fields. During the last auction, in June (the first since the 1970s) only one of the eight fields offered attracted an acceptable bid. This time around, 15 fields were offered, and seven were picked up. Foreign oil companies, who will have to spend billions of dollars to build wells and pipelines, are mainly concerned with security, and government stability (will they be able to recover their investment and make a profit once they get the oil moving). No American oil companies felt confident enough to bid, and all the fields are being developed by Chinese, European and African firms. Saddam's invasion of Iran in 1980, brought with it over two decades of wars and embargos, that meant little investment in the oil industry. Thus production declined, to the point where the antiquated wells and pipeline can only move two million barrels a day. But the new investments should, within 5-10 years, increase oil shipments by  five times the current rate (at least), and bring in another $200 billion a year for the government to spend, or steal. And the current auctions have only put a third of Iraq's 115 billion barrels of oil reserves to work. There's more to be had, and many oil companies are waiting for the government to prove it can protect the oil development operations.

December 9, 2009:  Al Qaeda took credit for yesterday's attacks, and promised more. The government fired the head of security in Baghdad and promised an investigation of the security services.

An arms purchasing deal, worth up to $2.5 billion, had been made with Ukraine. This will largely involve Russian type gear that many Iraqis are accustomed to. But Ukraine is not simply continuing to churn out Soviet era military equipment (using factories they inherited when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991), but have upgraded stuff they still produce. Prices are low, and quality is higher than it was during the Soviet era. The Iraqis consider it a good deal, especially since Iran is equipped with much worse stuff, and lower oil prices have scuttled Iraqi plans to buy a lot of top-line U.S. stuff.

December 8, 2009:  Five car bombs went off in downtown Baghdad, killing 128 and wounding over 500. The explosions were in supposedly well guarded areas, and the people, and the mass media, are in an uproar over the failure of the security forces.

December 6, 2009: Parliament has finally worked out a deal, for rules governing next years parliamentary elections. Sunni Arabs were holding out for more goodies. For example, they wanted more exiled Sunni Arabs (many of Saddam supporters too afraid to return because they had worked for the secret police) eligible to vote. The Shia Arabs, who were the victims of these exiles, were not in a charitable mood. There were also Sunni Arabs who believed they are undercounted (although only about 15 percent of the population, many math challenged Sunni Arabs insist they are actually a majority), and want depopulated Sunni Arab areas given more seats in parliament than the head count can justify. The Kurds also want control of Kirkuk, and other parts of northern Iraq they do not already control. Deals were worked out, although many of them were temporary fixes, as no permanent resolution could be achieved.




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