Although allied with and heavily influenced by neighboring Iran, Iraq has not hesitated to pick up business Iran has lost because of oil export sanctions imposed earlier this year. Iraq is now producing 3.3 million barrels a day, compared to Iran’s 2.7 million. Moreover, Iran is producing a lot of oil it can’t sell, while Iraq sells all it pumps. Iraq is helping Iran to cope with the sanctions, while telling the UN that there is no such cooperation. Iraq helps Iran with banking (Iran is banned from the international banking system) and smuggling (many goods sanctions forbid Iran to import). Iran is learning that blood is thicker than religion. While Shia Iraqis feel a religious kinship with their fellow Iranian Shia, the ethnic divide (the Shia majority in Iraq is Arab while the Iranians are Indo-European, and never let any Arab forget it). The Iranians work their religious kinship as much as they can but it never gives them as much clout in Iraq as they expected.
For the last week Sunni Arabs have been demonstrating to protest their poor treatment by the Shia Arab dominated government. This is in protest against government efforts to eliminate Sunni Arab terrorism. But many Sunni Arabs see this terrorism as justified and consider the government crackdown as another example of Shia unfairness. There is another, largely unspoken factor; the Sunni Arabs are determined to regain control of the government. Their main tactic has always been to use terror attacks against Shia Iraqis and thus trigger a decisive battle that the Sunnis would somehow win. Western observers could never understand this, as it makes no sense. The Shia Iraqis, who now control the government and security forces, could crush the Sunni Arabs, but the Sunnis do not believe this would ever happen. It's an article of faith that the Sunni Arabs must prevail. It is God's Will. Besides, most Sunni Arabs remember when (before 2003) they controlled, and received, most of the oil income. The other 80 percent of the population (Shia and Kurds) got scraps. The Sunni Arabs miss the good old days and want them back.
So the Sunni terrorists continue attacking, and the Shia dominated government is now delivering on its threats of harsher measures against the Sunni Arab community. This retribution triggered the current widespread resistance with the recent arrest of bodyguards of an elected Sunni Arab politician who are accused of participating in the terror attacks. All Sunni Arab politicians must have some relationships with Sunni Arab terror groups because the Sunni terrorists regularly assassinate Sunni Arab politicians they believe are "disloyal." It's easier (and a lot safer) to maintain some relationship with the terror groups than to openly oppose them. The Shia majority insists, for obvious reasons, that the Sunni Arab leadership cooperate in crushing the Sunni Arab terror groups. Few Sunni Arab leaders see it that way. The Sunni Arab belief in their own superiority, and eventual regaining control of the government, is too widespread and deeply held to allow for Sunni cooperation against the terrorists. As a democracy the Shia politicians cannot ignore popular demand from the Shia majority for some action to end the Sunni terrorism.
What the West and neighboring Sunni Arab majority states fear most is a massive attack on the Iraqi Sunni Arab population, in order to eliminate the source of support for Sunni Arab terrorism. This would be another effort to expel all Sunnis from Iraq, something like the one that got started six years ago and was aborted by the American success in getting Sunni Arab leaders to turn against Sunni Arab terror groups. Some 20 percent of the 2003 Iraqi Sunni Arabs still live in exile, and many more were driven from their homes and fled to Sunni Arab majority areas for refuge. In part, because of that, the Sunni Arabs have been unwilling or unable to finish the job. Nevertheless the Shia majority wants an end to the terror attacks against them. Yet, right on cue, neighboring Sunni countries (including Turkey) have increased pressure on Iraq to work out a non-violent solution to their Sunni Arab terrorist problem. The Iraqis have told their neighbors to butt out or do something to convince their fellow Sunnis in Iraq to stop the terror attacks. But if a massive attack on the Sunni Arab minority (about 15 percent of the population) develops, the Sunni neighbors will be under pressure to do more than issue diplomatic protests. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Sunni Arabs fleeing across the border will do that.
Al Qaeda is fairly secure in Sunni Moslem areas of Iraq, especially the east (Anbar Province) and the north (where Sunni Arabs are threatened with expulsion by Kurds, Turks, and other minorities long persecuted by Sunni Arabs). The current demonstrations are most notable in Anbar where thousands of Sunni Arabs have blocked the highway to Jordan for six days. Some of the demonstrators held aloft signs saying “We Are Not A Minority.” This is a commonly held fantasy among Iraqi Sunni Arabs. The Sunni Arabs want more money and laws that legitimize the children of Islamic terrorists born in Iraq of Iraqi Sunni mothers and foreign (now deceased) Sunni Arab fathers fighting for al Qaeda. Shia Arab politicians have opposed this because of the bitter memories of all the Shia women and children killed by Sunni Arab terror attacks. But without citizenship documents, these sons of terrorists cannot get an education or any other government benefits and are more likely to become terrorists like their fathers.
The blocked road is a valuable and usually quite busy trade route, and the government is under a lot of pressure to get it open again. The protestors want hundreds of Sunni Arab terrorism suspects released. The government has refused and, more ominously, has barred all journalists from Anbar.
December 27, 2012: Turkish warplanes bombed suspected PKK targets in the Kurdish north. A Shia radical militia in central Iraq threatened attacks on Turkey because the Turks back Kurdish autonomy in the north.
December 25, 2012: The Kurdish government in the north has halted pumping of 100,000 barrels a day south until the government gets up to date in the payments it must make to the Kurdish north.
December 23, 2012: Police arrested 60 Sunni Arabs and charged them with belonging to Islamic State of Iraq. This group, and al Qaeda in Iraq, was originally led by Abu Musad al Zarqawi, who was notorious for his use of terror attacks to kill thousands of Shia civilians. This policy caused a sharp drop in al Qaeda support in the Arab world. Zarqawi was killed by an American smart bomb in 2006, and it was long believed that al Qaeda supplied the location of their wayward commander, as a convenient way to get Zarqawi out of the way. Two years later al Qaeda was crushed (but not eliminated) in Iraq, and Zarqawi’s successors have tried to kill more security personnel and fewer civilians.
December 21, 2012: In Mosul security forces cornered and killed Taha al Eithawi, the leader of al Qaeda forces in southern Baghdad.
December 20, 2012: Police arrested nine of Sunni Arab Finance Minister Rafa al Essawi's security guards and charged them with participating in terrorism. A year ago Sunni Arab vice president Tariq al Hashimi himself was charged, along with many of his security personnel. Hashimi fled the country but his security guards were prosecuted and convicted (as was Hashimi).
December 18, 2012: In the north Kurdish troops fired on an Iraqi Air Force helicopter that strayed into Kurdish territory. The Kurds believed that the helicopter was taking photos of Kurdish military facilities.