Iraq: Playing With Fire

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September 4, 2013: In part because of its pro-Iran attitudes, Iraq has the fewest Syrian refugees (about 6.4 percent of the two million known to exist). Lebanon has about 35 percent, Jordan 26 percent, Turkey 23 percent, and the rest are in numerous other nations in the region (like the 5.5 percent in Egypt) and farther away (Europe has a few percent). A disproportionate number of Syrian refugees in Iraq are Kurds, who go to the Kurdish controlled north. The rest of the border with Syria is guarded by over 25,000 police, order guards, and soldiers, most of them Shia and hostile to the largely Sunni Arab refugees. The main reason for fewer Sunni Arabs coming across is due to the rebels controlling most of eastern Syria, which has traditionally been mostly Sunni Arab. Iraqi continues to keep open the Iranian air and land supply lines for the Assad government in Syria, although it’s becoming more and more dangerous to be Shia and on the Syrian border.                               

There were about 800 (several sources provide slightly different numbers) terrorist deaths in August, compared to a thousand in July. The terrorist violence in Iraq has been steadily increasing since the Americans left in 2011. In the first six months of this year over 3,000 were killed. The first seven months of this year left 4,000 dead. That’s far from the 2007 carnage, where over 3,000 a month died, but it is still a big jump from only a year ago. If the current death rate continues this year Iraq will suffer about a third of the losses inflicted during the worst years of the terror attacks (2006-7). A major counter-terror effort had some impact but not as much as expected. There is some call for more generous and gentle treatment of the Sunni Arab minority, to encourage more Sunni Arabs to cooperate with the police. But being nice to the Sunni Arabs is difficult when the Sunni Arabs continue to show contempt and disdain for the Shia Arab majority and the powerful Kurdish minority. Many Sunni Arabs still believe (and are not shy about discussing it openly) that they should still be running the country. Al Qaeda is the only major terrorist group to take credit for its attacks. Al Qaeda has long served as an umbrella organization for the many pro-Saddam and Sunni nationalist groups that preferred to keep a low profile.

The many spectacular terror attacks in the last two months were concentrated in Baghdad and northern cities like Mosul and Kirkuk. In Baghdad the terrorists liked to hit the major market places, and these have seen a sharp reduction in visitors because of the recent bombings. Shoppers are not coming in groups so much anymore or bringing the kids. This reduces impulse buying. Neighbors will take turns going to the market, picking up items on a list for themselves and neighbors, and then getting out. Some city dwellers are going to markets outside the city, where there have been much less terrorist activity.

Over the last month the government announced, with great fanfare, new security measures and a more intense effort to hunt down and capture or kill terrorists. That put more soldiers and police out where Iraqis could see them but for all that, terrorist violence went down only about 20 percent. The terrorists managed to quickly adapt to new counter-terrorism measures. This was aided by the continued corruption in the government and security forces, which often enabled the terrorists to get advance information on new counter-terror tactics and operations. The government knows it has to do better to avoid a major uprising against the current collection of politicians who are running things. In that sense, democracy is working.

While Iraq still officially backs a political settlement in the Syrian civil war, there was horror among most Iraqis at the Syrian use of nerve gas on August 21st. Saddam had used nerve gas against Iraqis (especially Kurds) and against Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war. The new Iraqi government prosecuted and executed some of the Saddam-era officials responsible for the use of nerve gas against Iraqis. Thus, the Iraqi government openly broke with its mentor Iran and condemned Syria for the use of nerve gas. The Iraqi government waited until the 26th before going public with its criticism, to ensure that the nerve gas attack was real.

September 3, 2013: As if to mock the increased security in Baghdad, al Qaeda set off eleven car bombs in Shia neighborhoods. The detonations were within minutes of each other and killed over 60 people. At least 14 more Shia were killed by gunfire. While this attack made its point, it also demonstrated that the security measures are having an impact, as it’s not as easy to cause dozens of deaths with one car bomb. There are more checkpoints and more surveillance in general. And there’s increasing anger in the Shia community, which can lead to a resumption of the Shia death squads going after Sunni civilians. This caused a collapse in Sunni popular support of Islamic terrorists in 2007, but since then the Sunni militias that turned against the terrorists are bitter at the shabby treatment they have since received from the Shia dominated government. Al Qaeda believes that the return of the Shia death squads would result in Saudi intervention to restore Sunni rule and save Iraqi Sunnis from destruction (or being forced to flee to Saudi Arabia). A lot of Sunni civilians would have to die before that even became a possibility and it might trigger an Iranian invasion as well. Al Qaeda is playing with fire, but when you’re on a Mission From God, that’s what you do.  

September 2, 2013: In Baghdad two suicide bombers attacked a convoy carrying a prominent anti-terrorist militia leader. He (Wisam al Hardan) was not injured but six of his bodyguards and a nearby civilian were killed. There were over a dozen wounded. People like Hardan are frequent targets for al Qaeda death squads. Further north (Mosul) the convoy of a Turkish diplomat (the consul for Mosul) was hit by a roadside bomb. There were no injuries. Turkish officials are also frequent al Qaeda targets because the Turks are very hostile to Islamic terrorism.

September 1, 2013: An armed group invaded Camp Ashraf, the longtime base of Iranians belonging to the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran or Mujahideen Khalq. This secular (Marxist) organization has long (since 1965) opposed the monarchy and later the clerical groups that now dominate Iranian politics. Saddam Hussein provided sanctuary for the Mujahideen Khalq in 1986, and let over 3,400 stay at Camp Ashraf, near the Iranian border. The Khalq was disarmed by U.S. forces in 2003. America and Iraq refused Iranian demands to arrest and return several thousand members of Mujahideen Khalq to Iran (for terror attacks Khlaq made from their Iraqi base). Since 2003, there have been several raids on Camp Ashraf, and last year most residents were moved to a more secure camp near the Baghdad airport. But a hundred hard core Khalq members refused to move. About half of those were killed in today’s raid. The government says the deaths were the result of an internal dispute, while Khalq representatives insist it was a raid, probably by Iraqi soldiers or pro-Iran terrorists. There have been several hundred Khalq deaths during these pro-Iran militia raids in the last ten years.

August 31, 2013: Around the country there were several demonstrations against the pensions members of parliament get, even if they serve only one term. The Iraqi parliament has voted itself a very high salary and fringe benefits, the latest being pensions of several thousand dollars a month. To many Iraqis this was the last straw, especially since the people they elected to parliament have turned out to be so ineffective, corrupt, and greedy.

August 26, 2013: The Supreme Court ruled that a new law, that would restrict Iraqi prime ministers to two terms, was unconstitutional because the law was proposed by parliament and not, as the constitution stipulates, by the prime minister or his ministers. The current prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, wants a third term, but the parliament accuses him of being ineffective, corrupt, and seeking to establish a dictatorship.

August 21, 2013: In the north the 970 kilometer long oil pipeline from Kirkuk to the Turkish coast was bombed again, this time in three places simultaneously. This pipeline has been attacked several times a month all year long.

 

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