Iraq: It Was Not Supposed To Be This Way

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December 27, 2013: Terrorist related deaths for the year so far are going to be nearly 8,000 and the government is under a lot of popular pressure to stop the mass murder. While 10-20 percent of these deaths are the result of gangsters, not Islamic terrorists, it does not diminish the fact that the main threat to the country is religious and politically motivated terrorism. That public pressure to do something about it has led to some improvements in how the security forces operate. The Iraqi government has also appealed for international support and the U.S. has responded. Because Iraq refused to provide American troops with protection from corrupt Iraqi police and courts back in 2011, there was no Status of Forces agreement and the only Americans available in Iraq are the few who can use diplomatic immunity. Iraq may yet come across with the immunity, but it under great pressure from Iran to not do so.

Terrorist deaths are still much lower than they were during the peak years of the post 2003 violence, but have doubled since 2011. 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 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. So far the terrorists have managed to find ways to work around each new security measure and the Sunni minority still refuses to turn on the terrorists (as they did in 2007). The additional security measures have forced the terrorists to rely more on car bombs, and remotely detonated ones at that because the terrorists are apparently running out of suicide bombers. There are also more kidnappings and executions of the captives (rather than asking for ransom.) A growing number of these kidnappings appear to be by Shia death squads.

The Sunni terrorists (mostly the local al Qaeda and Sunni nationalists who are not eager to have a religious dictatorship that al Qaeda wants) continue to use all the terrorist violence to trigger a civil war between Shia and Sunni. This would be disastrous for the greatly outnumbered (4-1) Sunnis but most Sunnis are still bitter over the loss of power and income that came with the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein. The 2007 peace deal, arranged by the United States, brought with it a sharp drop in terrorism and a halt to the Shia death squads that were randomly killing Sunnis. But after the Americans left in 2010 the Shia dominated government reneged on the terms of that deal, mainly by not supplying the promised jobs and share of the oil income. Sunnis also accused the Shia government of not supporting them in the north where Kurds were trying to reclaim property Saddam had stolen in the 1980s and given to poor Sunnis from the south. Then came accusations that some Sunni politicians (including several senior elected officials) were supporting Sunni terrorists. Some of these accusations appear to be true, but for most Sunnis it was the last straw and the Sunni terrorists found themselves with more fans and recruits. While many Sunni leaders oppose the terrorism, speaking out can get you killed by Sunnis who consider any peace proposals treason against the Sunni community. Now the Sunni uprising in Syria has further encouraged the Sunni terrorists, despite the lack of any real progress in Iraq and the growing risk of a devastating Shia backlash.

Another reason for the increase in Sunni Islamic terrorism is a change in tactics. Al Qaeda leadership has been responsive to what works and what doesn’t, even if many of their subordinates are content to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Thus for the last decade the senior leadership has been pushing (with mixed success) the idea of using violence infrequently but with more precision and concentrate on addressing the needs of the people. Al Qaeda still wants to conquer the world but has noticed that creating a religious dictatorship too soon does not work. The support of most of the people is more important and that’s a concept that young recruits have a hard time appreciating. But after the defeats in Afghanistan, Iraq and Mali even the young guys are coming to accept that the road to victory is not littered with the bodies of innocent Moslem women and children. These things take time if you want to make a lasting impression. So the Sunni terrorists in Iraq are concentrating more on targeted attacks against political and military leaders as well as the security forces in general. But the security forces and leaders are able to defend themselves and have become more ruthless in dealing with Sunni terrorism. Thus the growing use of execution for convicted terrorists and looking the other way as Shia death squads go back to work.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When the American left in 2011 Iraq had a shrinking terrorism problem and bright prospects. Since then the terrorism has increased and the prospects have dimmed. One reason for that reversal could be seen when the Iraqi ambassador to Afghanistan recently advised the Afghans to not make the mistake Iraq made by forcing all U.S. troops out in 2011. Iraq now wants the Americans to come back, but there is little enthusiasm in the United States for that. Nevertheless the U.S. is providing more help with intelligence and counter-terrorism operations. This can be done with a few dozen embassy personnel (who have diplomatic immunity and lots of bodyguards). The U.S. is sending Iraq some specialized weapons (additional Hellfire missiles and intelligence collecting and analysis software and hardware).

Iraq continues to suffer from the usual massive corruption that cripples so many Arab states . This makes it difficult to crush the Sunni Arab Islamic terrorists who want Sunni minority rule restored. These Sunni Islamic terrorists have grown stronger because of the rebellion in neighboring Syria. That conflict has attracted Islamic terrorists from all over the world and the chaos has led to many Syrian army weapons being captured. Some of those heavy machine-guns and portable missiles are showing up in western Iraq. In addition Iraqi air reconnaissance has detected eleven terrorist training camps set up just near Syrian border. Some of these are camps that were destroyed by the security forces in 2008-9. Over the last two weeks the army has been going after these camps and many other locations in Anbar where the Islamic terrorists have set up operations.

The poor performance of the security forces is largely attributed to the fact that many senior jobs in the security ministries (Defense and Interior) are for sale, because the people holding those jobs have access to a lot of money or influence over who gets government contracts. In other words there are ample opportunities to steal and get rich. In the meantime soldiers and police go without supplies (like fuel, ammo and medical care) and many senior officials are more concerned with the stealing than properly managing the fight against the terrorists. This is a very visible way in which corruption cripples the ability of the government to deal with the terrorists. Despite growing popular anger over the inability to crush the terrorists, the corruption remains. Public safety is one thing, getting rich is more important.

Another troublesome habits involves blaming outsiders for bad behavior. For example; the brutal Sunni Arab opposition to the new government in Iraq after 2003 is often blamed on the presence of foreign troops in the country. Yet at that time no Arab country was ruled without the application, or threat, of great brutality and the Iraqi Sunnis were not willing to give democracy a chance. In effect they were saying that either we run Iraq or we burn the place down. It didn’t have to be that way, but it was and still is.

In Syria the Arab states supporting the rebels believe that it is not practical to try and destroy the Islamic terrorist rebels in Syria before making a final push against the Assads, especially given Western reluctance to help the rebels in a big way. The Western nations point out that, as democracies, they cannot openly back Islamic terrorist rebels and that’s what air support would end up doing. Meanwhile the more extreme Islamic terrorist rebels (like ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) are sending death squads after leaders and other key people in moderate rebel groups. The West seems to be coming over to the Arab assessment of the situation and agreeing to make whatever deals are necessary to get the Assads defeated. After that the Islamic terrorists can be dealt with. Turkey is growing increasingly hostile to Islamic terrorist rebels and despite earlier suspicions that Turks were aiding Islamic terrorists headed for Syria, the Turks now appear to be much more effective in blocking Islamic terrorist activities on the border. As a result more Syrian Islamic terrorists are entering via Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq. All three of these countries are officially, and in reality, quite hostile to the Sunni radical groups. But all of these countries have segments of their populations who back Islamic terrorists and that’s enough to provide help in getting across the border.

It was recently revealed that about half the oil Syria has been importing has not come from Iran but from Iraq, via Egyptian and Lebanese firms that were used to hide the fact that the Iraqi oil was going to Syria. Iran is believed to be part of the new route to get weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The weapons are trucked or flown to an Iraqi airport and then moved to Lebanon aboard an Iraqi transport. This avoids the Israeli air attacks that have destroyed several truck convoys trying to move new weapons from Syria to Hezbollah bases in Lebanon.

December 25, 2013: The U.S. has flown in a shipment of 75 Hellfire missiles, to be used on the Caravan 208B aircraft Iraq has been using since 2008. The 208B is a 3.9 ton single engine aircraft that can carry nine passengers or a ton of cargo. It can stay in the air three hours at a time and has been rigged to carry electronic warfare gear (for picking up transmissions from the ground, or jamming.) The Caravan 208B costs several million dollars and three have also been equipped with a laser designator and equipped to carry and fire Hellfire missiles. Iraq also has propeller driven trainers and helicopters that can be equipped to carry and use Hellfire. The U.S. is also sending some 22 kg (48 pound) Scan Eagle UAVs, to augment the smaller (2 kg/4.4 pound) Raven the Iraqis have been using since 2010. The Scan Eagle is more stable in windy conditions and can stay in the air over 20 hours per flight versus only one hour for Raven. The Scan Eagles will arrive in a few months but the U.S. is now helping the Iraqis use the Hellfires more effectively to attack Islamic terrorists in Anbar province (western Iraq).

 

December 23, 2013: North of Baghdad (Tikrit) a group of Islamic terrorists attacked a TV station with two suicide bombers and several gunmen. Five of the station staff were killed (including a female news reader). Police soon arrived and killed or drove off the remaining attackers.  The Islamic terrorists are increasingly attacking media personnel in order to halt unfavorable coverage of the Sunni radical violence. Similar attacks against politicians and security force commanders seeks to intimidate these men into providing information on counter-terrorist operations or anything that would help the terrorists get their men out of prison.

December 21, 2013: In the west (Anbar province) an assistant division commander, a brigade commander and several other officers were killed when they were attacked by three suicide bombers. Al Qaeda later claimed that this was a deliberate revenge attack against the army because of the many recent attacks on Islamic terrorist bases. But it appears that the general and his officers, who were travelling with troops pursuing Islamic terrorists chased from a border camp, were simply caught by the suicide bombers sent to delay the movement of these soldiers. Nevertheless the Islamic terrorists are increasing their assassination attempts against army and police commanders. The Islamic terrorists are most active along borders, in particular the border with Syria, the Kurdish controlled north and Kuwait (out in the desert, where Sunni tribes are still present.) The other area of operations is in Baghdad, where the local Sunni Arab community has been under attack because of the Sunni Islamic terrorism. The security forces are concentrating on these strongholds.

In the face of this the Islamic terrorists are openly calling for the establishment of an “Islamic State of Iraq” in Anbar. To that end there is a plan to seize control of some villages on the Syrian border as well as the towns of Ramadi and Fallujah. More soldiers and police are being sent into those two towns, which are only a 70 and 110 kilometers west of Baghdad on the Euphrates River. Going west the land is largely desert, except along the Euphrates which is where most of the people in this region have lived for thousands of years.

December 19, 2013: Another seven convicted terrorists were executed over the last two days. That makes 170 executed so far this year, compared to 129 for all of 2012. 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.

December 16, 2013: The Kurds of northern Iraq are flying additional aid to Kurdish war refugees in northeast Syria who are suffering from recent snow storms and cold weather and are cut off from trucked in supplies.

December 15, 2013: A senior Shia cleric, grand ayatollah Kazim al Haeri has issued a fatwa that approves of Shia men going to Syria to fight for pro-Iranian dictator Basher Assad. Haeri is an Iranian born-Arab who has long been active in Iraqi politics. He has great influence over Iraqi Shia Islamic radicals and militias. Iran has, until now, played down its role in forming a mercenary army to support Assad. But with that strategy apparently succeeding, it is apparently time to take credit and encourage more Shia men to volunteer. And then there is that growing force of mercenaries Iran has been sending in from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and many other nations with Shia populations and young men willing to die for their beliefs. For most of 2013 these Iranian supplied fighters have made all the difference for the Assad forces. Iran has been recruiting Shia gunmen in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere since late 2012 and providing transportation to Syria, weapons when they arrive and regular pay. The Iranians also encourage Shia men from around the world to come join the fight against Sunni radicalism (which often results in terror attacks on Shia civilians). More than 10,000 of these Iranian mercenaries had been in action by July and more since then.

December 13, 2013: In northeastern Iraq, near the Iranian border, gunmen shot to death 17 men working on the recently agreed on Iraq-Iran natural gas pipeline. Fifteen of the dead were Iranians and Sunni Islamic terrorists are suspected of this attack although no one immediately took credit.

December 12, 2013: Iraq has ordered 24 of the new South Korean FA-50 light fighters. This is a variant of T-50 jet trainer. The FA-50 is better equipped for air combat and is actually quite formidable. South Korea also sold the Philippines twelve TA-50, because Philippines needs something to oppose Chinese warplanes that are beginning to show up near Filipino territory. Indonesia has also bought the T-50. The Iraqi FA-50s will be delivered in 2015-16 and pilot and ground crew training will apparently begin next year. The Iraq sale is worth $1.1 billion dollars and is the largest single South Korean arms sale to date.

December 7, 2013: Islamic terrorists attacked twelve liquor stores in Baghdad, killing nine people. Islamic conservatives have longed demanded laws to ban the sale of alcohol and restrict the activities of women. But most Iraqis just want the government to act on dozens of more mundane issues (especially the electricity shortage). Christians have long been exempt from anti-alcohol laws, but the Islamic terrorist groups want to expel all non-Moslems from Iraq and force Shia Moslems to convert to the Sunni form of Islam.

 

 

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