Iraq: Rotten At The Top

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July 30, 2021: The July 26 agreement with the U.S. for American forces to end combat operations in Iraq left many confused about what it actually meant. The agreement does not mean a reduction of the 2,500 American forces still in Iraq. These personnel will remain to provide training and advisory services. It is unclear exactly what this agreement is to accomplish. Hours after the agreement was signed and announced, the Iranian Quds commander made a well-publicized “secret” visit to Baghdad to confer with Iran-backed militia leaders, who refused to comment on the new agreement right away. These militia leaders take their orders from Iran and the commander of the Quds force. It’s been hard times for Quds since January 2020, when an American airstrike killed the most successful Quds force commander, Qassem Soleimani along with the commander of the Iraqi Katab Hezbollah and several other key Iran-backed Iraqi militia leaders. Iran has not been able to find anyone as capable as Soleimani to keep Quds, and the foreign military operations it controls, operating effectively. This was immediately evident when Soleimani’s successor found that he was not feared and respected as much as his predecessor and could not make truly secret visits to Iraq by being waved through border crossings. The new Quds commander had to ask for permission before visiting Iraq or cross at one of the unofficial crossing sites where bribes and threats of attacks by local Iran-backed militias made it possible for the Quds force commander to enter whenever he wanted. Despite that clandestine access, the Iraqi government was soon informed by one of a growing number of anti-Iran Iraqis who are now too numerous for the Iranians to monitor and intimidate.

Between 2011 and 2014 Iraqi attitudes towards the United States underwent a painful reality check. By the end of 2014 Iraqi leaders, including many still in office, admitted that the withdrawal of all U.S. troops in 2011 was a mistake they would never again repeat. The pro-Iranian PMF (Popular Mobilization Forces) militia leaders calling for violence against American forces after 2014 grew less effective because of declining popular support for Iran and pro-Iran militias. That slide continues and Iran is still searching for a solution that won’t make their position in Iraq even more precarious.

Iran was not pleased when Iraq changed its mind back in 2014 and signed a status of forces agreement with the U.S. that enabled hundreds of American Special Forces and intelligence personnel to enter Iraq and assist in battling the ISIL advance. Special Forces and SOCOM (Special Operations Command) personnel provide ground controllers for American air strikes and advisors for Iraqi army and police commanders. The advice included a better sense of who was where on the ground by virtue of American intel efforts. The American personnel were also there to report a more accurate picture of what was going on. Even the Iraqi government was badly in need of better intel. For ISIL intel was less of a problem because many of their men were on a mission from God and victory was assured. ISIL leaders do make use of a network of informants they have long employed to determine who to bribe or assassinate in the government and which criminal or Islamic terrorist group they could work with. The American data collection via aircraft, satellites or monitoring the Internet, provided the Iraqis with names for many of the Iraqi officials ISIL had corrupted and that played a major, if largely unpublicized, role in defeating ISIL.

Until the ISIL crises in mid-2014 the Iraqis could not muster the political will to provide the United States with a Status of Forces agreement so that American troops could operate inside Iraq. No one from the West would send trainers to Iraq without a Status of Forces agreement. In 2013 Iraq, beset by a resurgence of Sunni Islamic terrorism, appealed for international support, especially from America. The U.S. responded with some intelligence support, handled by personnel outside Iraq and a few experts with diplomatic passports on the ground. Because Iraq refused to provide American troops with protection from corrupt Iraqi police and courts, there was no Status of Forces agreement and the only suitable Americans available in Iraq were a few with diplomatic immunity. What prevented Iraq from providing Status of Forces- type immunity was pressure from Iran. Refusing to sign a Status of Forces agreement, which is actually quite common, was seen as a matter of honor among some Iraqis and no politician dared to point out that countries like German, South Korea and Japan disagreed with this stand. U.S. troops would not return without the Status of Forces agreement and that was not negotiable. After 2015 the Iraqis were not asking for American combat troops but a smaller number of American trainers and technical experts, including intelligence collection and analysis.

This anti-American attitude can be traced to the situation at the end of 2007, when there were 170,000 American troops in Iraq and everyone agreed that the al Qaeda Islamic terrorist effort was crushed, along with the first version of the Islamic State. It was the appearance of the "Islamic State of Iraq" in late 2006 that turned most Iraqi Sunni Arabs against "Al Qaeda In Iraq", the group responsible for most of the Islamic terrorist violence in Iraq after 2004. Al Qaeda-In-Iraq leadership had long been considered out of control by the most senior al Qaeda people like bin Laden and his successor. Most of the Iraqi Islamic terrorist leaders are really out there, at least in terms of fanaticism and extremism. This led to declaring the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006. This was an act of bravado, touted as the first step in the re-establishment of the caliphate, as in a global Islamic state, ruled over by God's representative on earth, the caliph. The caliphate has been a fiction for over a thousand years. The Islamic world was split by ethnic and national differences early on, and the first caliphate fell apart after a few centuries. Various rulers have claimed the title over the centuries, but since 1924 when the Turks gave it up after four centuries, no one of any stature has stepped up and assumed the role. When al Qaeda in Iraq "elected" a nobody as the emir of the Islamic-State-of- Iraq, and talked about this being the foundation of the new caliphate, even many pro-al Qaeda Moslems were aghast. A Sunni Iraqi Islamic state was strenuously opposed by over 90 percent of Iraqis, who equate al Qaeda with intolerance against Shia Moslems, and persecution of the Sunni Kurds for not being religious enough, and not being Arab at all. These two groups represented 80 percent of Iraqis with the Sunni Arab minority consisting of about 20 percent.

For centuries this Sunni minority had ruled what is now Iraq, initially for the Turks and then as a key component of the constitutional monarchy the British created in 1932 for the newly independent Iraq. The Sunni Arabs dominated the economy and the military and eventually, in the 1950s, gained complete control over the country. This was marked by a military coup led by Sunni generals and troops who massacred the Sunni Arab royal family (imported from Saudi Arabia) and did the same to any Shia or Kurdish Iraqis who objected. Those Shia and Kurds kept fighting the Sunni minority until 2003 when three divisions of foreign troops (two American and one British) overthrew the Sunni Arab government in three weeks. This was not as remarkable as it appeared because the same thing happened in 1941 when the Sunni Arab Iraqi leadership declared their support for Nazi Germany. They also asked the Germans to send troops and aircraft to deal with any British interference. Before that could happen the British cobbled together a force of three divisions, one of them mainly loyal Arab troops from Jordan and what is now Israel. This force invaded, overthrowing the pro-Nazi government within three weeks. The British found Sunni Arabs willing to remain loyal to the allied cause and that lasted for about fifteen years.

The Shia and Kurdish majority never forget their history while some of the more fanatic Sunni Arabs remember things differently. By 2008 the few remaining Sunni Islamic terrorists went into hiding, some finding sanctuary in Syria, which was a majority Sunni Arab country run by a Shia minority (the Assads) who would, like Iran, form temporary relationships with Sunni Arab terrorists if it was mutually beneficial. That strategy is dangerous and often backfires, which happened to the Sunni Arabs in Iraq as well as pro-Iran Shia Arabs in Iraq. The Iraqi Islamic terrorists became more active after the Americans left in 2011 and many went to Syria in late 2011 when the civil war there broke out. It was the Iraqi Islamic terrorists that organized and declared the new and improved ISIL in 2013. By the end of 2014 ISIL controlled most of eastern Syria and about a third of Iraq. The “Baghdadi Arabs” again demonstrated their reputation for efficiency and decisiveness. This was a reputation the Sunni Arabs who dominated Baghdad for over a thousand years developed to survive. It also led to their downfall after 2014, because of American and NATO air support and special operations troops as well Iranian help in forming Shia militias willing and able to fight ISIL. By 2019 the “Islamic State” did not control any territory and were again small groups of Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Syria trying to survive in very hostile environments.

In Iraq the Shia controlled government faced new threats; internal corruption and Iranian efforts to turn Iraq into a client state or unofficial part of the Iranian Shia Islamic empire. This time you have about 90 percent of Iraqi very much opposed to corruption. There were regular gatherings for large anti-corruption demonstrations that continued. Many of these demonstrations are anti-Iran as well. While corrupt Iraqi officials and pro-Iran Shias are on the defensive, they are still a major factor in Iraq and Iraqis in general don’t want this to degenerate into another war. They just want less corruption and a major reduction in Iranian efforts to control Iraq.

July 29, 2021 : In the north (Babel province) a roadside bomb was used to attack an American supply convoy from Kuwait. Some trucks were damaged but there were no casualties.

In Baghdad two unguided rockets landed in the heavily guarded Green Zone. There were no casualties or damage. No one took credit for the attack.

July 28, 2021: A third major political party announced it will boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections on October 10th. That means another party that will not automatically support any new government resulting from the October elections. The last elections, in 2018, had a very small turnout because of the lack of controls against voting fraud. Growing demonstrations since 2018 demanding election reforms and less corruption have not resulted in much actual change.

July 27, 2021: In the southwest (Anbar Province) security forces coordinated counter-terrorism operations with their Saudi counterparts across the border. This is part of increased cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The Saudis are willing to make major economic investments in Iraq and work with Iraq to oppose Iranian aggression in Arab countries. The Saudis have detected small groups of ISIL members entering Saudi Arabia along the lightly guarded desert border. There is very little visible ISIL activity in Saudi Arabia, where the local civilians are generally hostile to Islamic terrorists, especially foreign ones or those who carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia. Iraq is also working with neighbor Jordan and even distant Egypt to improve economic and security links.

July 26, 2021: While visiting the United States the prime minister met with the American president and signed an agreement that ends American combat operations in Iraq by the end of 2021.

In the north ( Hakurk, the mountainous region where the borders of Iraq, Turkey and Iran meet) a Turkish soldier was killed during operations against PKK (Turkish Kurdish separatists). The PKK and a similar Iranian group have long maintained bases in these mountains and the Iraqi Kurds will not fight their fellow Kurds, but will tolerate Turkish and Iranian airstrikes and some operations by foreign ground forces.

July 25, 2021: In the south (the Shia shrine city Najaf) two Iran-backed PMF militias reported that their ammo depots had been attacked by missiles fired by unidentified UAVs. The missiles set off numerous secondary explosions by the stored munitions, finding enough missile fragments to identify who made the missile; the U.S., Israel or China, which supplies Iraqi forces with UAVs armed with Chinese versions of the American Hellfire missile. Israel doesn’t use armed UAVs that much and that far from Israel. The Americans denied responsibility.

July 23, 2021: Government officials revealed that China was the major customer for Iraqi oil, currenting receiving 40-44 percent of what Iraq exports.

July 21, 2021: In the north (Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish north) another Iranian attack employed an Iranian UAV used by an Iran-backed Iraqi militia that dropped one or more bombs and missed the U.S. military compound that was apparently the target. This was the second time pro-Iran Iraqi militias used Iranian UAVs for this kind of attack. The first attack was in April. American bases have ani-rocket defenses but nothing very effective for armed UAVs. That is supposed to be fixed in 2021.

In central Iraq (Saladin, or Salahuddin, Province) an ISIL attack against an army brigade headquarters left two soldiers dead and three wounded. Currently most ISIL activity takes place in Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahuddin provinces.

July 19, 2021: In Baghdad ( the Shia Sadr City neighborhood) ISIL was apparently responsible for a large bomb that went off in a crowded market, killing 32 and wounding about twice as many. Somehow one of the ISIL groups north of Baghdad got a suicide bomber and his explosive vest past the usually tight security in Shia neighborhoods of Baghdad. This was the third ISIL attack against Shia in Baghdad this year.

July 15, 2021: Senior Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr announced he would boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections on October 10th. He is also withdrawing support for the current government and any new government resulting from the October elections. This is all about corruption and resistance by senior politicians to do anything effective to deal with the problem. Sadr has also made enemies with Iran-backed PMF militias as well as some local tribal leaders. Sadr was once a pro-Iran cleric but has openly turned against Iran since mid-2015, when thousands of pro-reform Iraqis began demonstrating in Baghdad and other cities every Friday to encourage the government to take more action against corruption. Those demonstrations continue although their intensity varies over time. The demonstrations were most intense in southern cities like Basra and Mayan, the capital of Mayan province which borders Iran.

July 14, 2021: In the north (Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish north) Turkish warplanes carried out airstrikes on villages outside the city that Turkey believed were harboring PKK members.

July 11, 2021: Iran quickly protested a rally by the NCRI (National Council of Resistance of Iran) in Germany. NCRI began as an Iranian secular (Marxist) group formed in 1965 to oppose the monarchy and later the religious dictatorship that replaced the monarchy in 1979. NCRI previously called itself the PMOI (People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran) or the Mujahideen Khalq. The PMOI fled to Iraq in 1986 when Saddam Hussein offered sanctuary for over 3,400 Khlaq members and their families who lived 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 most members of the Khalq to Iran for prosecution for terror attacks Khlaq made in Iran while working from their Iraqi base. After 2003 there were several raids on Camp Ashraf and in 2012 most residents were moved to the more secure “Camp Liberty” near the Baghdad airport. There have been over a thousand Khalq deaths since 20o3 because of attacks by pro-Iran Iraqi Shia militias. The U.S. and the UN long sought countries willing to take PLOI members as political refugees. PMOI members were dedicated leftist terrorists and no one was eager to accept them. The PMOI reformed itself into the NCRI and did so convincingly that by 2012 the UN and United States had removed NCRI from their list of international terrorists.

The rally today was attended by European and American officials who spoke in support of the NCRI to replace the current Iranian government with a democracy. The recently elected Iranian president Ibrahim Raisi, an infamous mass-murderer and recognized war-criminal, into office. Raisi was particularly brutal against the PMOI during the 1980s when as a senior judge, he sentenced hundreds of them to death. While the PMOI reformed itself, the Shia religious dictatorship was not so flexible and will kill as many Iranians as it takes to stay in power, or trigger another revolution. Raisi was not the choice of the Iranian people, but the religious dictatorship who decided who can run for any government office. This time around anyone with any hint of reform was barred from running for a seat in parliament or the presidency. The election of Raisi turned many European nations against Iran and efforts to lift the economic sanctions, including the ones revived by the previous American government in 2017. At the rally the European officials mentioned current EU (European Union) efforts to impose sanctions on members of the new government in Iran, especially president Raisi.

 

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