Iraq: Surviving Victory

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October 21, 2021: Eleven days ago, Muqtada al Sadr, a popular Shia cleric, became the leader of a dominant parliamentary coalition that is anti-Iran, anti-corruption and wants all foreign troops out of Iraq. That’s fine with most Americans, who left in 2011 and were asked to return in 2014 as ISIL took control of a third of Iraq. Sadr and the Americans also agree that it was the epic levels of Iraqi corruption that made 2014 possible. If Sadr can make a serious dent in the corruption, especially inside the military, the Americans are eager to go.

When asked to return in 2014 the American came back in smaller numbers and on their own terms. The U.S. troops are mainly involved with training and advising Iraqi troops as well as monitoring the corruption levels. In 2014 the Americans, and Iraq, depended on the support of the autonomous Kurds in the north, who have always had the best troops and it was Kurds and Iraqi special operations troops who took the lead in driving ISIL out of Mosul and the rest of northern Iraq. The Kurds are still autonomous but with a growing list of grievances against the Shia government.

Sadr was never a fan of Kurdish autonomy and considered them potentially suspect because the Kurds are largely Sunni Moslems or Islamic sects most Moslems consider heretical. Despite that Sadr is more willing to cooperate with the Kurds now because they are a Sunni group that does not view Shia Arabs as their enemy. This became even more important when Sadr discovered that his new power in parliament was not enough to form a Sadr controlled government. With the help of the Kurds, his coalition would work. Sadr and the Kurds agree on the need for less corruption and more opposition to Iranian threats. The Kurds have corruption problems but to a lesser extent than the Arab majority down south. That reduction in corruption has made the Kurds more effective economically and militarily. Sadr needs Kurdish votes as well as practical and proven advice on how to reduce corruption, especially in the security forces.

Sadr also received unexpected levels of support from the Sunni Arab minority. Together with the Kurds, these two groups represent about 40 percent of the population and both are far more opposed to Iran than many Shia Arabs are.

Most of the parliament members who lost their seats were either pro-Iran or backed by corrupt and wealthy politicians who saw Sadr as more of a threat than the Iranians. Fears of vote rigging kept a lot of people from participating and the voter turnout was the lowest yet for a national election. Sadr paid attention to the more accurate and reliable public opinion polls and urged his supporters to vote. The voter fraud effort was less energetic because so many political parties expected to retain power. The more corrupt and wealthy Iraqi politicians are double checking their plans to get themselves, their families and most of their assets out of the country if the Sadr anti-corruption effort gains any traction. The pro-Iran politicians who lost were either planning violent responses or reconsidering their support for Iran.

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Deaths from Islamic terrorism or political violence continue at historically low levels. That is another change most Iraqis agree on and support. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and pro-Iran radicals are encountering more resistance and less popular support than in the past. Now pro-Iran groups are sliding into the same status. The many Sunni factions are once again more united than in the past and willing to deal with Kurds or the Sadr coalition to improve the economic and political situation in Iraq. The Sunni coalition is also useful for reassuring the Sunni Arab oil states that investing in Iraq is the wise thing to do. After all, Iran is broke, and 80 percent of Iraqis are Arabs, and the Kurdish minorities in both are not friends of the Turks or Iranians.

October 20, 2021: In the west (Anbar province) at the Tanf (on the Syrian side)/Walweed (on the Iraqi side) border crossing explosions were heard in the American base near Tanf. The Americans confirmed the explosions but said there were no casualties. Civilians in the area report that the attacks came from a UAV. Syria and Russia want the American base gone and their ground forces have tried to get close but were turned back by American airstrikes. The Americans have controlled the Syrian side since 2017 while a pro-American Iraqi militia controls the Iraqi side. This is one of the three main Syria/Iraq border crossings and controls access to the main Baghdad-Damascus highway. The crossing is near where the borders of Jordan, Syria and Iraq meet.

In the south (Dhi Qar province, 375 kilometers south of Baghdad) there was another roadside bomb attack on an American supply convoy from Kuwait. As with most of these attacks, there were no casualties or damage to the convoy.

October 18, 2021: Popular Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, suddenly the most powerful politician in Iraq, is waiting, along with other political party leaders, for the official final tally of the October 10 parliamentary elections. It will be another week before these are released and the vote certified. The Sadr coalition does not have an absolute majority of seats and will have to form a coalition. There are several Sunni and Kurdish coalitions as well as some much-reduced pro-Iran coalitions. Sadr confirmed that he wants to improve relations with the Americans. This is popular with the Kurds, where the presence of American troops has kept the Kurdish north autonomous for 25 years. Sunni factions also favor the Americans because the U.S. urged the Shia majority to trust and protect the Sunni groups that turned against the Islamic terrorists fifteen years ago and resisted ISIL in 2014. So far, not enough Shia Arabs took the American advice and Sadr may be what finally changes that. All this change is coming mainly at the expense of pro-Iran Shia Arab candidates

October 15, 2021: In the north (Kirkuk province) security forces received tips from locals that led them to a stockpile of ISIL bomb making materials, including 56 mortar and tank shells and 53 detonators. With this material ISIL could build dozens of bombs for suicide bombings or roadside bombs for attacks on civilians or the security forces.

October 12, 2021: In the north (Nineveh Province, 45 kilometers southeast of Mosul) soldiers, acting on tips, found a major ISIL bomb workshop and stockpile of rockets. This workshop contained several special tools and machines that made it easier to build bombs and do it faster. The tips and other support from local civilians had made it much more dangerous for ISIL to operate in urban areas and the number of raids or airstrikes on ISIL facilities and the losses in personnel and weapons is visibly weakening the organization. There are fewer new recruits and more desertions.

In the west (Anbar province) across the Syrian border (in Deir Ezzor province) an airstrike once again hit an Iran-backed militia facility and largely destroyed it. The air strike was near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. Iran is seeking to provide a safer environment for its Iraqi militias. Inside Iraq, Kataib Hezbollah is subject to attack by security forces and pro-government militias. In eastern Syria the biggest threat is Israeli airstrikes and the occasional American one. Today’s attack left three Iraqis dead along with one Syrian and several Iranians. These constant attacks are causing Iraqis belonging to pro-Iran militias to reconsider their loyalty to Iran.

October 10, 2021: National elections were held and the result was Muqtada al Sadr, an Iran educated Shia senior cleric and his coalition of political parties won. Pro-Iran militias and political parties were apparently waiting for instructions from Iran, which has been claiming growing popularity for Iran inside Iraq.

Sadr is hostile to Iranian influence in Iraq, especially the way Iran exploits Iraqi corruption to maintain Iranian influence in Iraq. Pro-Iran Iraqis, who want Iraq to have a government like Iran’s, insisted today’s elections were fraudulent. Corruption is usually a factor in Iraqi elections, with voters or voting officials bribed or threatened in order to favor a particular candidate. The only reliable antidote to that is to compare opinion polls taken before the vote with the outcome of the vote. The polls have remained relatively corruption-free and this time they showed the vote following what the polls were saying; the reform coalitions, especially the dominant Sadr faction, would win.

 

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