Iraq: Economic Success, Political Deadlock

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April 26, 2022: In Baghdad, Iraq hosted Saudi Arabian and Iranian officials holding their fifth round of negotiations in an effort to resume diplomatic relations. These talks were suspended seven months ago. Meanwhile Iraq along with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf Oil states are angry with the Americans because the U.S. is not only offering Iran a revival of the 2015 sanctions treaty, but also a modification of the terms to make it easier for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. While those talks are currently stalled, the U.S. quietly agreed to allow South Korea to release several billion dollars to Iran while Britain released half a billion to Iran for a payment dispute from the 1970s. A primary Iranian demand in the negotiations is that billions of dollars in frozen accounts be returned to Iran. Iran saw the 2015 treaty suspended by the Americans in 2018 because of Iranian cheating. Then came the 2020 American presidential elections, which put into power a new president who adopted more favorable policies towards Iran and reduced support for Arab resistance to Iranian violence. This caused many Gulf oil states to join an economic alliance with Russia to drive up the price of oil. This policy makes it easier for Iran to smuggle more of its heavily discounted oil to customers. That plan survived the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine and even more economic sanctions. Opposition in the United States to reviving the 2015 treaty, especially from senior military and political officials, is making a difference but the official policy is still to give the Iranians what they want in return for promises Iran has broken before. That has recently been modified to include U.S. assurances that sanctions on Iranian ballistic missile and nuclear weapons organizations and key individuals will not be expanded. Iraq, Israel and its Arab allies are not impressed.

Because of this new American attitude, Israel has carried out several major attacks on the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Some earlier attacks were in cooperation with the United States but the most recent ones were done with only the help of Iranians who also oppose the nuclear weapons and the current Iranian religious dictatorship. Israel makes it clear it will launch a major air and missile strike against the Iranian nuclear program if Iran gets close to creating a working nuclear weapon. Israel’s new allies among the Arab Persian Gulf oil states will cooperate with such an attack, as they are already being hit by Iranian missiles, cruise missiles and guided rockets.

Israel has had locally developed nuclear weapons since 1970 and portrays these weapons as the ultimate deterrent to any serious effort to destroy Israel. The Israeli nukes can be delivered deliver several ways. This first method was aircraft-delivered gravity bombs and later air-to ground missiles. Then came ballistic missiles plus cruise missiles that can be launched via torpedo tubes from a submerged Israeli sub. Israel never acknowledged it has nukes and continues to maintain them and several delivery systems. This has deterred everyone except Iran, which since the 1980s has been ruled by a religious dictatorship that was obsessed with destroying Israel.

Iran Paralyzes New Government

Iraqi efforts to form a new government after the presidential elections in late 2021 have been blocked by a pro-Iran coalition of various Shia and Kurdish groups, plus a few Sunni factions that oppose a government dominated by powerful Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr. This opposition prevents a two- thirds quorum of parliament members from forming and voting on who gets what post in a new government. Israel has a similar form of government and often faces a stalemate in forming a new government coalition. Often a few small, often radical, Israeli factions make a quorum possible and then force the new government to meet their demands or see the government collapse. Iraq seems headed in the same direction and that is progress for Iraq, one of the few functioning democracies in the Middle East.

The election was won by pro-Sadr parties that regard Iran and Iraqi government corruption as the most serious problem facing Iraq. Most Iraqi voters agreed with Sadr, who demanded that all militias be disarmed and disbanded. This demand was aimed at Iran, which has used the militias to create a legal Iran-backed armed force in Iraq. Calls for disbanding these militias have been gaining a lot more support since 2017. The 2021 elections mean an even more anti-Iran government and, sensing what that would mean for militias in general, most militias have announced plans to disband. Disarming is another matter. Despite that, Sadr’s efforts to clean up some of the corruption has made visible progress. Less corruption is often measured by international organizations. For example. in 2021 Iraq showed continued progress in reducing corruption. The pro-Iran groups see Sadr’s efforts as devastating to Iranian influence in Iraq if Sadr succeeds. Some Kurdish and Sunni Arab factions see Sadr as a greater threat to them than Iran. The anti-Sadr coalition isn’t large enough to form their own government but so far, the anti-Sadr coalition has prevented the formation of a government dominated by Sadr. Iraqi allies like the United States and Gulf Arab countries fear Iran more than Sadr and are trying to come up with a compromise.

April 25, 2022: In the north (Nineveh province) most of the Iraqi 9th division has been deployed around Sinjar as part of an effort to reduce violence between the Turks and PKK and YBS (Sinjar Resistance Unit). There is also one brigade from the 20th division nearby. For years the Turks have been trying to keep PKK from establishing themselves in northern Iraq, especially the town of Sinjar, which has long been dominated by the Kurdish Yazidi faction. The Yazidi were particularly hated by ISIL which tried to wipe them out. ISIL failed, in large part because support for the Yazidi from Kurds Iraqi, Turkish and Syrian Kurds as well as the American military. For that reason, the Yazidi tolerate the continued presence of the PKK. This angered Turkey which, since early 2021, has threatened to send in troops and use lots of airpower to occupy Sinjar if the Iraqi government does not remove PKK from Sinjar and northern Iraq in general. Turkey keeps reminding the Iraqi government that this invasion would occur without warning. Iraq has already sent two Iran-backed PMF (Popular Mobilization Forces) militia brigades to Sinjar as well as an army brigade. That did not impress the PKK, which is still there. This is why most of the 9th division is now arriving.

Iraqis don’t want to fight the Kurds or Turks. YBS is a Yazidi Kurd militia aligned with the PKK. Despite YBS activity in northern Syria and Iraq, most Yazidis want nothing to do with the PKK aligned YBS. Separatist Kurds have been a growing problem in Turkey. Syria. Iran and Iran for over a century. The Yazidi are Kurds who practice a pre-Christian religion related to the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian religion once common in Iran before Islam and now only found in India. The Yazidis are considered pagans by ISIL and to Moslems pagans must either renounce their beliefs or die. The Kurds have always gotten along better with Yazidis, Christians and other minorities and many of those people fled to the Kurdish north. In 2015 it was the Kurds who recaptured Yazidi territory from ISIL.

April 24, 2022: In the northwest (Muthanna province) Iran-backed militia attacked an American supply convoy with a roadside bomb. There were no injuries and the convoy continued. These convoy attacks are increasingly frequent but rarely use a powerful enough or effectively placed bomb to do any real damage. This reflects the loss of competent bomb makers by most terror groups in Iraq because of increased counter-terrorism efforts.

April 23, 2022: In central Iraq (Saladin, or Salahuddin, Province) two policemen were killed and two wounded by an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) bomb during a major sweep of the area for ISIL personnel or bases. This operation also involves Diyala, Samarra, Kirkuk provinces further north. Last month there was a similar operation in Nineveh, Saladin, and Anbar provinces.

April 22, 2022: The World Bank predicted that Iraq, despite a larger population (41 million), would enjoy the highest GDP growth (8.9 percent) in the region because of higher oil prices and improved administration of the economy despite the political deadlock over forming a new government. The 2021 elections made it clear that most voters wanted less corruption and more effective government policies.

April 17, 2022: In the Kurdish north (Metina province, near the Turkish border) Turkish troops, with artillery and air support, launched a major operation against PKK (Turkish Kurd separatists) that lasted several days and left 45 PKK men dead or captured. Three Turkish soldiers were killed and several wounded. Several PKK bases and weapons storage sites were found and destroyed. Such Turkish incursions against the PKK in northern Iraq have been going on for years.

April 11, 2022: Iran-backed Shia militias sold RPG anti-tank launchers and warheads along with two Iraqi army MRLS (multiple rocket launcher systems) and the unguided rockets it uses to Iran, which smuggled them to Russia via Iran across the Caspian Sea, a landlocked body of water bordering Iran and Russia. Russia has been more cooperative with Iranian forces in Syria because of this while seeking not to anger the Israelis. China has refused to supply Russia with weapons but Iran is already suffering many sanctions and Russia is one of the few allies it has. Iraq is one of the most corrupt nations in the Middle East and anything is available if you have the cash or enough gunmen to obtain what you want. Most Iraqis consider the corruption a flaw to be corrected while Iran considers the Iraqi corruption something Iran can make use of.

March 27, 2022: In the north (Nineveh province) work began on a border wall on the Syrian border. The first stage will be 10 kilometers long and 3.5 meters (11 feet) high. Iraq has a 600-kilometer-long border with Syria and the areas most often used by Islamic terrorists and smugglers will be the first to get a wall with new construction covering the new routes the illegal border crossers use. At the very least this makes it more difficult for those crossing the border illegally. Iraq first built a fence along the Syrian border but this was insufficient. Iraq is now joining a growing number of Middle Eastern nations (like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait) and following the example of Israel by building high-tech security fences or walls along their borders to keep out Islamic terrorists, illegal migrants, criminals and smugglers. The United States covered most of the half billion-dollar cost of the Jordan barrier along its 442 kilometers of borders with Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have done this along their Iraqi borders. Jordan has been the most successful of the Arab countries at protecting itself from Islamic terrorism. But the civil war in Syria and the growing ISIL and Iranian presence in Iraq led Israel, in late 2015 to begin building a security fence on its last unfenced border, the 307-kilometer Jordanian frontier. This project took several years and cost $1.6 billion, plus millions a year to maintain. Israel and Jordan have long cooperated closely on counter-terrorism issues so the Israeli fence also assists Jordan since any Islamic terrorists inside Jordan who are seeking to get into Israel are more likely to be detected and caught.

 

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