Iraqi efforts to form a new government after the late 2021 parliamentary elections have been blocked by a 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. The stalemate benefits Iran and hurts Iraq and Sadr has backed a solution that involves new elections. Given current voter attitudes towards Iran, a new election would create an even more anti-Iran parliament. Sadr is also seeking to assure other political parties that he will continue acting in the best interests of Iraq.
Since 2003, when American and British troops ended Sunni domination of Iraqi politics, something that had existed since the creation of Iraq in the 1920s, the political situation has been volatile. Sunni Arabs have always been a minority in Iraq, which began and remains a Shia-majority Iraq. Sadr has changed his political positions frequently. Two constants with Sadr are opposition to corruption and foreign interference. These are two things most Iraqis agree on, especially when Iran is the foreign threat. The Americans left after less than a decade in Iraq and that impressed many Iraqis. Because of that most Iraqis wanted to maintain economic and military ties with the United States and Sadr came to agree with that as well. The “new elections” compromise requires agreement on a temporary government to organize new elections within a stipulated time period. If elections are not held on time, the temporary government would disappear.
The current parliamentary deadlock is common in parliamentary governments. Israel often has parliamentary stalemate when forming a new government coalition. Typically, 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 2021 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.
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. Some Iraqi politicians see Sadr’s anti-corruption efforts as a personal threat because some politicians are notoriously corrupt and often win elections via corrupt means. On a personal level, this is seen as more of a threat than Iranian influence in Iraq. Sadr and most Iraqis see this as a fundamental problem with Iraq; the tradition of leaders enriching themselves while insisting everything they do is for the good of Iraq and its people.
Some Kurdish and Sunni Arab factions openly oppose Sadr because of his past hostility to Kurdish autonomy and Sunni Arab Iraqis in general. 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.
June 6, 2022: In Baghdad police shot down a quadcopter that appeared to be studying Rusafa prison, where, for over a decade, many Islamic terrorist prisoners were held. There have been several Islamic terrorist plots to carry out jailbreaks and one in 2018 worked. As a result of that, senior security officials in Baghdad were fired and security in the prison upgraded, including physical changes to the prison complex. Police technicians are examining the quadcopter wreckage in an effort to determine who owned it and what it was doing over the prison.
In the Kurdish north (Erbil) Akbar Sanjabi, an Iranian Kurd critic of the Iranian government survived an Iranian assassination attempt with a bomb planted under his car. Sanjabi belongs to NCRI (National Council of Resistance of Iran), a very effective organization critical of the Iranian government. NCRI also supports Iranian Kurd autonomy. That’s why many of the key NCR! Members in northern Iraq are Iranian exiles. There are a lot more NCRI members outside the Middle East and they are also threatened by Iranian retaliation. In 2021 Iran quickly protested a NCRI rally in Germany.
NCRI began in 1965 as an Iranian secular (Marxist) group that opposed 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 and 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 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 PMOI 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 it so convincingly that by 2012 the UN and United States had removed NCRI from their list of international terrorists. The 2021 rally was attended by European and American officials who spoke in support of the NCRI to replace the current Iranian government with a democracy.
June 4, 2022: In the northeast (Diyala Province) a roadside bomb went near a civilian vehicle, wounding seven civilians. Gunmen fired on police who came to assist. The police were uninjured and returned fire and the gunmen fled.
In the south, near the Iranian and Kuwait borders, border guards acted on a tip that an ultralight aircraft operated by drug smugglers would attempt to cross into Kuwait. The aircraft was flying low and slow when sported and the border guard fired on it, causing the aircraft to crash land near the Kuwait border. The pilot ran off towards the border and border guards found the aircraft was carrying a million captagon (amphetamine) pills. The aircraft and its cargo had come from Iran. Captagon is a stronger and illegal drug that is popular in the Middle East, especially with Islamic terrorists.
June 3, 2022: In the west (Anbar province) security forces received information that ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) was using a large truck as a mobile warehouse for weapons and other supplies. An Iraqi F-16 found and attacked the truck, destroying it. Ground forces soon arrived and found the truck and three dead terrorists. A survivor was found nearby and killed by the police.
In the north (Erbil province) Iraqi F-16s carried out several attacks on caves in the Qarah Gogh Mountains that were used as ISIL bases. Thinly populated mountain regions are often used as ISIL base areas. Northern Iraq has lots of those, especially near the Turkish and Iranian borders. These mountain bases provide training, storage (weapons, ammo, fuel and other supplies) and production (of bombs, landmines and other improvised weapons) facilities. The airstrike today was one of several that took place in the area since late May. In one of the cave bombings, 13 Islamic terrorists were found dead inside, buried by the partially collapsed cave. Documents recovered from these mountain bases yield information on current ISIL membership and where they are operating. This makes it possible for police, especially at checkpoints, to identify and arrest unarmed ISIL members, especially leaders. The ISIL violence in these cities has killed a lot of civilians, some of them ISIL supporters. Friends and kin of these victims often lose their enthusiasm for the group and some become informants (preferably anonymous) for the security forces. Identifying yourself when calling in a tip means that a corrupt army or police commander can make a lot of money selling your name to ISIL.
June 2, 2022: In the north (Nineveh province) six UAVs loaded with explosives were shot down trying to attack a Turkish Army base near Mosul. Turkish bases and military forces have been in northern Iraq since 2016 and are used by troops hunting for Turkish PKK Kurdish separatists who continue to operate in northern Iraq. The Zintan base attacked today is the largest in the area and recently received an air defense system to deal with the UAV attacks.
June 1, 2022: In the north (Metina province, near the Turkish border) Turkish troops tracked down and killed fourteen PKK fighters. This clash was part of a sustained campaign that has been underway since mid-April.
May 30, 2022: In the west (Anbar province) five rockets were fired at the Assad airbase, the largest airbase in Iraq and long shared with American troops. There was no damage or casualties. The last such attack was on April 30 and the two rockets were also ineffective. The unguided rockets usually land in unoccupied areas of the large base, causing no injuries or damage. It is assumed the targets were the few American troops still based there to support Iraqi forces fighting the remaining ISIL groups in the province. ISIL is more of a threat north of Baghdad but some ISIL remain in Anbar where they try to disrupt use of main roads connecting Iraq to Syria and Jordan.
In the Kurdish north (Sulaymaniyah Province) Kurdish security forces found and destroyed two ISIL roadside bombs.
May 26, 2022: Parliament approved a law making it a capital (death or life in prison) crime to have any contact with Israel or Israelis. This could be a major win for Iran because 84 percent of parliament voted for it. Iraq never recognized the existence of Israel and a state of war still exists with Israel. The new law causes problems with the West, especially the United States, because Western trade with Iraq often involves Jews with dual (Israeli and their home country) passports. Other Arab oil states have not only recognized the existence of Israel, but established diplomatic, economic and military relationships. One reason for this is Iran, which has been calling for the destruction of Israel since the 1980s. Before that, Iran followed its ancient practice of tolerating all religions. The practice was disrupted 1,500 years ago when Iranians were forced to accept Islam. Like its predecessor Christianity, Islam had an anti-Semitic component that pre-Islam Iran lacked. Since Islam arrived, Iranian rulers kept religious leaders out of politics and anti-Semitism was absent and unpopular. In 1979, when Iranian religious leaders played a major role in overthrowing the monarchy, it became fashionable to oppose everything (including religious tolerance) that the monarchy supported. This was not popular with many Iranians who realized that one reason for Iran being the traditional local superpower was religious tolerance. Islamic conservatives consider that heresy and that was another custom that was not an Iranian tradition. At the same time, anti-Semitism was becoming less of a factor in Christian and Moslem majority countries. The new Iraqi law is seen as a win for Iran and a defeat for Iraq because in practice the new law makes Iraq less able to cooperate with Arab and Western nations it depends on economically, diplomatically and militarily. Many Iraqis, particularly Kurds, openly opposed the new law and still do. Iran may not be very good at creating progress but the religious dictatorship there has been very successful at causing disasters and decline for the Iranian people. The new Iraqi law does not become official until it is ratified by the president of Iraq. Since 2018 that has been Barham Salih, a veteran Kurdish politician. Salih got the job by obtaining the support of most members of parliament. He was seen as a practical choice, someone who would moderate the sometimes-radical laws that get passed mainly for show because parliament knows that Salih will not confirm it and take the heat for members of parliament who silently agree with him.
May 23, 2022: In the north (Kirkuk and Diyala provinces) ISIL gunmen used severe sand storms to conceal them as they approached and killed six farmers and then set fire to their wheat fields. This was another intimidation attack against civilians who refused to cooperate with the Islamic terrorists. Attacks like this against civilians and police who come to assist the victims have been common since 2017.
May 21, 2022: In the Kurdish north (Sulaymaniyah Province) two armed Turkish UAVs carried out attacks on PKK separatists, killed three of them, as well as three local civilians.
May 6, 2022: In the west, just across the border in eastern Syria (Homs province) ISIL and Syrian forces continue fighting near the American controlled crossing at Tanf (or Tanaf) near the Jordan and Iraq borders. The American forces have the support of some Syrian Sunni tribes that are not friendly to the Assads. In addition, the Americans have some allies on the Iraqi (Anbar province) side of the border from other Sunni Arab tribes. Iran assisted (with its mercenaries) Assad forces in trying to eliminate the Tanf base but these efforts have failed. The Americans have too much airpower and too much aerial and ground surveillance around Tanf. The U.S. has declared a “free fire” zone that means any Assad/Iranian forces getting within 30 kilometers of Tanf are automatically attacked. Iranian and Assad forces rarely test this free fire zone. Most of this border area is now back under Syrian administrative control and Syrian ground forces along with Russian and American air strikes attack ISIL forces operating in the area. Small groups of ISIL gunmen ambush Syrian troops and terrorize local civilians into tolerating the ISIL presence.
April 27, 2022: The Turkish military has begun winding down an air and ground offensive against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in Iraqi Kurdistan that began April 18th. Turkey claimed that the KRG (Kurdistan Iraqi Regional Government) supported the operation. However, the Iraqi central government’s foreign ministry condemned the operation as illegal.
April 26, 2022: 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. 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.