Iraq: Lethal Leak Threatens Iranian Influence

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July 22, 2022: Senior Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al Sadr is demanding that former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki be prosecuted because of audio recordings of his political views that demonstrate him making deals with anyone, including Iran, to defeat Sadr and his many supporters. If convicted, Maliki faces life in prison or even execution. Sadr has been unrelenting in his anti-corruption campaign, Evidence of corrupt Maliki decisions since he became the first prime minister of post-Saddam Iraq in 2003 led to his being banned from running for prime minister again. Sadr wanted Maliki banned from politics altogether, but court rulings allowed Maliki to remain active and his party alliance was key in blocking the selection of a new prime minister after anti-corruption parties obtained a majority in the 2021 elections. Iraqi courts are less corrupt than many other institutions but can still be influenced by cash or convincing death threats.

Iraqi journalist Ali Fadel, now living in the United States after surviving many efforts to kill him in Iraq, obtained an hour-long audio recording of Maliki discussing his plans to thwart Sadr and his anti-corruption efforts by any means. That includes mobilizing Iran-backed armed groups for what could turn into a civil war. Fadel is releasing the audio recording a minute or two at a time and so far, less than ten minutes have been released. Maliki’s views are no secret because he often expresses them in private to associates or potential allies. Maliki insists the audio recording is a fake but it sounds real and is certainly plausible considering Maliki’s political activities for over a decade. An official judicial investigation of the recordings and their revelations began yesterday. Maliki refuses to cooperate, which may result in an arrest warrant. If and when the full audio is released and available for technical analysis to determine authenticity, it would persuade many Iraqi party leaders to back Sadr and give his coalition enough (a two-thirds majority) votes to select a new prime minister.

Reducing corruption has become a popular issue because most Iraqis admit that it is one national characteristic that has to be gone if Iraq is to make any social, political or economic progress. Iraq is a nation that has enormous economic and intellectual resources but has never been able to mobilize those resources for the good of Iraq. Sadr risked his life to create and sustain an anti-corruption political movement which has grown, but is still short of creating a new government.

There have been some successes, especially in defense. For example, in the north (Nineveh province) Iraqi and Kurdish troops along with specialized counterterrorism forces are currently searching for and attacking small groups of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) Islamic terrorists hiding in the Qara-Chokh mountains 60 kilometers southeast of the city of Mosul. This area has long been used by Islamic terrorists who were moving between Iraq and Syria. The Syrian border is nearby and the Islamic terrorists have to sneak across. In the past ISIL was strong enough to attack the troops guarding official border crossings on the main roads. Remnants of the former Islamic State caliphate in eastern Syria and western Iraq continue to survive and sort of thrive in the deserts of eastern Syria and remote mountain areas of northern Iraq. ISIL remnants use terror to raise cash and intimidate local civilians to tolerate their presence and not cooperate with local security forces. This has been the way outlaws operate in this part of the world since ancient times, even if the outlaws are motivated mainly by religious fanaticism. ISIL attacks in eastern Syria continue to occur frequently, often at the rate of four or five a week. ISIL is less active in Iraq.

July 20, 2022: In the north (Kurdish controlled Dohuk province) Turkish artillery was used to bombard a vacation resort near the Turkish border. Nearly all the casualties (nine dead and dozens wounded) were Arabs taking a break from the very hot weather down south. Relaxing in the cooler and safer Kurdish mountains has become a popular activity for Iraqi Arabs who can afford it. The Kurds have been autonomous in northern Iraq since the 1990s and kept out nearly all of the Islamic terrorism that ravaged the Arab south after 2003. This led to many Arabs vacationing in the Kurdish north. Border security between the Kurdish north and the rest of Iraq was tight and few Islamic terrorists get in and if they did, they found it difficult to operate. The one danger the Kurds could not keep out was the increasing Turkish efforts to eliminate PKK (Turkish Kurdish separatists) who had established bases in remote areas near the border. Dohuk province had plenty of sparsely populated border areas where the PKK would establish their hideouts. These the Turks would search for with manned aircraft and UAVS. Once located the Turks would attack with artillery, F-16s or armed UAVs. Turkish troops would sometimes cross the border to follow up on artillery or air attacks. In more populated border areas of the Kurdish north the Turks established bases. These Turkish attacks take place regularly, with PKK targets hit up to three times a week. There are casualties every week as smugglers and PKK forces try to cross the border in either direction and are attacked by Turkish troops guarding the border. Turkey announces all such operations, especially when it involves PKK forces. Iran threatens to carry out similar attacks and occasionally does so but never takes credit for them. The Turks justify these attacks because the Iraqi Kurds will not use their troops and police, the best in Iraq, to go after the PKK or similar groups from Syria or Iran. There are no armed Iraqi Kurdish separatists because the Iraqi Kurdish autonomy is tolerated if the Iraqi Kurds do not attack the Arab dominated national government. This arrangement has generally worked, but the Iraqi government considers the Turkish violence in the north as partially the fault of the Iraqi Kurds who will not actively fight the armed foreign Kurds from Turkey, Syria and Iran. The unarmed Iranian Kurd separatists are OK but the PKK presence is a big problem for everyone. This is especially the case when the Turkish violence kills and wounds Iraqi Arabs is a major violation of Iraqi sovereignty and the unwritten understanding that tolerates the Turkish attacks on the PKK, even if it sometimes kills Iraqi Kurd civilians. The Iraqi Arabs see this as something the Iraqi Kurds have to take care of. The Turks are aware of the vacation resorts near their border and the Iraqi Kurds keep PKK members out of those resorts. That was apparently the case with the Dohuk resort and the large number of Iraqi Arab civilian casualties created major diplomatic problems for Turkey.

July 19, 2022: Turkey revealed that they were responsible for killing Hussein Shibli, a senior SDF (Syrian Defense Forces) military leader. Shibli was in northern (Kurdish controlled) Iraq for medical treatment when a Turkish UAV when killed him with a laser-guided missiles. Turkey and Russia are trying to persuade, or coerce, the largely Kurdish SDF rebels to side with Turkey rather than the Americans. Turkish missiles-armed UAVs, mainly the TB2 model, regularly carry out attacks against SDF and PKK forces in northern Iraq and Syria.

July 17, 2022: In the north (Nineveh province) a Turkish UAV armed with missiles destroyed a vehicle traveling in the western outskirts of Mosul. Five civilians in the car died, one of them a female. It was later discovered that all the victims were Turkish PKK Kurdish separatists. Turkish bases and military forces have been in northern Iraq since 2016 and are used by troops hunting for PKK members who continue to operate in northern Iraq. Turkish bases are frequently targets of attacks by the PKK.

July 12, 2022: Powerful Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al Sadr gave up on his eight-month long effort to form a new government and ordered the 73 members of his parliamentary coalition to resign, which they did. The 2021 national election was a defeat for pro-Iran parties and an unexpected victory for the Sadr coalition, which won 73 of 329 seats in parliament. He had momentum and the best chance of forming a majority coalition and forming a government that would make good on his promise to do something about government corruption. Sadr was unable to get enough ethnic or religious coalitions to join him and form a government. Even then, Sadr would have to achieve a two-thirds vote in parliament to elect a new president. This is seen as a win for Iran and corrupt Iraqi politicians. Meanwhile parliament was not idle.

Even without a new government it could pass new laws and last month approved a law making it a capital (death or life in prison) crime to have any contact with Israel or Israelis. This was a 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 caused 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. 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.

July 10, 2022: Turkey revealed that their forces operating in northern Syria, northern Iraq and inside Turkey had killed or captured 1,999 terrorists so far this year. This is a category that includes Islamic terrorists as well as Kurdish separatists in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. About a third of these terrorist casualties are inflicted by Turkish forces operating in Iraq and Syria. The governments of Iraq and Syria do not approve of these incursions but lack the military forces capable of preventing the incursions. Turkey claims to have killed or captured 35,000 terrorists in the last seven years (since July 2015). Some of those dead terrorists in Syria and Iraq were civilian bystanders. About 600 Turkish military personnel have been killed in Iraq and Syria since mid-2015. Several thousand Syrian Arab mercenaries have died in Syria, Libya and Armenia (for Azerbaijan). Turkey pays well (by Syrian standards) for these mercenaries, who receive free medical care and compensation for disability and death benefits of next-of-kin if killed. Turkey does not use local mercenaries in northern Iraq. A growing number of attacks against terrorists in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, as well as regular forces in Libya and Armenia are carried out by F-16s and UAVs using guided missiles.

July 7, 2022: In the north, near the Turkish border, a Turkish soldier was killed and three wounded after a clash with PKK gunmen based in northern Iraq. In another incident nearby two more Turkish troops were killed. Turkey revealed that in the last four weeks eleven Turkish soldiers had died, along two Turkish security guards assigned to Turkish bases.

 

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