Iraq: The Iranian Fade


December 27, 2022: Iraq has not been able to eliminate the remnants of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), who survived after loss of all their controlled areas in Iraq, particularly the city of Mosul, in 2017. The reason is corruption. Iraq is and long has been the most corrupt country in the Middle East. UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Israel, the two least corrupt countries in the area, have few problems with Islamic terrorists. Iraq’s corruption causes a great deal of violence as well as government inability to deal with it. The government, be it elected or a dictatorship, does not trust the security forces. There is always the fear that a unified control of the security forces would lead to a coup (military takeover) and with that some more chaos and violence.

Iraq currently has an elected government but not one that is strong enough to create a unified command for the security forces. Its prime minister (PM), who is elected by members of parliament, can lose his job if a majority of members choose to back a vote of no confidence. Legally, the PM is the commander in chief of all the security forces. In practical terms, the PM has neither the training nor the support staff to actually do that, More importantly the PM faces several powerful factions in parliament which oppose such unified control as a threat to their corruption. Another problem is divided loyalty, with many members more loyal to Iran than to the Iraqi government. Then there are the autonomous Kurds up north. They have their own government with a parliament and a Kurdish army which contains the most effective soldiers in Iraq. Yet the autonomous Kurds are Iraqi citizens and have a complicated relationship with the central government in Baghdad. The Baghdad government has control of an army, navy and air forces. There is a separate anti-terrorism force which contains many members who are well trained and led but not numerous enough to threaten the army. Iraq also has a federal national police force controlled by the PM. There are local police controlled by local leaders and intelligence agencies with armed members. There is a separate force of border guards controlled by the government. And then there are over 40,000 armed men belonging to Iran-backed Shia PMF (Popular Mobilization Forces) militias.

Iraq’s PM has legal authority over all armed forces across the country, except for the Iran-backed PMF units that obey Iran. The PMF was created in 2014, with the help of Iran, to mobilize armed Iraqis, mainly Shia, to resist the ISIL campaign to take control of all of Iraq for its Islamic Caliphate. The security forces, particularly the army and police, collapsed when confronted by ISIL fanatics. The army and police were corrupt and the leadership was incompetent when it came to their real jobs. ISIL staged gruesome public executions of the soldiers and police they captured.

Iran has been ruled by a Shia religious dictatorship since the 1980s and offered an antidote to the Sunni ISIL. The Iraqi government was desperate and the Iranian offer was accepted. As a result, the Iraq government has been unable to control the pro-Iran PMF units that are still loyal to Iran even though they are paid out of the Iraqi defense budget.

The existence of these potentially disloyal forces in Iraq makes national security an unsolved problem. Most Iraqis believe that if corruption, especially in the government, can be reduced or eliminated, so will the problems with the military and Islamic terrorism. Progress has been slow but at least there is progress and the continuing anti-corruption protests are one reason for that.


Since 2021 Iranian influence in Iraq has visibly declined. This was obvious after the 2021 national election where pro-Iran parties did poorly while the anti-corruption Sadr coalition won 73 of 329 seats in parliament. Senior Shia Islamic cleric Moqtada Sadr now 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 was seen as a win for Iran and corrupt Iraqi politicians. With the Sadr coalition gone, Sudani was able to get himself elected as prime minister. Sadr and his followers claim that Sudani will be ineffective in dealing with the corruption and continuing influence of Iran in Iraqi politics. It’s up to Sudani to prove Sadr wrong. Mindful of Sadr’s criticism, Sudani began arresting and prosecuting corrupt Iraqis and dealing with the lack of public services, especially in the Shia majority south (Basra province). Sadr’s followers are holding protests against Sudani and that won’t stop until Sudani proves he can do something effective about the corruption and poor government performance.

Sudani also has to deal with accusations that he will not act against Iranian efforts to operate in Iraq and influence government decisions. Sudani can deal with a lot of those criticisms by effectively reducing corruption and improving government services. That means dealing with the pro-Iran members of parliament who backed him becoming prime minister. Sudani has to move carefully here because as much as he wants Iraq free of Iranian influence, many of his supporters in parliament were more cooperative with Iran. That cooperation includes leaving alone Iraqi oil smugglers who do business with Iran. Iran also wants the small American military contingent in Iraq to leave. Most Iraqis want the Americans to stay in order to keep Iran out.

The situation of Iran has gotten worse in 2022 when nationwide anti-government protests in September have persisted. This is the most public opposition the Islamic dictatorship has ever faced and it’s unclear how and when it will end.

December 26, 2022: Since 2010 the exchange rate for the Iraqi currency (dinar) has hovered around 1,200 dinars to buy one dollar. A recent American effort to halt the illegal moving of dollars to Iran and Syria has increased that by more than 20 percent. With dollars more expensive in dinars, imported goods in Iraq become more expensive. The government blames the Americans but the root cause is corruption in the Iraqi banking system. Many government officials profit from this, but blaming Westerners for mistakes by local officials is a long-standing custom. The new currency curbs leave Iran with fewer dollars and less capability to interfere in Iraqi affairs.

December 23, 2022: The recently elected Italian prime minister visited Iraq to see for herself how effective the Italian counter-terrorism troops were and to meet with the Iraqi PM to discuss greater economic cooperation between Italy (the third largest economy in Europe) and Iraq. Most Iraqis want that and also want to keep the small (2,500) force of Western (mainly American) troops in Iraq. The foreign soldiers are there to train Iraqi troops, especially the anti-terror units. These foreign troops also reduce the Iranian influence and discourage Iran from seeking greater control in Iraq.

December 21, 2022: In the north ISIL was apparently responsible for 22 soldiers, police and civilians in the last week. While ISIL membership has been much diminished since 2017, there are still about 6,000 IISL members operating in eastern Syria and northern Iraq. ISIL kills civilians to compel cooperation in the form of supplies, cash and not cooperating with the security forces. Few ISIL attacks are “Islamic” terrorism. Most involve doing what it takes to keep ISIL operational in some parts of Iraq and Syria.

December 20, 2022: In the autonomous Kurdish north, Kurdish forces arrested dozens of ISIL members, including one who was seeking to recruit Kurds. Few Kurds join Islamic terrorist organizations, which makes it difficult for ISIL to operate in Kurdish territory, even if they are simply using Kurdish areas as a sanctuary. The Kurds have effectively benefited from training by American forces, particularly special operations units.

Iraqi Shia Arabs have been less effective in suppressing ISIL because of corruption and reluctance to go after Shia Arabs suspected of belonging to ISIL lest they target someone who belongs to an Iran-backed militia or some criminal gang. Most ISIL members in Iraq and Syria are Iraqi Shia Arabs.

December 12, 2022: In the north (outside Mosul) soldiers discovered and destroyed tunnels ISIL had constructed near a rural village. These tunnels served as a base for local ISIL gunmen and several ISIL men were killed when the tunnels were destroyed.

November 21, 2022: Turkish F-16s and armed UAVs conducted dozens of air strikes on targets in northern Iraq and Syria. Turks described the strikes as hitting “military infrastructure” -- tunnels, shelters, training facilities and ammo dumps. The attacks in Syria apparently killed 14 Kurdish SDF troops and 12 Syrian (Assad) soldiers.

In the autonomous Kurdish north, Iranian attacks from the adjacent Kurdish majority portions of Iran, the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) increased its attacks on the Iranian and Iraqi Kurds, killing at least a dozen Kurds in the last 24 hours and wounding many more. These attacks included firing missiles at two Iraqi Kurd cities in northern Iraq. Iraq and the United States criticize these attacks. The IRGC also threatens to send troops into northern Iraq, but this would trigger an American, as well as a Kurdish and Iraqi response. The official Iranian government line is that the Kurds are responsible for all these protests, ignoring the fact that most of the protests are nationwide and involve other minorities as well as ethnic Iranians.

November 19, 2022: In the northeast. Across the border in Iranian (West Azerbaijan province), the IRGC imposed martial law in the Kurdish majority city of Mahabad and began firing on civilians while also turning off electricity and Internet access in some neighborhoods. The government blames the Kurds for the two months of nationwide protests. The IRGC has been attacking Iranian Kurds in the northeast and Iraqi Kurds across the border. IRGC violence against the Kurds has been going on for most of November but that has not reduced the demonstrations throughout the country.




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