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Iraq Gets Passive Aggressive With Foreign Help
by James Dunnigan
November 23, 2014

Although the United States has already sent several thousand military personnel back to Iraq, there is still resistance among Iraqi politicians about having foreign troops in Iraq, no matter how desperate the situation is with ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant). The new Iraqi prime minister has made it clear that there will be no foreign troops allowed to fight in Iraq. This has led to some embarrassing situations. The most immediate one is the 200 Australian commandos who are stuck in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) because Iraq has not approved visas for them yet. Australia, responding to an Iraqi request, approved the use of these Australian troops in Iraq on October 3rd. The Australian commandos quickly get ready and headed for Iraq. By October 20th all the technical details were worked out, as far as Australia was concerned. But by early November the Iraqis had still not granted permission for the Australian troops to enter Iraq and the commandos are waiting, 1,700 kilometers away, in the UAE.

This absurd situation is more complex that it looks. Since 2003 the Shia majority (over 60 percent of Iraqis) and Kurds (another 20 percent) have dominated the Iraqi government. That means Shia Iran has a lot of influence on the Iraqi government and not having foreign troops in Iraq is important to Iran. All this plays on Iraqi nationalism as the Sunni minority is also against foreign troops. Most of the foreign troops already in Iraq are American and Iranian. The latter are there unofficially and some have been in combat. The Americans are there officially, mainly to help with training and to enable the air support (which the Iraqi’s very much want, along with the American intelligence resources and specialists). What the Iraqi politicians are less eager to have are foreign troops getting a close look at the corruption in the Iraqi military and report details to the outside world. The stranded Australian special operations troops are supposed to work, as advisors and such, with some of their Iraqi counterparts. The Iraqi government has become uncomfortable with this sort of thing. That’s because they would prefer to keep certain post-2011 changes out of the news. Since the Americans left in 2011 the Iraqi military has been politicized, meaning competence counted for much less than political loyalty and a willingness to tolerate corruption. This made the security forces incapable of dealing with ISIL. Iraqi politicians are still more concerned with military loyalty than effectiveness because even Shia politicians fear another military takeover. The Sunni dominated military took over in the 1950s and that did not work out well for most Iraqis. The Iraqi Shia believe a Shia military coup would not be much of an improvement.

Australia SOCOM (Special Operations Command) consists of several hundred elite SAS commandoes and about a thousand highly trained airborne troops in six commando companies (somewhat similar to the nine ranger companies in the U.S. 75th Ranger Regiment.) The parachute battalion from the army could easily be converted to another three companies of airborne commandos. In 2011 Australia’s SOCOM took control of army parachute units (actually, one parachute battalion), in recognition that it’s increasingly common for most parachute operations to be undertaken by special operations troops. Australian SOCOM personnel have been serving in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002.


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