Iraq has slipped into an unofficial civil war between pro and anti-Iran factions. Iran has used force against anti-Iran protesters, and is responsible for most of the 550 protesters killed since the protests began in October 2019. These deaths have exceeded the casualties caused by Islamic terrorists. Half the deaths have been in Baghdad and Iraqis know Iran is a big fan of shooting protesters. In the same time period over a thousand protesters in Iran were killed.
The Iraqi government is in chaos because the parliament contains a mix of pro and anti-Iran members plus a lot of members who are pro-Iran only because they are being bribed or intimidated by Iran. The parliament has called for the departure of all American troops but only the prime minister can approve that, and make it law and at the moment there is only an interim prime minister because parliament is deadlocked in selecting a new prime minister. The stalemate is influenced by Iranian pressure but the major disputes are about corruption and who gets to control the most lucrative (for thieves) ministries.
The January 3rd American UAV missile attack that killed Quds Force supreme commander Qassem Soleimani had a considerable and continuing effect on Iraqi politics. Soleimani was the Iranian most responsible for years of attacks on the Americans and the deaths of hundreds of American troops. He was also responsible for the deaths of even more Iraqis, including many Shia who opposed Iranian influence in Iraq. The missile attack that killed Soleimani also eliminated several key Iraqi militia leaders that supported Iran. Removing Soleimani encouraged anti-Iran protestors who were continuing their efforts to reduce corruption and get some more honest and effective politicians into leadership jobs.
Since Soleimani was killed Iran has been trying to use Iraqi nationalism against the American presence as a way to expand Iranian power in Iraq. So far it’s been more smoke than fire. Iraqi politicians are not eager to back anything Iran wants because months of anti-Iran protests made it clear that Iran did not have as much popular support as they thought. Much of the Iranian “support” was induced by fear of retribution by the notoriously ruthless Iran backed PMF militias. Iran sees those militias as a key ally in Iraq but is having a growing problem with militiamen losing faith in the pro-Iran cause.
Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr became another casualty of the Iranian campaign to control the Iraqi government. Sadr misinterpreted the popular reactions, which suddenly acquired a more anti-American element. This, Sadr discovered, had been created by Iran ordering its Iraqi supporter to push the anti-American line big time. There were still anti-Iran and anti-corruption protests but local and foreign media concentrated on the new anti-American angle. Sadr ordered his armed supporters to use force to suppress anti-government protestors. The reaction to that was much more anti-Sadr than he expected. Suddenly Sadr was tagged as just another opportunistic, pro-Iran Iraqi leader. Sadr had guessed and wrong and, even though he remained hostile to Iranian influence in Iraq, he was an opportunistic Iraqi politician who was willing to kill Iraqi Shia if he thought it would increase his power.
The U.S. is ignoring any Iraqi government orders to leave and making plans to move more operations to the autonomous Kurdish north just in case. The Kurds are OK with this because the Arab dominated Iraqi government wants the Kurds to be less autonomous and the Kurds oppose that because the autonomy has turned the Kurdish north into the safest and most prosperous part of the country. This angers many Iraqi Arabs. The American move was being planned before the latest crises (anti-Iran protests and more Iran-backed violence) simply because the Kurds are more reliable and effective than the Iraqi Arabs.
The Hezbollah Connection
With some Israeli assistance, by way of carefully monitoring what goes in Lebanon and with Hezbollah for decades, the Americans are now concentrating on what Hezbollah is up to in Iraq. There has long been some Hezbollah activity and influence in Iraq. Despite that, few Iraqi Shia saw the need to follow the Hezbollah example and establish a private army to intimidate the government to favor the Shia. In Lebanon, the Shia were a minority while in Iraq they are the majority and have controlled the government since the last Sunni dictatorship was eliminated, along with Saddam Hussein, in 2003. General Soleimani was the Iranian responsible for looking after pro-Iran paramilitaries throughout the region and Hezbollah was considered the crown jewel of that collection. For the last decade, Soleimani spent most of his time in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq cultivating and expanding these Iran-backed militias.
One of Soleimani’s greatest achievements was the creation of a multi-national Shia mercenary force in Syria after 2012 to protect the Assad forces from the rebels. This largely Afghan force was much reduced in size during the last few years because the rebels were defeated and Iran was having cash flow problems because of renewed American sanctions. Iranian leaders saw their favorite general (Soleimani) as the best hope for figuring out how to strike back against Americans and Israelis who, for decades, have been used by Iranian leaders as the scapegoats for any and all problems that Iran might encounter. These accusations were never true and now the majority of Iranians realize that and are angry at their corrupt and inefficient government for the deception, as well as squandering Iranian wealth for so long. Soleimani was supposed to win some spectacular victories against Israel and America and thus justify all the band behavior by Iranian religious leaders/rulers. With the loss of Soleimani, the Iranian leaderships are even more desperate and likely to do something spectacularly stupid and destructive.
The Other Problem
The main problem in Iraq is corruption, the extent of this corruption can be seen in the international surveys of nations to determine who is clean and who is corrupt.
In 2019 Afghanistan ranked 162nd out of 180 nations in international rankings compared with 168 in 2018. Corruption is measured annually in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Corruption is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually Yemen/15, Syria/13, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/9) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (Finland, New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85.
The current Iraq score is 20 (versus 16 in 2018) compared to 71 (71) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 60 (64) for Israel, 69 (75) for the United States, 26 (27) for Nigeria, 44 (43) for South Africa, 16 (16) for Afghanistan, 39 (40) for Turkey, 53 (49) for Saudi Arabia, 14 (16) for Yemen, 30 (30) for Ukraine, 45 (44) for Belarus, 58 (60) for Poland, 80 (81) Germany, 65 (61) for Taiwan, 39 (40) for Turkey, 41 (40) for India, 28 (28) for Russia, 57 (54) for South Korea, 41 (39) for China, 14 (17) for North Korea, 37 (35) for Vietnam, 85 (84) for Singapore, 73 (73) for Japan, 40 (37) for Indonesia, 38 (38) for Sri Lanka, 29 (33) for the Maldives, 34 (34) for the Philippines, 32 (32) for Pakistan, 26 (28) for Bangladesh, 26 (30) for Iran, 29 (30) for Burma, and 28 (28) for Lebanon.
Iraq’s corruption score has changed for the better since 2012 when it was 18.
February 11, 2020: It’s been eleven months since ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) declared its caliphate (c0nquered lands) was temporarily gone but ISIL was still around and members were ordered to switch to guerilla warfare. The caliphate was gone in Iraq by late 2017 but required another 16 months to destroy the Syria portion.
February 10, 2020: In the north (Mosul), police arrested a wanted ISIL commander. There are dozens of ISIL officials like this who are well known to the police in Iraq and Syria, have rewards offered for their arrest or death, and are running out of places to hide.
Further south, outside Baghdad, an Iran-backed militia took credit for a roadside bomb attack on an American supply convoy for one of the American bases. The bomb damaged one vehicle and caused no casualties.
February 8, 2020: The U.S. confirmed rumors that the U.S. and Israel had formally agreed to coordinate anti-Iran efforts. Israel is concentrating on Lebanon and Syria while the Americans concentrate on Iraq while still maintaining a presence in Kurdish controlled northeast Syria. It had always been pretty obvious that the U.S. and Israel were cooperating is blocking Iranian efforts to build a “land-bridge” from Iran to Lebanon. That required Iran to get past American efforts in Iraq and eastern Syria to block Iranian road access to Syria and Lebanon.
In Iraq, Shia religious leader Muqtada al Sadr ordered his militias to withdraw from battles with anti-Iran and protestors. For two days the Sadr militiamen had been using lethal force against the protestors. That backfired because the protestors did not back off, they just got angrier and now they were accusing Sadr of being no better than other corrupt politicians.
February 6, 2020: Iraq has so far refused American requests to bring in Patriot air defense batteries to protect American bases from additional Iranian ballistic missile attacks. Iraqi officials believe the delays are not at the request of Iran but an effort to obtain a bribe to “expedite” the paperwork. This is a lucrative source of corrupt money for government officials, even if delaying approval causes serious harm to Iraqis or the economy. This has actually happened regularly in the past. The Americans want the Patriot battery to protect key installations from Iranian ballistic missile attack.
January 31, 2020: In the north (south of Mosul), someone fired five rockets at the Qayyarah airbase, which is used by American and Iraqi forces. There were no casualties. The Americans have systems that can track where rockets came from and went looking for whoever fired them. The lost likely suspects are ISIL or an Iran-backed militia.
January 30, 2020: The plight of ISIL in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere is one reason why global Islamic terrorism-related deaths have fallen by over 50 percent since 2014 when there were 35,000 fatalities. The decline was largely attributable to one Islamic terror group in particular, ISIL that suffered major setbacks in the last few years. As a result global terrorism deaths fell to 19,000 by 2017, less than 16,000 for 2018 and the decline continued into 2019. This activity is most visible in the GTI (Global Terrorism Index), which counts all forms of terrorism. But Islamic terrorism is the main cause and for years ISIL was the deadliest practitioner. That led to a curious situation in Egypt which in 2018 dropped out of the top ten as they suppressed most of the ISIL activity in Sinai. In 2017 Egypt was number three but now it is at eleven.
The top ten consists of Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, India, Yemen, Philippines, and Congo. India, Philippines, Yemen and Congo all have Islamic terrorism accounting for a minority of the deaths. Somalia is one of the areas where there have been fewer deaths in the last few years. Al Shabaab has learned that the most profitable approach is to carry out fewer dramatic, high visibility attacks and otherwise conserve your manpower and resources. Thus the emphasis on spectacular attacks in major cities like Mogadishu or against an American military base.
January 26, 2020: In Baghdad, Iran-backed Shia militiamen again fired rockets into the Green Zone in an effort to hit the American embassy.
January 21, 2020: Russia revealed that it had moved one of its own S-400 batteries to eastern Syria’s Hasaka province. The battery is stationed outside the border city of Qamishli, which is controlled by Kurds but also has Syrian troops present to prevent an attack by the Turks. This S-400 battery is now 100 kilometers from the Iraq border and the S-400 search radar has a range of 600 kilometers, meaning it now covers most of the Iraqi border with Syria. Russia also claims that it tracked six American F-35s flying along the Iran-Iraq border on the 7th. This was when Iran fired 16 ballistic missiles at American bases in Iraq. The U.S. had no comment on the F-35s.
January 16, 2020: In the west (Anbar province), a car bomb went off on the Saudi border, killing one policeman and wounding five others. This is the first such attack on the Saudi border in two years. The bomb was believed to be the work of Iran-backed PMF militias operating in the area. Saudi Arabia wants American forces to remain in Iraq, something Iran does not agree with.
January 15, 2020: In the north (Nineveh province), Turkish F-16s bombed the base of a pro-PKK (Turkish separatist Kurds) Yazidi (Kurdish) militia, killing four people, including civilians, and wounding more,
January 14, 2020:
In Iraq, two rockets hit the Camp Taji, a joint Iraqi-American military base outside Baghdad. The rockets caused no injuries and it was believed Iran backed PMF militiamen were responsible.
January 13, 2020: In the west (the Syria border), ISIL launched two attacks on border crossings in the past two days. One attack failed the other succeeded and killed one soldier and wounded four. In both operations, all the attackers died.
January 11, 2020: In the south (Karbala), a senior Iran-backed PMF commander was shot dead, along with several associates by several unidentified gunmen. Such killings are more and more common in Iraq.
January 9, 2020: In the west (Anbar province), there was another Israeli airstrike against Iranian weapons being stored near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq from Deir Ezzor province. There were eight deaths, all of them pro-Iran militiamen.