Iran continues to be the main threat for neighboring Iraq. There are many reasons for this, some of them quite ancient. For example, Iranians are largely members of the Shia branch of Islam. Only about ten percent of Moslems are Shia. Iranians are also ethnically different then their many Arab neighbors. The Iranians, or Persians, are Indo-Europeans who migrated from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf area thousands of years ago and have been dominating or fighting the indigenous Semites (mainly Arabs) ever since. Being Shia gives the Iranians one more reason to fight their Arab neighbors. The Kurds are a smaller Indo-European group that arrived in the region and did not lose their ethnic and linguistic characteristics. When Islam showed up, most Kurds pretended to convert and that is something else that rankles their Arab neighbors. While the Iranians are a persistent threat to Arabs, the Kurds are more of a curiosity or, at worst, an annoyance.
An example of this is the efforts by Iran to gain control of Iraq, which has a large Shia Arab majority. Iran is losing influence inside Iraq. This is mainly because Iran is ruled by a Shia religious dictatorship that condones aggressive interference in neighboring countries. Iraq has long been the main recipient of this meddling. Iran seeks more economic and political influence in Iraq. This is made easier by Iraq’s internal problems, which are largely the result of rampant and persistent corruption. Historically, what is now known as Iraq was seen as the most corrupt region in the Middle East, if not the world.
According to international surveys of corruption, Iraq is no longer the most corrupt country in the world. For the last 30 years Transparency International has monitored corruption worldwide and reported their findings annually. The corruption is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The nations with the worst score are currently Syria (score of 14), South Sudan (12) and Somalia (12). The least corrupt nations are currently Denmark and New Zealand, each with a score of 88. Iraq does better than you would expect with a corruption score of 23 in 2022, up from 21 in 2020, 20 in 2019, 17 in 2017-18 and 16 in 2013.
Iraq’s reduction in corruption played a part in convincing a growing number of formerly pro-Iran Iraqis to change their minds about backing Iran. The current Iranian government has been an economic, diplomatic and military disaster for everyone in the area, not just Iranians. Few Iraqis want to emulate Iran and this now includes Iraqi members of pro-Iran militias. Initially Iran encouraged and maintained pro-Iran attitudes in Iraq by supplying Iraqi militiamen with weapons and regular cash payments. Growing economic problems inside Iran reduced the money available to pay the Iraqi militiamen enough to keep them loyal to Iran. The longer the Iraqi militiamen went unpaid, the less willing they were to serve Iranian interests. How much is left is questionable.
Iraqis were also put off by the brutality Iran used to suppress the “hijab protests'' that began nearly a year ago and only began to diminish earlier this year because so many women were simply not wearing hijabs to cover their hair. There were too many of these women for the Iranian government to arrest or otherwise punish. The Iranian government has not given up on enforcing the use of hijabs and is seeking ways to force women to comply. A proposed new law would criminalize failure of women to wear hijabs but the government is unsure what impact trying to enforce such a law would have. Most women and many men oppose the hijab restrictions and consider these laws another reason to overthrow the religious dictatorship that has misruled Iran for decades
Iraqis see this Iranian obsession over the hijab as odd and scary because this is the sort of thing Iran would try to impose on Iraqis if it could. Iraq and Iran were long known as much less fanatic about this sort of thing than, say, the Saudis. That is changing in Saudi Arabia, as it already has in Iraq and, until recently, Iran.
September 12, 2023: In Baghdad, 18 policemen were sentenced to jail terms of up to three years for failing to stop Iraqi protestors from entering the Green Zone and attacking the Swedish Embassy. This was a protest against Swedes who had earlier burned pages from the Koran, the Islamic holy book that must be respected by believers and non-believers. This often causes problems between Moslem and Western nations. The Green Zone is a guarded and relatively safe place for Iraqi politicians and embassies. It is a nuisance for most Baghdad residents. The zone did not exist twenty years ago. The zone was built by coalition forces after 2003 as a well-protected area in downtown Baghdad. The Zone was turned over to Iraqi soldiers and police a year before the last foreign troops left in 2011. Iraqi politicians and their families moved in along with some government agencies that required heavy security. Embassies remained as well. Iraq handled the security and did a good job. Before that it was handled by American troops and American security contractors. This ten square kilometer (four square mile) sanctuary in downtown Iraq was long a safe refuge for Americans and senior Iraqis. Most Baghdad residents wanted the Green Zone, and the way it disrupted major traffic patterns, eliminated after the Americans left. But rich and powerful Iraqis wanted to live in the Green Zone, as protection from criminals and terrorists, both of whom murder, kidnap, and rob the rich. The Green Zone lives on, under Iraqi management. But the Green Zone also became the target of increasingly frequent and well-attended demonstrations protesting the inept and corrupt government.
September 10, 2023: Turkey has resumed the use of armed UAVs and helicopters to attack PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) forces in northern Iraq. The PKK is a Turkish Kurd separatist group that regularly takes refuge in northern Iraq to avoid Turkish attacks. The Iraqi government, as well as the local Kurdish government protest these Turkish intrusions but do not try to stop the Turks nor do they actively resist the PKK intrusion. Iraq ignores Turkish requests that Iraq declare the PKK terrorists.
September 3, 2023: In the north (Kirkuk) Iran-backed militias fought with Kurds. Iran wants to prevent the autonomous Iraqi Kurds from gaining control of Kirkuk. There are two separate armed Kurd factions defending the Kurdish north and the factions are often rivals. This limits the Kurdish ability to halt Iranian operations in Iraq.
September 2, 2023: In the north (Kirkuk) ethnic violence between Kurds and Arabs left three Kurds dead from gunshot wounds. Kirkuk is the home of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. The largest non-Kurd group in Kirkuk are Turkmen, Turks from Turkmenistan in Central Asia not Turkey. The Turkmen are not united and are divided by politics, although most favor alliance with the Kurds. Turkmen also divided by religion with some being Sunni, Shia or Catholic. The inability of the Turkmen to unite is exploited by the Shia Arab government in Baghdad as well as Iran. Most of the non-Kurds in Kirkuk province would rather be ruled by the more efficient and less corrupt Kurdish government of the north than the Arab dominated national government.
August 28, 2023: In the north (Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish north) a French commando was killed while working with Iraqi forces against Islamic terrorists in the area. That makes three French soldiers killed in the last week. There are 600 French soldiers in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and that often includes the French soldiers accompanying the Iraqis on operations against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) forces in the area. European as well as American forces are in Iraq to provide training. This effort has, over the past two years, reduced but not eliminated the ISIL presence in the area. ISIL is active across the border in Syria as well.
August 24, 2023: In the Kurdish north, two Turkish UAVs used missiles to kill seven PKK members who were using northern Iraq as a base.
August 11, 2023: In the Kurdish north, Turkish UAVs attacked several PKK targets today and yesterday. The attacks killed 19 PKK gunmen. This was in retaliation for earlier PKK attacks that killed six Turkish soldiers.