Iraq: The Thieves Game


September 3,2008:  Last month, 830 Iraqi civilians were killed or wounded by terrorist activity. That's an 80 percent reduction from last year. But there are still thousands of Iraqis who are at war with their countrymen, and are willing to kill for the cause (which could be anything from the return of Saddam's Baath Party to power, to the establishment of a Sunni or Shia religious dictatorship.) That murderous mentality is not unique to this time or place, it is endemic. For centuries, the Turks kept order, mostly with the real threat of violent retribution against any group that misbehaved. The Turks allowed local legal systems to operate, but what is now Iraq was an area where tribal councils and religious courts provided what passed for a justice system. When the Turks departed after 1918, many disputes, long suppressed, were now played out with great violence. That is still going on, and it will be 5-10 more years before Iraq has a judicial system that can even hope to deal with these disputes.

September 2, 2008: The provincial elections that were supposed to take place next month, have been cancelled, and rescheduled for sometime next Summer. Not a good sign. The current elected officials are stealing all they can get away with, and many Iraqis know it, and are eager to vote the thieves out of office. This is particularly true at the provincial level, where the theft is more up close and personal.

September 1, 2008: Iraqi security forces took over responsibility for Anbar Province. The Iraqis are now responsible for security in 11 of the nations 18 provinces. Anbar is basically western Iraq, and is mostly desert. It has long been occupied, rather sparsely, by Sunni Arab tribes. These were an independent minded people, and even Saddam used more carrot than stick when dealing with them. Thus when Saddam was overthrown, the Anbar tribes sheltered Islamic terrorists for several years, but have now seen the error of their ways.

August 30, 2008: Although hundreds of Shia Arabs openly pledged to continue fighting Americans, most Mahdi Army fighters appear to be putting their weapons away and giving up armed confrontations and other actions that could lead to fighting. The basic problem the Mahdi Army faces is that the towns and neighborhoods they pledged to protect from Sunni Arab terrorists are now patrolled by Shia Arab soldiers and police. American troops are rarely seen, and most Shia Iraqis like the way things have developed. If the Mahdi Army continued its armed confrontations, it would lose even more support. So Sadr saw that it was either disarm or become irrelevant.

August 29, 2008: Relations with Kuwait continue to be tense. Not because Iraq still insists that Kuwait is the wayward 19th province, but because Kuwait has unleashed lawyers to force payment of reparations for damage done by Iraqi troops during the 1990 invasion. Iraq doesn't want to pay, even though Saddam, on behalf of the government, agreed to. So Kuwait has lawyers enforcing that agreement by getting foreign courts to turn over to Kuwait goods that Iraq has bought, but have not yet shipped. This has resulted in court orders in Britain and Canada, giving Kuwait ownership of over a billion dollars worth of Iraqi commercial aircraft and other goods. The Kuwaitis know they can be as mean as they want to be, because the Iraqis aren't strong enough to threaten any military action, and Kuwait is protected by a permanent U.S. troop presence (mainly support units for Iraq operations, and a logistics unit maintaining equipment that might be needed for any future war in the region.) Inside Kuwait, the American presence is popular, as are the legal efforts to collect the reparations from Iraq.

August 28, 2008: Speaking from exile in Iran, Shia leader Moqtada al Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militia to halt all combat operations, and to shift to non-violent protests. Government soldiers and police had, earlier this year, defeated and scattered Mahdi Army units, so Sadr's order was a recognition of a new reality.  Sadr is completing his religious studies in Iran, and avoiding assassination by any followers unhappy with his lack of aggressiveness.

August 27, 2008: So far this year, the U.S. has released 11,000 of the Iraqis it had picked up as terrorism suspects. Over the years, the U.S. developed interrogation and screening procedures that enables them to release people safely (only about one percent are picked up again as a terrorist suspect.)

August 26, 2008: In the north, a suicide bomb hit a police recruiting center, killing 28 and wounding 45. The terrorists are making their last stand in Diyala province and around Mosul. Preventing the police from establishing control is essential if the terrorists are to survive up there. As has long been the case, the terrorists only survive if they can terrorize the police into inactivity. The Iraqis are still short of experienced, competent and reliable police commanders. And not many with all those qualities are willing to risk their lives establishing an effective police presence in the north.

August 25, 2008: The government ordered a brigade of 2,000 Kurdish troops out of Diyala province. Some 90 percent of the population there is Sunni Moslem, but the largest minority, about 7 percent, are Kurds. The Kurds do not trust the Shia government of the province, and the largely Shia security forces, to adequately protect the Kurds there. But the Kurds followed orders, and later complained to journalists about it.


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