Iraq: The Men Of The North Do As They Please


May 1, 2012: When it comes to fighting terrorism one thing the Iraqis miss is the Americans and their ability to work together. Since the Americans departed last year, Iraq has been crippled by a multiplicity of security organizations and a lack of cooperation. There are 14 separate police, intelligence, and military organizations, each with armed men, investigators, and their own prisons. Three of these organizations work directly with the prime minister, six work for the interior ministry, three for the defense ministry, one for the national security adviser, and one for the intelligence service. This sort of thing is a custom in the Middle East, to prevent any one armed group from becoming powerful enough to take control of the government. The U.S. disbanded over a dozen of the Saddam era security agencies, but as the new democratic government of Iraq was created many political, tribal, and ethnic groups wanted their own security forces. Many of these groups are hostile with each other, and the lack of cooperation helps terrorist and criminal organizations survive.

Al Qaeda makes a point of directing many of its attacks at Sunni Arabs who have joined the security forces (either as a policeman or part of an anti-terrorist militia). This has caused many Iraqi Sunni Arabs to carry out a blood feud with al Qaeda, which makes it personal, potentially very deadly, and not something you can just call off. The problem is that the current al Qaeda leadership in Iraq cannot decide what is more important: overthrowing the government or punishing Sunni Arabs who have joined the government. Meanwhile, a lot of the attacks on “legitimate targets” (Iraqi Christians, Shia, government facilities, or security forces) are carried out by non-al Qaeda Sunni Arab groups who simply want Sunni Arabs running things once more. Most of the terror attacks these days are assassination attempts (usually unsuccessful) against Shia and Sunni leaders in an attempt to intimidate these men to cooperate with a tribal, religious, or purely criminal organization. Al Qaeda is but one of many groups killing people. But al Qaeda has more name recognition and is blamed for more crimes than it actually commits.

Iraq and Kuwait have repaired their economic relations, overcoming decades of hostility caused by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Many Iraqis still believe Kuwait is Iraq's mission "19th province", but most Iraqis have come to accept an independent (and allied with the U.S.) Kuwait. Business needs are overcoming the bitterness of past misdeeds.

Despite the continued terrorist attacks in Baghdad, the government continues to remove the concrete blast walls erected all over the city from 2003 to 2007, to contain terrorist explosions. These days a lot fewer, and smaller, terrorist bombs are still going off, and most city residents want the walls gone. However it takes cranes and heavy trucks to do the work, and there is not enough of this equipment (or money to hire it) to get rid of all the remaining walls immediately. So some walls will remain for years.

The government will cut the pay of the remaining 40,000 Sunni anti-terror militiamen. Most of these guys get about $125 a month to perform security duties and not support terrorists. Four years ago there were over 80,000 men on the payroll, for about twice the pay. While there are still lots (well, at least a few thousand) Iraqi Sunni Arabs supporting terrorism, fewer and fewer choose to kill in the name of al Qaeda. The once leading terror organization has fallen on hard times. The death of founder Osama bin Laden last year accelerated the decline. Since then the al Qaeda in Iraq leadership has urged members to spend more time carrying out criminal scams because the organization was broke. Recruiting has been more and more difficult, and now there are public pleas for Sunni Arabs who joined government militias four years ago to accept an al Qaeda amnesty and return to Islamic terrorism. Not many takers for that offer, partly because al Qaeda is seen as a bunch of losers, and partly because the government still pays some pro-government Sunni Arab militiamen and the growing economy provides more jobs. Follow the money if you want to find the truth.

It's partly because of the money that Iraq unofficially supplies Iran with goods and cash in violation of the international sanctions. Iraq also continues to allow Iran to ship weapons and people into Syria via Iraq. This, however, is becoming more difficult as armed rebels in Syria are increasingly active along the Iraqi border, as well as Iraqi Sunnis who sympathize with the Sunni rebels in Syria.

The government is putting more Shia border guards on the Syrian border, and this has resulted in more clashes with armed groups (usually Sunnis supporting the Syrian rebels, who are mostly Sunni Arab) moving in either direction. Usually, the armed men will retreat when border guards are encountered, and the guards will not pursue, especially if the infiltrators retreat back into Syria.

April 30, 2012: The government announced a trial (to begin on May 3rd) for some of the bodyguards of Sunni Arab vice president Tariq al Hashimi, and the missing Hashimi himself, for the murder of six judges. Last December Hashimi was accused of running a death squad and other terrorist activities. While Hashimi fled the country, 73 of his employees and followers were arrested and many confessed that their group committed 150 assassinations and bomb attacks over the last three years.

April 25, 2012: The Kurds in the north are now threatening to declare independence if the Arab dominated Iraqi government does not agree to some form of autonomy by September. Such an agreement means Arabs losing legal authority over Iraqi Kurds in the north. The Arabs don't want that, but the Kurds will settle for nothing less and are heavily armed and prepared to fight. Although more numerous, the Arab dominated security forces are not as effective, man-for-man, as the Kurds. To make matters worse, the northern Kurds have been negotiating with Turkey, to come to an understanding of what kind of Kurdish state the Turks would tolerate in northern Iraq. It would have to be a state that would not allow Kurdish separatists from Iran, Turkey, or Syria to operate freely. If the Iraqi Kurds get the backing of the Turks, the Iraqi government will not be able to prevent the Kurds from going independent.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close