Iraq: Holding Off The Holocaust

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June 18, 2013: Iraqis are frustrated with their inability to end the centuries old violence between Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, and Kurds (who are mainly Sunnis, but that doesn’t matter). Until 1918, when Turkish rule ended, the Sunni minority was supreme because the Turks were Sunni. Any Shia or Kurdish resistance was quickly and brutally suppressed. When the British took over from the Turks after 1918, they used the existing Sunni Arab dominated bureaucracy to run things. The current government, dominated by Shia politicians, is accused of trying to establish a Shia dictatorship that would be no better than the Sunni dictatorship established in the 1950s, when Sunni soldiers murdered the royal family and shut down the parliament of the constitutional monarchy that had existed from 1932-58. The constitutional monarchy was an imperfect democracy, but in hindsight it was better than the decades of Sunni Arab corruption and violence that followed. The British established monarchies in Jordan as well, and that worked out despite the fractious minorities there. But in Iraq the Sunni radicals were not satisfied with compromise, and that has led to decades of violence. There is no end in sight, even though the current Shia government, and the Shia majority it represents, is capable to destroying the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq. That is where this is headed, and neighboring Sunni nations (especially Saudi Arabia) are not (as the Iraqi Sunnis hope) going to invade to prevent the destruction of the Sunni Arab minority. Some Sunni Arab politicians recognize this danger, but they do not have enough support among the Sunni Arab population to turn off the Sunni Arab terrorism (which is the only thing that will stop the coming backlash).

One bright spot in Iraq is the economy, which continues to grow despite the Sunni terrorism and Shia corruption (which diverts much of the money into private bank accounts). This is all driven by growing oil production, which is the source of 95 percent of the government budget (and a growing number of family fortunes among the Shia bureaucracy). Oil production is currently at 3.5 million barrels a day and headed for 4.5 million next year. A year ago Iraqi production passed three million barrels of oil a day. This was notable because it was more than neighboring Iran was producing and more than Saddam Hussein had ever achieved for over two decades of trying. Iraqi oil production had been stuck at 2.5 million barrels a day since the 1980s (production had peaked in the late 1970s at four million barrels a day and then declined because of the Iran-Iraq war and general mismanagement). Iraq has 9 percent of the world's oil reserves, but decades of war and mismanagement had prevented necessary maintenance and construction in the oil fields. For the last few years the oil regions have been safe for foreign oil production companies to bring in their experts, and cash, to get the job done, so Iraqi production has been steadily increasing. The goal is ten million barrels a day by the end of the decade. The Kurds plan to start exporting 80,000 barrels a day, largely with the help of Turkish investors. The remaining problem is how to deal with the corruption that has diverted so much oil income into the pockets of thieving politicians and government officials. In Iraq, corruption is like the weather, everyone talks about it but not enough people do anything about it.

The head of ISI (Islamic State in Iraq) has defied orders from the supreme leader of al Qaeda (bin Laden successor Ayman al Zawahiri) to stop poaching members from the Syrian Jabhat al Nusra (JN). Earlier this month Zawahiri declared the April merger of the new (since January) Syrian JN with the decade old ISI as unacceptable and ordered the two groups to remain separate. The reason for this was that the merger was announced by ISI without the prior agreement of the JN leadership. The merger formed a third group: Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). That was the problem, as many JN members then left their JN faction to join nearby ones being formed by ISIL. Most JN leaders saw this as a power grab by ISI and most of the JN men who left to join ISIL were non-Syrians. Many of these men had worked with ISI before and thought they were joining a more powerful group. But ISIL was apparently just an attempt by ISI (which is having a real hard time in Iraq) to grab some glory, recruits, cash, and power by poaching JN members. JN appealed to Zawahiri for help and got it. But as has often happened in the past, orders from al Qaeda supreme headquarters are being ignored. That’s not the first time al Qaeda has been called on to slap down misbehaving Iraqi Islamic terror groups and won’t be the last. In the past al Qaeda leadership escalated and quietly ordered the assassination of the rebellious Iraqi al Qaeda leaders. In any event, the Iraqi branch (ISI) is now technically at war with the Syrian branch (JN). This will not end well for al Qaeda which, in the grand scheme of things, is not an entirely bad outcome.

In northern Iraq the autonomous Kurds are demanding more autonomy (but short of declaring themselves a separate state, which would enrage Turkey) and turning into a dictatorship run by the Barzani family. The Iraqi Kurds had long been divided into warring clans, the two largest of them led by the Barzani and Talibani families. Since the 1990s, the Barzanis have emerged as the most powerful clan and they are behaving more like a dictatorship (corruption, suppression of dissent, and rigged elections). Popular anger against this among Kurds is increasing. Despite that, Kurds living outside the autonomous area continue to move back to the Kurdish region. Even the Iraqi Army, which was rebuilt after 2003, with a core of experienced, loyal, and reliable Kurdish troops is losing many of its Kurds. It’s mainly a matter of not wanting to get caught up in the war between Shia and Sunni Arabs.

The Sunni Arab terrorists are now launching their attacks in waves, with multiple attacks (sometimes a dozen or more) carried out the same day and often in the same (usually Shia) part of the country. This makes sense as it is cheaper to bribe or intimidate security personnel and move suicide bombers and their bomb equipped cars and trucks all at once.

Some Syrian border crossings remain under Syrian government control. These crossings are manned by troops who are cut off in a largely Sunni Arab controlled eastern Syria. These border posts take fire from Sunni rebels on the Syrian side and Iraqi Sunni terrorists on the Iraqi side. The Shia dominated Iraqi government supports the current Syrian (Assad clan) government, mainly because the Assads have been paid allies of Iran since the 1980s. The Assads lead a Shia minority in Syria. The Iraqi government helps supply the few remaining Syrian government forces in eastern Syria and also allows convoys of Iranian military aid to pass through Iraq and into Syria. The Syrian rebels thus accuse the Iraqi government of supporting an “Iranian invasion of Syria,” a catchphrase that enflames Sunnis throughout the region. At the same time, attacks on Shia shrines in Syria and Iraq has led to thousands of Iraqi Shia volunteering to fight for the Assad government of Syria. These Iraqi volunteers fly to Damascus, where they are allowed to join pro-government militias. Meanwhile, a growing number of Syrian Sunni refugees in Iraq (where over 125,000 ended up in the last year as Sunni rebels fought to take control of most of eastern Syria) are returning home. Eastern Syria was always mostly Sunni and that helped drive out Shia controlled government forces.

June 1, 2013: The government announced shutting down an al Qaeda cell that was trying to produce nerve gas and mustard gas at two improvised labs in Baghdad. Five al Qaeda members were arrested, thus aborting the plan to use the poison gas against Shia pilgrims in Iraq.

The UN estimated that about a thousand people were killed by terrorist violence in Iraq last month. This is the highest monthly total since the height of the Sunni terrorist activity in 2006-7 (when up to 3,000 a month were killed). Back then the Sunnis were defeated when Shia death squads began to go after Sunni civilians the same way the Sunnis had been killing Shia women and children. That is starting to happen again, despite government attempts to prevent it. The government feels that they may not be able to stop the Shia death squads this time around if they start killing like they did in 2007.

 

 


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