March 29, 2019:
President Hassan Rohani of Iran came to Iraq on the March 11th for an official visit and left many Iraqis wondering if Rohani went home believing Iraqis were feeling comfortable with their eastern neighbor. Iran seems to think Iraq has become an extension of Iran. Yet a growing number of Iraqis are openly demanding that Iran back off. Senior Iraqi Shia clerics told Rohani that Iraqis would not tolerate Iranian pressure or respond well to Iranian pressure.
Actually, it gets worse than that because Iraq, which Iran hoped to annex or at least turn into a compliant client state, is not cooperating. In part, because Arab Shia have always disliked the Iranian (Indo-European) Shia and vice versa. Iraqi Shia get regular reports of how badly Iran still (after thousands of years) treats its Arab minority. So while the Shia dominated government of Iraq pretends to be friendly and grateful towards Iran it is becoming obvious to Iran that this is all for show and not real. Opinion polls in Iraq make it clear that most Iraqis are hostile to Iran and Iranian intentions. These suspicious attitudes are on the rise. This does not mean the Iraqis are above making some cash in somewhat questionable transactions. But becoming an appendage of Iran is not going to happen no matter how much the Iranians threaten, cajole and scheme.
The Iran backed PMF militias are also having trust issues. A growing number of PMF members are losing belief in the superiority of the Iranian Shia religious dictatorship. Over a year of increasing popular protests against the Iranian government has not gone unnoticed. Iran has ordered that the Iraqi PMF units purge their ranks of members who appear to have lost their willingness to do whatever they are ordered to do (like trying to overthrow the Iraqi government or attack Iraqi or foreign troops). This includes attacks on PMF units that were never (or no longer) controlled by Iranian advisors or reliable Iraqi Shia Arabs.
Iraqis are particularly angry at pro-Iran PMF leaders who keep talking about attacking American troops as part of a campaign to get the 5,200 American troops out of Iraq. Most Iraqis understand that without the presence of those Americans Iraqi would be even more threatened by most of their neighbors (Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia). Even many Iraqis who are not particularly pro-American recognize this use of American troops as a “protection force.” The Americans aren’t there to fight Iraqis, but to keep the neighbors from making life difficult for an independent Iraq.
One Of Us
No one is sure how many ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members have fled to Iraq during the last six months as ISIL controlled territory in eastern Syria shrank to nothing after a small town near the border was recently cleared of any ISIL control. Kurdish SDF rebels did most of the fighting against ISIL in Syria and Iraqi Kurds played a major role containing and defeating ISIL in Iraq. While the “Islamic State” no longer exists as a geographic entity, there are still thousands of ISIL members in Iraq and Syria, many of them with Iraqi roots. That explains why so many of the surviving ISIL members in Syria seek to return to their home areas in Iraq. Over a thousand ISIL members have made it across the border since late 2018 and more are expected. This information was obtained from those who were killed or captured during the crossing. That intel indicates that these ISIL survivors included a lot of senior personnel and apparently a large quantity of cash and other valuables (gold and other portable high-value loot). There have been more ISIL attacks on civilians in Anbar province and between Anbar and Mosul. There have been more energetic security efforts by local militias to defend their towns and villages, especially with ISIL using more suicide bomber attacks in addition to the kidnappings and assassinations.
Iraqi ISIL men returning to Iraq means more of the ISIL members in Iraq are not revealed as foreigners just by the way they speak or act. Moreover, Iraqi ISIL members know they still have supporters in any Sunni area because the Shia dominated Iraqi government tends to placate Iran by treating Iraqi Sunni Arabs badly. Anything less is considered “supporting the enemy” by the Iranians. Yet that is what the Iraqi government openly does when it cooperates with Sunni Arab neighbors. Iraqi Arabs in general know that in the end this is all about the ancient struggle between Arabs and Persians (Iranians). Arab culture recognizes the Iranians as an ancient threat that uses all manner of tricks, threats and treachery against Arabs.
Another ancient tradition is religious intolerance. Islam, alone among the major world religions, has scripture (the Koran) that provides plenty of encouragement to kill non-Moslems, or Moslems that try to convert to another religion or engage in heretical behavior. For over a thousand years this has caused periodic outbreaks of Islamic terrorism by fanatical “defenders of Islam”. Until the late 20th century, when global mass media became common in Moslem countries, most of the world could ignore these local outbreaks of religious terror. The victims of Islamic terrorism are still overwhelmingly (more than 90 percent) Moslems but what was formerly “local news” is now shared internationally. Because of the global media the world can share an ancient problem formerly found only in Moslem majority areas. Moslem nations tend to be very hostile towards accepting Moslem refugees from this religious violence. Western nations are more welcoming until they find out why Moslem refugees are unwelcome in other Moslem nations where they are rarely absorbed and treated with hostility and demands that they return to their homeland as soon as possible. That’s why ISIL cannot establish a separate state but can survive as an organization of murderous religious bigots.
In western Iraq, the local militias are also part of an effort to defend Sunni Arabs from Iran backed PMF (Peoples Mobilization Forces) who serve as security forces in most of the Sunni Arab parts of Iraq that the PMF helped free of ISIL control. The United States is demanding that the Iraqi government disband or discipline armed pro-Iran groups in Iraq (especially if they are PMF) that use violence against Iraqi civilians and threaten to do the same to foreign troops. The NATO forces, particularly the Americans, can defend themselves from PMF violence but the Sunni Arab civilians being policed by PMF militias have less attractive options. The best way these civilians can fight back is to form armed militias and tolerate continued ISIL recruiting and operations in their neighborhoods if those ISIL groups leave civilians alone. The new ISIL arrivals from Syria are inclined to terrorize local civilians into cooperating with ISIL rather than take the time to cultivate local Sunni Arabs. These impatient and unruly ISIL returnees tend to attract the attention of the police and army commando units that specialize in hunting down and capturing or killing terrorists of all kinds. The Americans are still available to share intel on local and regional ISIL activity. So the undisciplined ISIL survivors tend to disappear quickly. The more patient and prudent ISIL survivors will be around for a while because while ISIL as an organization is generally disliked by most Moslems, individual ISIL members are often admired for their boldness and decisiveness in “defending Islam,” especially if it involves killing non-Moslems or anyone seen by the local civilians as “foreigners.” That definitely includes Iranians, despite the shared Shia religion.
This is why ISIL continues to operate in Anbar, Mosul and Kirkuk even though the local Sunni Arab tribes led the fight against ISIL in Anbar and Kirkuk was free of ISIL problems when the Kurds ran local security. That ended in late 2017 when the government used PMF as well as regular troops to drive the Kurds out of Kirkuk province and replace them with pro-Iran PMF. The Kurds are still better at keeping ISIL out of Kurdish controlled areas. That means ISIL concentrates more effort on terrorizing areas where there is no Kurdish security in charge.
March 26, 2019: In the northeast ( Diyala province), a soldier was shot and killed by an ISIL sniper. This sort of thing is increasingly common in Diyala province, as are other forms of ISIL violence. ISIL counts on kidnapping and extortion activities (which sometimes involved non-lethal violence). These “operations” are important because they raise money and keep locals in line. This increase in activity shows how effectively ISIL has established base areas to operate from. Most of the bases are in the Hemrin Mountains, which extend from Diyala province through northern Salahuddin province and into southern Kirkuk province. ISIL terrorism is often very selective with little or none of it falling on known “friends of ISIL.”
March 25, 2019: Iran and Syria have made it official; Iran will assist the Assad government in regaining control of all of Syria and will back efforts to reopen all border crossings with Iraq.
March 24, 2019: In the north (Sinjar, in Nineveh Province ), three ISIL men crossed the Syrian border and were spotted as they tried to move deeper into Iraq. The three were soon surrounded by local militia in an abandoned building. Then security forces showed up and the three ISIL men decided it was hopeless and killed themselves by detonating explosives they had with them.
The leaders of Iraq, Jordan and Egypt met in Egypt to discuss military, diplomatic and economic cooperation. The military cooperation was mainly about the continuing battle against ISIL.
Britain reported that its warplanes had killed 4,000 Islamic terrorists in Syria and Iraq since 2014. While most (75 percent) of the dead were in Iraq (where British warplanes are based) most of the British airstrikes have shifted to Syria during the past year. Britain is one of the more active members of the American led air coalition that has been operating against ISIL since 2014. Britain is also the only coalition member that has some of the same specialized aircraft (electronic intelligence type manned aircraft and Predator UAVs) as the United States. These non-combat aircraft are heavily used because most air coalition activity is about surveillance and reconnaissance.
March 23, 2019: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province), the Kurdish led SDF declared that they had eliminated the last visible remnants of ISIL that had been driven out of the town of Baghuz (near the Iraq border) on the 19th. Apparently, this announcement was convincing and spread quickly because within 24 hours many ISIL fighters were emerging from hiding places (like tunnels not yet discovered) and surrendering. Others walked in from seemingly uninhabited areas around Baghuz and surrendered to SDF personnel.
March 22, 2019: In the north (Sinjar, in Nineveh Province, 120 kilometers west of Mosul), the army began moving at least one infantry brigade into the area. This is in response to a clash, at a road checkpoint, between soldiers and Yazidi PKK militiamen on the 17th that left two soldiers and two Yazidi gunmen dead. The Turks are demanding that Iraq force PKK forces from Sinjar along with their Iraqi Yazidi allies. The PKK move to Sinjar began in early 2018 when a large (over a thousand armed men) force of pro-PKK Yazidis (who are generally considered Kurds) sought to establish a PKK base near Sinjar. This is a largely Yazidi area that became the scene of a major battle between ISIL and Kurdish forces who came from Kurdish controlled Dohuk province to assist the Yazidis. The October 2017 Iraqi offensive against the Kurdish occupied areas outside the autonomous north pushed Kurdish forces back to Dohuk but local Yazidi forces remained and these contained many PKK supporters. Turkey considers all the Yazidis pro-PKK, something the Iraqi government and Iraqi Kurds disagree with. In response to the Turkish advances Iraq sent an army brigade to Sinjar and the PKK announced it was leaving Sinjar. The Turks were not convinced and insisted that Iraq ensure there are no PKK bases in the north. Iraqi troops are demanding that the PKK forces in Sinjar either leave the country or surrender.
March 21, 2019: In the north, a Turkish airstrike on the Iraqi side of the border killed three PKK members and wounded a senior leader.
March 18, 2019: India revealed that they had quietly sent 45 police commandoes to Baghdad to reinforce the security around the Indian embassy there.
March 17, 2019: In the autonomous Kurdish north (Sulaymaniyah Province), a group of armed smugglers trying to sneak into Iran (Kermanshah province) were detected right after they crossed the border and confronted by border guards. There was a gun battle that left one Iranian soldier dead. The Iraqis fled back into Iraq.
In the north (Sinjar, in Nineveh Province), Kurdish PKK separatists were halted at an army checkpoint and a gun battle broke out. Two soldiers were killed and five wounded as the PKK men drove their vehicle through the checkpoint.
March 16, 2019: In the north near the Turkish border, Turkish troops inside Iraq clashed with some PKK gunmen. Two Turks were killed and eight wounded while the PKK lost six dead and some wounded as most of the PKK force got away.
March 12, 2019: In the north (Kirkuk province), an American airstrike killed two ISIL men.
Iran and Iraq have agreed to reestablish railroad connections and revive the 1975 treaty that settled long-standing disputes over joint use of a waterway that served as part of the Iran-Iraq border.
March 8, 2019: In the north (Mosul), a car bomb went off killing a soldier and a civilian (and wounding a dozen more bystanders). ISIL was suspected as they have claimed responsibility for several other recent attacks.
March 5, 2019: In the west (Anbar province), a Western warplane destroyed a vehicle on a desert road, killing eight ISIL members.
February 28, 2019: In the north (Mosul, in Nineveh Province), ISIL carried out two attacks with bombs leaving one dead and 17 wounded.
February 27, 2019: In the northeast ( Diyala province), ISIL fired several mortar shells at a village, killing two civilians and wounding four. This was apparently part of an intimidation effort.
February 26, 2019: In the west (Anbar province), a roadside bomb near the city of Fallujah killed four civilians and wounded several others.