Iraq declared ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) defeated at the end of 2017 and yet by the end of 2018 it was obvious that the Islamic terror group continued to maintain a very visible presence in northern Iraq. This is the area where Sunni Arab supremacy was always popular. Sunni Arabs were always a minority in Iraq and managed to maintain power by producing generation after generation of ruthless enforcers of minority Sunni Arab rule. This has been going on since 1638 when the Sunni Ottoman Turks drove Shia Iran out of the area and maintained control until 1918 (when the Ottoman Empire was dissolved after World War I). The British took over and left the Sunni Arabs in charge. By the 1930s the British were gone and a constitutional monarchy was left behind. The Sunni Arabs were still a minority but they dominated army and government leadership as well as the economy. The Royal family were Sunni Arabs. A military coup in the 1950s eliminated the monarchy and any parliamentary power, replacing it with a Sunni Arab police state. An American and British invasion in 2003 replaced the Sunni Arab dictatorship with a democracy which put the Shia Arab majority in power. For the first time in nearly 500 years, the Shia were back in charge and many Sunni Arabs have never accepted that. While the Arab oil states (especially Saudi Arabia) officially tolerated the American move, many people living in the Arab oil states supported the defeated Iraqi Sunni Arabs as well as Islamic terrorism. Sixteen years later this is still a problem. Arab oil states tolerated their citizens going to Iraq (and later Syria) to join Islamic terror groups. At least that got rid of the most radical Moslems in those Arab oil states but even more troublesome was wealthy Sunni Arabs in those oil states continuing to donate money to Islamic terror groups (or Moslem charities that passed on a lot of their money to Islamic terrorists). The flow of new recruits and cash from Arab oil states to Sunni Arab Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Syria continues.
The Arab oil states are willing to establish “normal” (non-threatening) relations with Shia Arab-run Iraq, but only if Iraq takes a more aggressive stand against Iranian efforts to extend its influence in Iraq and Syria. For Iraqi Shia politicians that is difficult to do because a large minority (20 percent or more) of Iraqi Shia Arabs see Iran as a protector against Sunni Arab aggression. Note that there are Sunni Moslems who are considered non-threatening, or much less threatening. All non-Arab Sunni Moslems are more tolerable than Arab Sunni Moslems. This is largely because many Arab Moslems consider Arabs more authentic Moslems because Islam was founded by Arabs, the Moslem scriptures were written in Arabic and, well, you get the idea. Non-Arab Moslems find this attitude annoying and sometimes it is much more than that. This is because the most violent Islamic terror groups, especially ISIL, were founded and largely composed of violent, intolerant Sunni Arabs. The most active of these belligerent bigots are found in Iraq, where ISIL still has a lot of support. The remaining ISIL forces in Iraq have proven very difficult to eliminate. The Kurds in the north, who are Sunni but not Arab, have kept ISIL out of areas the Kurds control by strictly limiting the entry of any Arabs to the autonomous Kurd provinces. The Shia Arabs don’t like this attitude but they respect and take advantage of it. The autonomous Kurdish provinces have, since 2003, become a popular place for Iraqi Arabs (Sunni or Shia) to vacation, if they can get past Kurd border control.
Just south of the autonomous Kurdish provinces are provinces with a lot of Sunni Arabs (and many other minorities). Not only have the Iraqi Shia Arab security forces been unable to suppress Islamic terrorist activity, even the Iran backed PMF militias have failed. Not just failed but proved unable to halt the ISIL rebuilding efforts. In early 2018 nearly half of ISIL activity was in Iraq (and a few provinces at that) while nearly a third was in Syria (mainly in the east). At the end of 2018 ISIL was being crushed in Syria but was surviving in Iraq. In part, this is because ISIL has succeeded in going guerilla in Iraq by early 2018.
Since early 2018 nearly all the ISIL attacks reported in Iraq could be classified as terrorism. This reflects a known trend that began
in early 2018 as ISIL concentrated on maintaining a presence in the area north of Baghdad (Kirkuk, Diyala, and Salahuddin provinces). During 2018 ISIL carried out about 130 attacks a month and these attacks rarely involved bombings in populated areas (to kill civilians). There were also more ISIL operations involving threats of violence to intimidate civilians or local security forces. There was less use of bombings because ISIL has fewer bomb builders and suicide bombers (as well as the people who recruit, train and supervise suicide bombers carrying out their attack). Bombs were mainly used against security forces. The guerilla tactics can be seen by the growing number of attacks, especial along the main roads north from Baghdad to Kirkuk and the border with the Kurdish controlled north. Attacks involving kidnapping and murder (mainly to terrorize the population into not interfering with or reporting on ISIL activity) are more frequent. The number of these attacks went from seven in March 2018 to over 200 a month by the end of 2018. Most of these attacks did not involve violence but all involved threats. ISIL was counting kidnapping and extortion activities (which sometimes involved non-lethal violence). These “operations” were important because they raised 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. In early 2018 it was believed that there were 500-1,000 armed ISIL members operating in the Hemrins and about the same in desert areas near the Syrian border from west of Mosul south to include Anbar province. Those numbers more than doubled by the end of 2018 and continue to grow in 2019. ISIL has also managed to reestablish itself in Mosul and that can be seen by the continued arrests of known ISIL members in Mosul and surrounding areas. West of Mosul (to the Syrian border) support for ISIL is particularly strong.
The point of all this is that ISIL is defeated but not destroyed. The main reason for that is the nature of ISIL which, alone of all major religions, demands extreme measures for those who try to leave Islam (death), Moslems or non-Moslems who criticize Islam (death) and trying to convert a Moslem to another faith (death). The list is very long and Islamic scripture also preaches justice and honesty but it also justifies being violent when “defending Islam” against real or imagined threats. All this is a problem that many prominent Moslems are now openly recognizing and seeking a solution for. That in itself is a brave and unusual act. Yet, it is deemed necessary because many of the worst aspects of Islamic not only encourage terrorism but also limit academic, economic and social progress.
Meanwhile, Islamic terrorism continues to mainly kill other Moslems. While Islamic terror groups preach the importance of killing non-Moslems it is also noticed that nations that are mainly non-Moslem tend to be better run, wealthier and more capable of halting of limiting Islamic terror activity. In many Moslem nations, like Iraq, a large minority of the population continues to support Islamic terrorism as a cure for all problems real or imagined. So the Islamic terrorists tend to go where they are least unwelcome.
A growing number of Iraqi Arabs recognize these destructive aspects of Arab Moslem culture and are willing to try and deal with it. That is still difficult in Iraq, where religious disagreements often lead to murder, all in the name of God. This shift in attitudes expresses itself in most Iraqis opposing Iranian efforts to turn Iraq into an Iranian puppet state that will serve as a front line in the Iranian effort to dominate all of Arabia. To that end most Iraqis want the 5,000 American and 2,000 other foreign troops to stay. Not just for help (which is considerable) in dealing with Islamic terrorism but in keeping the Iranians out.
April 21, 2019: In the north (the Hemrin Mountains of Diala province), Iraqi commandos tracked down and killed a local ISIL leader. The commandos and other special operations forces are the most effective personnel the government has to use against ISIL. The problem is there are not enough of these elite troops and one reason for keeping the Americans around is that U.S. SOCOM trainers and advisors are a big help in training more Iraqi commandos and keeping the current ones effective.
April 20, 2019: In Baghdad, Iraqi officials hosted a one day conference on regional security attended by senior politicians from Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait, Syria and Jordan. This was a rare event in that it got Iranian officials meeting with Arab officials.
April 19, 2019: In the south (Basra), foreign oil companies complain that they have been forced to pay protection money (bribes) to local PMF militias in order to continue operating. Complaints about this to the government have, so far, been ignored. Apparently, local officials are being paid off by the militias to not interfere.
April 17, 2019: The Iraqi prime minister made his first visit to Saudi Arabia to discuss diplomatic and economic issues. This comes two weeks after Saudi Arabia reopened its consulate in Baghdad for the first time since the 1990s Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The visit today included the Saudis announcing a billion dollar aid efforts for Iraq and the signing of 13 diplomatic and economic agreements. Iran opposed Iraqi getting close of Saudi Arabia but before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait there were decades of good relations with the Gulf Arab states. Iraq and the Arab Gulf states want to return to the good old days, but without the Sunni police state in Iraq.
Iraqi border police arrested an Iranian cleric at a border crossing and accused the cleric of being part of a criminal gang that smuggled drugs into Iraq. Iran protested this but most Iranians know that many of their clerics are corrupt and are often protected by the senior Shia clerics to operate the religious dictatorship in Iran.
April 16, 2019: For the first time Iraqi FD-16Q flew combat missions in cooperation with coalition aircraft. The Iraqi F-16Qs provided top cover for American warplanes that hit targets along the Syrian border. This top cover is to deal with any Syrian Air Force efforts to interfere. The Syrians have threatened such retaliation but have, so far, not acted.
April 15, 2019: Some PMF militias sent men to help with disastrous flooding in northern Iran and that generated quite a backlash in Iraq. Massive flooding has done enormous damage in northern Iran and has left 79 dead and caused over two billion dollars in damage so far. Yet few foreign nations are sending much, if any, aid. Back in 2000 and 2003, when even more devastating (especially in terms of injuries) earthquakes hit Iran the outpouring of international aid was huge. It included the United States which not only sent material but also medical and rescue personnel who operated field hospitals and search and rescue operations. In 2019 Iranians have noted the lack of international disaster relief and the inability of the government to provide much help either. This is blamed (by Irate Iranians) on the continuing government emphasis on large scale support for overseas military and terror operations. That results in a lack of money for essential projects in Iran, including such basic items like salaries for employees of companies owned by corrupt government officials or the IRGC
(Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps)
. Since 2005 or so the Iranian government has become more hostile, deliberately unleashing the IRGC and Quds force in more areas with orders to create more mayhem. Actions have consequences. Yet some nations did send aid, but not much of it and some of the aid was controversial. In Iraq Shia political and religious leaders are openly criticizing pro-Iran PMF militias going to Iran when the same heavy rains have caused flooding in northern Iraq and assistance is needed there as well. The Iraqi Shia leaders insisted that Iraq came first. The PMF militias are now part of the Iraqi armed forces and are paid for that. Iran backed PMF militias are unpopular in Iraq because they tend to do what they want and disobey orders from Iraqi military leaders who, in theory, oversee PMF militias.
The Iranian government needs all the help it can get with the flood relief because so far the government has not done a lot for the victims of the floods and people in the flooded areas are angry at the government for that. Lebanese Hezbollah militiamen also showed up in Iran to help with the floods, which makes sense since Iran helped create Hezbollah in the 1980s and has provided the group with billions of dollars in aid since then. Saudi Arabia and the UAE 95 tons of food and other emergency supplies to help with the flood relief effort. Turkey is sending five truckloads of supplies.
April 14, 2019: In the northwest (Mosul), police clashed (verbally) with Iran-backed PMF militiamen who tried to enter a neighborhood where police were dealing with a protest by locals against bad behavior by some Iran backed PMF militiamen.
April 12, 2019: In the east, on the Iranian side of the border riot police and IRGC personnel were deployed in Khuzestan province to deal with more public protests against how the flood damage was handled (or ignored). Since 2003 the Iranian Arabs in Khuzestan have been increasingly vocal, and often violent, about the harsh and increasingly corrupt rule of the Iranian Shia. Iran is acutely aware of how unruly its own Arab minority (a few percent of the population) can be. Most Iranian oil is pumped from the ancestral lands of these Arabs, who are bitter about how they receive little from all that oil income. The three million Arabs in Khuzestan province (formerly Arabistan) are Shia and have been ruled by non-Arab Iranians for centuries. Arab unrest here has grown since 2003 when the Sunni dictatorship was overthrown in Iraq and the Shia majority won elections to take power. Iranian Arabs noted that the Iraqi Shia were now getting most of the Iraqi oil income, unlike just across the border in Khuzestan. Since 2003 hundreds of Iranian Arabs have been arrested for separatist activities. Many are still in prison and over 30 have been executed.
April 11, 2019: In the north (the Hemrin Mountains of Diala province), Iraqi commandos tracked down and destroyed an ISIL media center and several other Islamic terrorist camps.
April 8, 2019: The United States designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization. This includes the Quds Force which supports many illegal, and some legal Iranian and Hezbollah operations worldwide. This terrorist designation means it is more difficult, but not impossible, for IRGC and Quds Force personnel to move around and operate in nations that are not close Iranian allies (like Syria, Lebanon as well as parts of Iraq and Yemen). Iran backed PMF militias denounced the American move but are unlikely to actually attack American troops because even pro-Iran Iraqi Shia realize that most Iraqi Shia agree that the IRGC is basically a terrorist organization. At the same time, most Iraqis prefer to hide behind the illusion that the foreign troops are tolerated only because they are useful against Islamic terrorists and not because they keep Iraq an independent and Shia run state.
April 6, 2019: The air force received another six American built F-16Q jet fighters. Iraqi already has 21 of these aircraft in service and another nine have yet to arrive. In late 2015, Iraqi F-16Qs carried their first combat operation (against ISIL in Anbar province). The F-16IQ made its first flight in early 2014. Four F-16IQs arrived in Iraq in mid-2015 so that Iraqi pilots and maintainers could undertake final training in preparation for the first combat missions. The F-16IQ is a custom version of the single seat Block 52 F-16C and the two-seater F-16D. Iraq ordered 36 F-16IQs seven years ago. The F-16IQ is similar to American Block 52 F-16s except they are not equipped to handle AMRAAM (radar guided air-to-air missiles) or JDAM (GPS guided bombs). The F-16IQ can handle laser-guided bombs and older radar-guided missiles like the AIM-7.
April 3, 2019: The United States declassified its data on Iranian attacks on American troops from 2003-11. This data showed that Iranian-backed groups were responsible for 17 percent of the American combat deaths in Iraq. That’s 608 dead and more than two thousand wounded.
March 30, 2019: In the north, Turkish airstrikes on the Iraqi side of the border hit a PKK base on Kandil mountain and two other locations near the Turkish border.