Iraq: Shia Saddams Standing By

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July 16, 2008: The war is basically over in Iraq, but the peace brings with it a return to the corruption and inefficiency that has cursed this part of the world for centuries. There are other annoying habits, like demanding "compensation" for any real or imagined loss that might possibly be pinned on U.S. troops. It's also popular to demand, with a straight face, that U.S. troops fix utilities, schools and whatever else people want, but are unwilling to take care of themselves. Peace has not brought out the best in the Iraqi people.

The war is still going on, but now it's more of a police operation. U.S. and Iraqi forces are searching for several hundred known terrorists. Some of them are showing up outside the country, giving rise to the belief that al Qaeda has abandoned Iraq. This is apparently the case, but there are several other Sunni Arab terrorist organizations that will never give up. For these groups, tolerating Shia Arab rule of Iraq is a sin, and the sinners must be punished. Terror attacks are way down, but they can be expected to continue for years.

The U.S. is negotiating, with the Iraqi government,  a renewal of its authority to operate in Iraq. This authority expires at the end of the year. As part of the negotiations, the Iraqis are asking for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. This is popular with many Iraqis, especially those in the government who are getting rich by stealing oil money. As long as the American troops are in the country, auditors have armed protection and can be very effective at revealing the thefts and getting the thieves punished. This makes thieving government officials very uncomfortable. Corruption in general remains a major problem (as it is in all Middle Eastern countries). While many Iraqis would like to see clean government, they are usually not the ones who get elected (elections involve a lot of bribery and trading of favors.)

The Iraqi Sunni Arabs (less than 15 percent of the population) and the Kurds (about 20 percent), want U.S. troops to stay. If the Americans leave, the Shia majority will likely resume revenge (for decades of abuse) attacks on the Sunni Arabs. The Kurds have been autonomous for over a decade, under U.S. protection,  and are developing new oil fields in the north. Shia politicians have said that this oil belongs to "the Iraqi people" (or the Shia politicians running the government.)

The Shia majority is not monolithic either, and several large factions could form, attract part of the security forces and create new militias, and have a civil war. That would, in typical Middle Eastern fashion, lead to another dictatorship, this time run by a Shia tyrant. The Shia can do a Saddam, they just want a chance.

Iraqi politicians also want U.S. forces gone in order to halt improvements in the security forces. Iraqi troops and police are now strong enough to deal with the Sunni Arabs, but still a long way from Western standards of efficiency and honesty. The politicians do not want the troops and officers to be too effective, lest the generals be tempted to take over "for the sake of the country" and try to run a more efficient government.

July 7, 2008: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) forgave $4 billion in 1980s war debt owned them by Iraq. The UAE is also resuming full diplomatic relations (cut after 2003). Iraq still has over $60 billion in this debt, plus $28 billion in compensation owned Kuwait for the 1990 invasion and occupation of that country. Currently, five percent of Iraqi oil income goes to paying down the Kuwaiti claims. Iraq is not feeling any love from Kuwait, where the memories of Iraqi savagery are still fresh.

 

 

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