Iraq: A Bloodier Turn For The Worse

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July 2, 2011: Last month took a bloodier turn for the worse. There were 310 terror related deaths (4.6 percent U.S. troops, 12.6 percent Iraqi troops, 24.8 percent police, 50 percent civilians, 8 percent terrorists) in June.  Iraqi deaths were 34 percent higher than May and the worst so far this year. American combat deaths (14) were the highest in three years. Most of the increase comes from Shia militias going on the offensive against Sunnis (plays well with the Kurd and Shia majority) and American troops (to keep Iran, which backs the most violent Shia groups, happy). Pro-Iran Iraqi Shia are a minority of Iraqi Shia and want a pro-Iran religious dictatorship in Iraq. This is an unpopular idea among most Iraqis. American and Iraqi intelligence officials both blame Iran for supplying these militias with weapons, and ordering the increased attacks last month on U.S. troops. Since all American forces will be gone by the end of the year, the Iranian militias want to be able to say that they "drove the Americans out" with these attacks. That ignores the three year old agreement that set the departure date, but in Iraq, fantasy and illusion play well.

The terror groups have one major flaw, a lack of unity. There are three Iran-backed Shia Arab terror groups. While Iran would like some unity here, it has to accept the factiousness, even when it means the three groups will occasionally turn on each other. Same deal, but worse, among Sunni Arab terrorists. Despite their differences, all these groups keep killing, and will do so until killed themselves.

Iraqi security forces have had a growing impact on terrorist operations. This largely goes unreported, but the Iraqi police and soldiers, especially the elite counter-terror units, have interrupted many terror attacks, and arrested many terrorists. Aware of the corruption of the courts and regular police, the counter-terror units will often just kill key terrorists during raids, rather than risk the prisoner bribing his way to freedom. This is also an unofficial policy in some American operations, and official policy when missile armed UAVs are used.

The Arab Spring uprisings spread to Iraq. In the Kurdish north, 5-10,000 demonstrators came out for regular protests against corruption, starting last February. The two clan based political parties that run the north reacted violently to this. Over two months of violent suppression, ten demonstrators were killed, hundreds injured and thousands jailed, or warned to behave, or else. After realizing that this response was not stopping, the reform movement was driven from the streets. The two corrupt, and dictatorial, clans that run the north have some support because they kept the Kurdish north safe during the years of chaos and violence in the south. But the price was personal freedom and economic opportunity. While the two clans often fought each other in the past, they have now divided the north and exploit it for the gain of the few clan leaders. The Kurd dictators also hold out the promise of more autonomy, but that is less appealing after Kurds saw what happened to the Arab Spring in their own backyard. This very public display of dictatorial power in Kurdistan was also dismaying to Kurdish minorities in neighboring countries, who saw the Iraqi Kurds as an example of what they could aspire to. Not so much, not anymore.

In the Arab south, where 80 percent of the population lives, the same clan based tyranny is still alive and well. The voting makes it clear what the popular following of each political or religious "clan" is. But the clans still think in terms of winner-take-all. Compromise is not well accepted, or understood, in this part of the world. Unless there is more compromise, there will be more terrorism, corruption and the threat of a new dictatorship. The majority of Iraqis want democracy, clean government and economic opportunity. But more violent minorities tend to dominate in the  Middle East. Many Iraqi Sunni Arabs, backed by Saudi Arabia, want another Sunni dictator, like Saddam Hussein (well, maybe not as unstable and violent as Saddam) while  a minority of Iraqi Shia Arabs want a religious dictatorship (like Iran, which encourages this).

While many, if not most, Iraqis recognize that a sharp reduction in corrupt behavior would be good for all, there is widespread resistance to actually implementing this radical (for Iraq) change. Thus most Iraqis still seek friends and favors, rather than the law, when they want something (or to avoid something, like punishment.) As a result, terrorists can still use bribes or threats to avoid prison, or even prosecution.

It's been sixteen months since the last national elections, and the leaders of the two largest factions are not speaking to each other, and there is not a fully functional government. Last November, after eight months of stalemate, Iraq thought it had a government, sort of. The incumbent secularist Shia prime minister Nuri al Maliki had made a deal with his arch enemies, the followers of pro-Iran, Islamic conservative Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr. With less than half as many parliament seats (40 versus 89, out of 325) as Maliki, the Sadrists provided enough votes, with other small parties, to form a government. But Maliki and Sadr have different visions about what Iraq should be. Maliki wants a secular democracy, Sadr wants a religious dictatorship.

Former prime minister Iyad Allawi (whose Iraqiya party has a small plurality, of two votes, in parliament) insisted that the constitution gave only him the right to form a government. But since Maliki gathered a larger coalition, and in the interest of the country, Allawi  reluctantly allowed the Maliki coalition to govern. Allawi had discussed a coalition with Sadr, but these religious conservatives demanded too much power, at least as far as he was concerned. Although Maliki has been willing to work with Sadr and Iran in the past, the fact that Sadr began reforming his private army earlier this year, was cause for alarm.

It was believed that Maliki was too pro-Shia and too willing to work with Shia radicals and Iran. Allawi was seen as too secular and too willing to work with the hated Sunni Arab minority (who have done most of the killing in the last sixty years). But both men are very much Iraq nationalists, and each believed only they can lead Iraq to a better future. Maliki has broad support among Shia (who are over 60 percent of the population), Allawi has the rest (mainly the Kurds and Sunni Arabs), as well as the large number of secular Shia. The Kurds are united, independent minded, and control about 18 percent of the seats in parliament. The Kurds want more autonomy and control over oil in their territory. This offends the Arabs, who are 80 percent of the population. Iraqis fear that the country will turn into just another Arab dictatorship, where the inability to compromise eventually leads to one man, or one party, rule, maintained by terror and force. The new government made deals with Sunni Arab and Shia Arab extremist ones. Until recently, there was less violence, but now there are accusations that police and defense ministries have been forced to hire terrorists, who then form uniformed death squads to go after political opponents. In Iraq, at the very top, compromise is not yet in sight.

 


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