Iraq: For A Few Dollars More

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February 9, 2012:  The government is still trying to get rid of private security companies and give the Ministry of the Interior a monopoly over supplying security services to foreigners. The private security companies are disliked because they are more difficult to bribe and are more effective than the Ministry of Interior security forces. By having a monopoly on security the government officials can demand bribes for effective security, or sell out someone they are protecting (if the bribe is large enough).

The government campaign against private security companies is one of the reasons the U.S. is reducing the staff at its embassy. This is the largest American embassy, with some 16,000 employees. But Iraqi government corruption has become worse, with bribes demanded for visas (to get new American diplomatic personnel into the country) and the movement of supplies to the enormous (9.2 hectare/23 acre) embassy compound. Iraqi security and customs personnel have also been stealing goods imported for the embassy. This is technically a violation of international law but the Iraqi government simply denies it is happening. So the U.S. is reducing the number of employees and activities, and eventually as much as half the current embassy force will be gone.

Bombing activity has declined in the last month. Roadside bombs are still going off but they are smaller, poorly placed and causing fewer casualties. This is largely the result of a much smaller al Qaeda movement and the collapse of support for Iraqi Sunni nationalist movements (who want another Sunni dictator running the country.) While al Qaeda still considers Iraq a major battleground, al Qaeda does not have the resources it had six years ago. Back then, al Qaeda had over 30,000 active members, now it has less than 3,000. Six years ago Iraq was the major front for al Qaeda and over a hundred volunteers (most for suicide bomb missions) entered Iraq (usually from Syria) each month. Now only one or two volunteers come in each month and usually not via Syria. More al Qaeda members leave Iraq each month, to Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, West Africa and other places where al Qaeda groups still survive.  

Over fifty convicts have been executed so far this year, most of them terrorists. The government finds that executions are a deterrent, as imprisoned terrorists can always hope for an amnesty or a big enough bribe to get them out.

Turkey is increasingly hostile towards Iraq because of Iraq support for the Syrian dictatorship and Iran (which also backs the Syrian dictator). This is part of the growing Sunni-Shia confrontation, instigated by Iranian claims that Shia (about ten percent of all Moslems) should guard and operate the most sacred Islamic holy places in Mecca and Medina. The guardians of these holy sites have always been Sunni (who are about 80 percent of all Moslems).

February 7, 2012: In Baghdad, the warden of a woman's prison was shot dead. The victim may have been someone who could not be bribed or who wanted too large a bribe.

February 6, 2012: In the north (Mosul) a roadside bomb killed four policemen. But raids elsewhere in the area led to the capture of a senior al Qaeda leader and the seizure of weapons and bomb making materials.

February 5, 2012:  In Baghdad an Interior Ministry official was assassinated by a gunman.

February 4, 2012: The government revealed that, since the first of the month, they have been cracking down on illegal dollar purchases by Iranian and Syrian agents. As a result, dollar purchases have sharply dropped this month. But Syria and Iran are expected to seek ways around these restrictions. Iran and Syria, facing sanctions that make it difficult to get dollars (needed to pay for foreign goods) have turned to the many independent money changers in Iraq. In the last two months demand for dollars has tripled on many days. Agents from Syria and Iran offer their own currencies at a deep discount in order to get dollars. All this cheap Syrian and Iranian currency means a cut in the cost of goods from those two countries.

February 3, 2012: In the Kurdish north, Turkish warplanes hit three suspected PKK (Turkish Kurdish separatists) bases inside Iraq.

February 1, 2012: The Kurdish government in the north still refuses to turn over the Sunni Arab vice president Tariq al Hashimi, who is accused of running a death squad and other terrorist activities. The national government continues to arrest bodyguards and other associates of Hashimi and charge them with being behind the many assassinations of Shia government officials. The government demands that Sunni Arab politicians halt support for terrorists in their communities. The Sunni Arab terror attacks against Shia Arabs (and Shia Iranian pilgrims) keep alive the Shia urge to crack down hard on the Sunni Arab community (about 16 percent of the population). For centuries the Sunni Arabs have dominated, and often persecuted, the Shia majority. For several decades, under Saddam Hussein, the persecution became particularly horrific. Since 2003, American pressure held back the Shia desire for official vengeance. Many Shia want to drive all Sunni Arabs out of the country, an action that would cause Iraq many diplomatic and image problems.

January 31, 2012: Iraq is demanding that the U.S. obtain permission before using small (under five kg/11 pounds) UAVs to guard convoys or the American embassy. The U.S. is resisting this demand, as it is seen as another opportunity for Iraqi officials to demand bribes (for timely granting of permission). Bribes and other forms of corruption are already crippling American embassy operations.

January 29, 2012: Sunni politicians agreed to end their boycott of the government, meaning that all government ministries would be operating again. The Sunnis protest being blamed for all the terrorism carried out by Sunni terrorists. Most Iraqis believe all Sunnis are, to some degree, complicit in this continued terrorism.

 

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