The two million Syrian Kurds are largely staying neutral in the Syrian civil war and doing so with the help of the 4.5 million Kurds next door in Iraq. If Syria falls apart after the Assads are gone, the Syrian Kurds could simply join the Iraqi Kurds, or so many Kurds hope. Turkey might object, seeing this as the start of an independent Kurdistan. That would have to include 11 million Kurds in southeast Turkey and the Turks would never allow that. So for the moment the Syrian and Iraq Kurds are united informally, although the economic, military, and political links continue to grow. The Iraqi government dislikes this trend but is too weak militarily to do anything about it.
Turkey has developed strong trade relations with the autonomous Iraqi Kurds, including getting crude oil from the Kurds and shipping back in refined products (fuel for vehicles and heating). The Shia Arab dominated Iraqi government protests the oil dealings in the Kurdish north but have been unable to stop it. The Kurds see the current Shia Arab government as being hostile to them, as Saddam’s Sunni Arab government was. The difference is the Kurds are strong enough to hold off the Arabs now. There have always been tensions between Kurds and Arabs, with religion having little to do with it. Even recent threats from Iran, to obey the orders of the Shia Arab Iraqi government, have not fazed the Kurds. The Turks are willing to help keep the Iranian influence out of the Kurdish north. The Iranians can’t really threaten military action against the Kurds, since that would unite the Turks, all the Arabs, and many Western nations to oppose such a move.
Sunni Arab terrorism continues to thrive in the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, where Sunni Arabs feel threatened by Kurd efforts to expand their political control. During the 1980s and 90s Saddam Hussein forcibly pushed many Kurds out of their homes in Mosul and Kirkuk and moved in Sunni Arabs from the south. This set the stage for the current unpleasantness.
This month there has been a sharp increase in demonstrations by Sunni Arabs against corruption and discrimination by the Shia Arab dominated government. Another major factor, which the Sunni Arabs don’t like to discuss openly, is the Sunni feeling that they should be running the country (as was the case for centuries before Saddam Hussein was taken down in 2003). When the Saddam government was replaced by a Shia dominated democracy a decade ago, the Sunni Arabs suffered a very sharp decline in income and living standards. For decades the Sunni Arab minority took for themselves most of the oil income. After 2003 that changed, whith the Shia taking most of the oil money and blocking Sunni Arabs from many high paying jobs in the government and industry. The Sunni Arabs are bitter and angry about this.
The Sunni Arabs were no less corrupt when they were in charge and they had the advantage of a police state that had few restrictions on the use of force (and terrorism) to keep the majority (Shia are 60 percent of the population and the Kurds about 20 percent) in line. To help placate the Sunni Arabs the government has recently raised the pay for the pro-government Sunni Arab militias and offered more government jobs to Sunni Arabs. The Sunni Arab demonstrations have been increasingly violent and dozens of demonstrators have been killed or wounded by police and army gunfire when the protestors seemed to be getting out of control. Many Shia Arabs would prefer to go to war with the Iraqi Sunni Arabs and drive them out of the country. That won’t happen because such a move could cause a war with the other Sunni Arab countries in the region and increase Iranian influence in Iraq. The Iraqi Shia Arabs don’t like the Sunni Arabs but they like the non-Arab Iranian Shia even less. So, for the moment, the Shia Arab majority in Iraq tries to placate its Sunni Arab minority.
Terrorism related deaths rose last month, leaving 246 dead (192 civilians and terrorists, 30 police, and 18 soldiers). This was the highest death toll since last September. That was the worst in two years, with 365 killed (182 civilians and terrorists, 88 police, and 95 soldiers). This was more than twice the number of deaths in August (164). Deaths were 326 in July and 282 in June. The sharp decline in October, November, and December was due to several factors. First, the increased terrorist activity has resulted in a lot of police action and the terrorist groups have suffered heavy losses. The Sunni terrorist groups could not sustain the level of violence they began in January 2012 (when 225 died). Second, pressure from the government (in reaction to public anger) produced more tips from citizens, more neighborhood self-defense groups, and more effective performance by the police. Third, some Sunni Islamic terrorists have gone to fight in Syria, where the Sunni majority is rebelling against the Shia minority dictatorship. The Sunni Arab terrorists have made a comeback because of the success of Sunni Arab terror groups in Syria and growing discontent among Iraqi Sunni Arabs in general.
Nearly 5,000 people died from terrorism related violence last year. Most of the deaths were in Sunni Arab areas in the west (Anbar province), the north (not including Kurd controlled areas), and Baghdad. Most of the country has escaped this violence, but where there are Sunni Arabs there is some support for Sunni Arab terrorist groups who seek to restore Sunni Arab rule to Iraq.
February 14, 2013: Just across the Syrian border, Islamic radicals seized the town of Shadadeh. This will make it easier for Islamic terrorists to move between Iraq and Syria.
February 8, 2013: For the seventh Friday in a row, Sunni Arab terrorists have carried out bombings against Shia Arabs in the south and Kurds in the north (mainly around Mosul and Kirkuk). More precise attacks are made on the military and police, in an attempt to get the security forces to back off on seeking out Sunni terrorist groups.