Iran keeps pressuring Iraq to get more involved in defeating the Syrian rebels. Iraq is not very enthusiastic about that but plays along to keep the Iranians happy. The Syrian rebellion has become part of a larger conflict between Shia Iran and largely Sunni Arab states. Iran believes it should be the leader of the Moslem would, even though only about ten percent of Moslems are Shia (while 80 percent are Sunni). Iraq is officially neutral in this conflict but keeps getting dragged in. For example, last October the provincial government of Najaf banned the national airline of Bahrain. This was all about the war between Sunni and Shia. Najaf is largely Shia and contains many Shia shrines. Bahrain is a small island nation to the south where a Sunni minority rules a majority Shia population. The Shia there have been demonstrating, unsuccessfully, over the last three years for a democracy. That would replace the Sunni monarchy and put the Shia in charge. The Sunnis have managed to suppress the Shia uprising so far, despite covert help from Iran and because of open support of the government by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Sunni states. This same support is given to the Syria rebels and, Iraqi officials believe, to Sunni Arab terrorists in Iraq. The official line with the Gulf Arab governments is that they are not supporting the Sunni Arab terrorists in Iraq. That is probably true on an official level. But there are plenty of wealthy Sunni Arabs down there who know which Islamic charities will get their donations delivered to Sunni terrorists in Iraq.
Terrorism related deaths declined last month, with 136 dead (88 civilians, 22 soldiers, and 26 policemen) in February compared to 177 dead in January. The highest recent death toll was 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. This has also led to frequent anti-government demonstrations in western Iraq.
Some 4,500 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. The Sunni terrorist strategy is to anger the Shia led government with all these terror attacks on Shia civilians, to the point that the government declares war on the Sunni Arab minority. This, the terrorists believe, would lead to an invasion by Sunni Arab run neighbors (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and maybe even Jordan and Turkey). Iran might also intervene in this scenario and with Iran close to having nuclear weapons there is some urgency for the Sunni Arab terrorists to make their strategy work. None of the countries the Sunni radicals are expecting to invade have any intention of doing so. While the invasion idea has some popular support in these countries, that’s as far as it goes. In Iraq the same attitudes are found among the Shia majority. While many Shia would like to just expel all the Sunni Arabs, the regional and international repercussions from that are too great. This is not to say that some future Shia Iraqi national leaders might consider such a move, but for the moment government leaders are mostly dedicated to stealing as much of the oil wealth as possible. Getting access to all that oil cash is what the Sunni Arab rebels are mostly about and the Shia are determined not to give it up. The Iraqi Shia Arabs are more concerned with Iranian efforts to get a religious dictatorship established in Iraq. Most Shia and Sunnis are opposed to this, but the radical minority that backs this sort of thing feels the use of terrorism to further their cause is justified.
Last October Iraq agreed to buy $4.2 billion worth of Russian weapons and military equipment. By the end of the year that deal was officially cancelled because of corruption allegations. Now Iraqi and Russian government officials claim that the deal is back on and that some of the major items, like 30 Mi-28NE attack helicopters and up to fifty Pantsir-S1 (SA-22) mobile anti-aircraft systems, will be delivered before the end of the year. There are apparently still some financial details to be sorted out. There was no mention, yet, of the corruption issue.
March 4, 2013: An al Qaeda ambush near the Syrian border killed 48 Syrian soldiers and government employees and seven of the Iraqi soldiers escorting them to another border crossing so the Syrians could return to Syria. The Syrians had entered Iraq at a border crossing in the north, as they fled Syrian rebels. Iraq arranged for the 48 Syrians to be driven further south to a border crossing where the rebels were not as numerous so that the Syrians could be escorted back into Syria by Syrian troops. Sunni Arab sympathizers of the Syrian rebels found out about this and an armed group allied with al Qaeda ambushed the convoy. Syrian soldiers, police, and government officials in eastern Syria are fighting for their lives because the Sunni Arab rebels are from local tribes who really, really hate the Shia led dictatorship that has ruled the country for decades. The rebels want revenge and now they are getting it.
Troops on the Syrian border are increasingly closing the official crossings because of rebel activity on the other side. There are still Syrian soldiers and police in largely Sunni eastern Syria, but that is slowly changing. The rebels are cutting the supply routes for the Syrian government forces and taking control of the larger towns and cities.
March 1, 2013: A Syrian SCUD ballistic missile landed in northern Iraq, causing no injuries or damage. Many Syrian SCUDs have older, less accurate and reliable guidance systems. That will cause a SCUD to land far from its target, as will poor maintenance on these complex, liquid fueled rockets (based on the German V-2 that was last used 68 years ago).
February 21, 2013: The government backed off on plans to quadruple oil exports by 2017 and challenge Saudi Arabian leadership in this area. Iraq is having problems with the Kurds taking over control of oil production in the north and growing Sunni Arab terrorist attacks on oil facilities in the south. While oil exports will increase, these two problems will be difficult to overcome.
February 20, 2013: Turkish warplanes hit PKK (Turkish Kurdish separatist) rebel camps in northern Iraq.
February 19, 2013: The government granted permission for Iran to build a natural gas pipeline to Syria and from there to other parts of the Middle East and Europe. This is a grand gesture, because if the Syrian rebels win (and they seem to be going in that direction) the new Syrian government will be very anti-Shia and hostile to Iran. So this announcement seems to be largely for morale building in Syria, where the Shia minority is in growing peril.