The growing violence inside Iraq has distracted Iraqis from the civil war raging in neighboring Syria. There, over eight times as many people died from violence each month than in Iraq. The areas just across the border from Iraq are largely controlled by Sunni Arab rebels or separatist Kurds. The Iraqi Shia fear that a Sunni Arab government in Syria will provide sanctuary for Iraqi Sunni terrorists. Then again, the current Shia minority Assad government in Syria also provided sanctuary for Sunni Arab terrorists for decades, especially during the Sunni Arab terror campaign in 2004-8 (that, at its height, was killing over 3,000 people a month, more than are dying each month in Syria now).
Iraqi gunmen are becoming more numerous in Syria. Over a thousand Sunni Arabs from Anbar have joined their fellow Syrian Sunnis in traditionally Sunni eastern Syria to drive government forces out. That battle, while won, is still being fought. Meanwhile, nearly as many armed Iraqi Shia have joined Syrian government forces in northern Syria, especially around Aleppo, to keep the rebels from taking the city. Iran provides cash and air transport to fly in the Iraqi Shia and then arms and advise them. Iran has a few hundred advisors and trainers in Syria, who have been joined by a growing (several thousand so far) Shia gunmen force from Lebanon (mostly from Hezbollah). The Iraqi government looks the other way at the Iranian activities, while trying to crack down on the Iraqi Sunni efforts in Anbar.
The violence inside Iraq comes in several varieties. There are Sunni Islamic terrorists who attack “un-Islamic” activity. This includes going after liquor stores (which are legal) and brothels (which are not). These establishments are usually sprayed with gunfire or blown up. These religious fanatics are also responsible for most of the attacks on Shia holy places in southern Iraq and the many Iranian Shia religious pilgrims. This angers the Iranian government a great deal and the Iraqi government assigns a large amount of its security personnel to guard the holy places. But the Sunni terrorists, usually suicide bombers, keep coming. Then there are the Sunni supremacists who go after the security forces. This usually involves attacks on checkpoints at night and death squads seeking to kill military commanders, especially those in charge of intelligence.
So far this month terrorist violence has left over 430 dead. This is less than the 700 killed last month, but still above average for Iraq. The reason for all this continued mayhem is religious extremism and the ancient conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam, along with the even older hostility between Arabs and the Indo-European Iranians and Kurds. In the last few months the Shia terrorists began striking back, so more and more of the dead are Sunni Arab civilians.
This Sunni-Shia violence has been common for centuries, but it got worse after 2003, as many Iraqi Sunni Arabs were enraged by economic and cultural factors. After the fall of their leader Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Iraqi Sunni Arabs lost their economic and political power. For centuries, even though part of the Ottoman Turk Empire, the Sunni Arab minority ruled Baghdad and the Shia tribes to the south (and the city of Basra). In the north, Mosul province was largely Kurd and part of Turkey proper, not a conquered province. The Sunni Arabs came to believe that this was the natural state of things, that Sunni Arabs were born to rule the region and keep the Shia and Iranian scum at bay. It was a sacred duty, it was God’s will, and the pay was great when it was done right.
This vicious rivalry goes back centuries but it got worse in this century because of the fall of the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1918. After World War I, the victorious British, wary of the new Turkish Republic eventually trying to rebuild its empire, detached Mosul province (and all its oil wells) from Turkey and combined it with the former imperial provinces of Baghdad and Basra, to form the new country of Iraq. Despite their minority status, the Sunni Arabs (about 20 percent of the population) took charge of the new constitutional monarchy (ruled by a Sunni Arab noble family chased out of the new kingdom of “Saudi” Arabia recently created by the Saud family). The Shia majority (and minorities, mainly Kurdish Sunnis and several Christian sects and others) objected, but the Sunni Arab dominated security forces kept a lid on things.
In the 1950s the Sunni Arab generals tired of dealing with a parliament full of Shia politicians and acted. They slaughtered the royal family and the country became a military dictatorship that was eventually taken over by the Baath Party (a socialist, and very Sunni, group) led by Saddam Hussein. This guy was vicious, paranoid, and occasionally quite mad. But he rewarded his Sunni Arab followers with most of the oil income and nearly all the political, military, and economic power. Iraqi Sunni Arabs miss that and many are willing to kill or be killed to get it back.
Because of the growing Sunni terrorism since the Americans left in 2011, Shia radical groups, who have been largely dormant since 2008, have been increasingly active in striking back by attacking Sunni Arab mosques and Sunni Arab civilians in general. Some of these Shia radicals want to drive all Sunni Arabs out of Iraq, killing those that resist. A growing number of Iraqi Shia agree with this solution. Most politicians do not, as trying to chase over four million Sunni Arabs into neighboring countries (killing many in the process) would bring a strong local and international reaction. One alternative is partition. But this would leave the Shia with most of the oil and the Sunni Arabs with the largely desert Anbar province. Most Sunnis can do the math and are not eager for partition and even more poverty.
The Shia are not willing to give up power, or even share it much, and are angry at the Sunni for their greed and growing terror attacks on Shia (especially civilians). Unused to running things for centuries, the Shia have had a hard time since 2003 building an efficient government. The corruption that has long (as in thousands of years) cursed the region does not help, but the main problem is that Sunni Arabs dominated the government and economy for centuries and were the most educated group in the area. While vicious, greedy tyrants, the Sunnis had the skills to make the government, even with all the corruption, work. The Shia are still playing catch-up, but the Sunni interpret this as the essential inferiority of the Shia and a compelling reason to restore Sunni Arab rule no matter what the cost.
The Shia government is dealing with two main centers of Sunni resistance. In Anbar province (the largely Sunni and mostly desert west) a growing number of Sunni tribes are in open rebellion and some want autonomy. There’s a similar situation in the Kurdish north, especially in the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, which are on the border between Arab Iraq and the autonomous Kurdish northern Iraq. The Sunni there don’t want autonomy but do want to get back the property Saddam stole for them back in the 80s and 90s. Mosul and Kirkuk have oil and thirty years ago were mainly Kurdish. In the 1980s Saddam began forcing Kurds further north and giving their homes, land, and jobs to poor Sunni Arab families from the south. After 2003, the Kurds came back to reclaim the property Saddam had taken from them. The Sunni Arabs resisted and continue to resist. The claims of all the Kurdish refugees have never been completely settled and the Kurdish government of the autonomous (since the 1990s when British and American warplanes and commandos aided Kurdish rebels in expelling Saddam’s troops and keeping them out) north threaten to take back Mosul and Kirkuk (and the surrounding oil fields) by force. This would trigger a civil war with the Arabs, which would probably end in a bloody stalemate. So the Kurds support the low-level violence against the Sunni Arab terrorist groups and the two cities remain the scene of constant ethnic (the Kurds are not Arabs) warfare.
While there is a standoff with the well-armed and organized Kurdish army in the north, the Sunni Arabs in the West are irregulars and more vulnerable to the growing strength and abilities of the Shia dominated army and police force. Now the Shia soldiers and police are being joined by Shia terrorists and vigilantes carrying out “payback” attacks on Sunni mosques and civilians. The radicals in the Sunni Arab community welcome more violence because they believe that if enough Sunni Arabs are killed by the Shia the Sunni governments in neighboring countries (especially Saudi Arabia and, once the Sunni rebels win, Syria) would intervene and restore the Iraqi Sunni Arabs to power. Most Iraqi Sunni Arabs understand that this would never work, but speaking up against the radicals (including al Qaeda, which has always been a Sunni supremacist outfit) can get you killed. Despite that threat many Iraqi Sunni Arabs do fight the radicals, but that’s a war they seem to be losing, as the Shia are coming to believe that all Sunni Arabs are their enemy and all should be treated roughly.
One thing most Sunni Arabs can agree on is the need to be united in dealing with the Shia dominated government. The growing violence has now led to calls for an autonomous Sunni Arab government in Anbar (the province that comprises most of western Iraq). The government will not allow that, especially since this would simply provide Sunni Arab terrorists with a sanctuary there. As far as the Shia are concerned they have been very generous with the Sunni Arabs, with the understanding that the Sunni Arab community would respond and help in suppressing Sunni Arab terror groups. The Shia consider the Sunni Arab community to have failed in this regard and must either make a better effort to calm down their own radicals or face the consequences.
Some Shia politicians are openly accusing Turkey of backing Sunni protestors and terrorists as part of a conspiracy to regain their lost (because of the British after World War I) Mosul province (the northern third of Iraq). The Turks deny this and there’s no “regain Mosul” movement in Turkey. What the Turks have done is negotiated a peace deal involving the Kurdish government of northern Iraq and Kurdish separatists in Turkey (the PKK). This was all done with little consultation from the Iraqi government. This annoys the Iraqis a great deal because the arrangement allows the PKK gunmen to leave Turkey unmolested and move to Kurdish Iraq. One of the few things Iraqi Arabs agree on is the need to keep the Kurds weak and obedient. Since 1991, Iraqi Kurds have become autonomous and militarily powerful. The movement of thousands of armed PKK men from Turkey to northern Iraq makes it even more impossible to get the Iraqi Kurds back into line.
Despite the recent prosecution and conviction (in Britain) of those responsible for manufacturing and selling phony bomb detectors, particularly to Iraq, these ADE 651 devices are still being used by some Iraqi police. Government officials, including prime minister Maliki, still insist that “some of them (the ADE 651) work.” Since 2008,
Iraqi police have been using the ADE 651 bomb detector, a device that is a total fraud. In early 2010, the Iraqi government agreed to investigate the purchase of $85 million worth of ADE 651s. Iraqi officials bought thousands of these hand held devices, for up to $60,000 each. But even then the British manufacturer was being prosecuted in Britain for fraud. The device contains useless components, and repeated tests showed that it could not detect anything. Apparently a large chunk of the money Iraq paid for the ADE 651 was kicked back to the Iraqi officials who approved the sale. In 2011, an Iraqi general was arrested for taking bribes to approve the purchase of this device, but not much else happened. The ADE 651 is very cheap to make, and the manufacturer made a huge profit even after paying large bribes. The Iraqi officials who received the millions in bribes are still in power and not willing to prosecute themselves. In Iraq this extends to the highest levels of government.
May 25, 2013: Some 20,000 soldiers moved to the 600 kilometer long Syrian border and began attacking Sunni terrorists and blocking their movement across the border. The main objective of this operation is to halt support for Syrian rebels from Iraqi Sunni and to keep the road to Syria open for Iranian supply convoys (for Syrian government forces and pro-government militias). The Iraqi troops are attacking known Sunni terrorist and smuggler bases along the border.
May 24, 2013: The largest Sunni separatist demonstrations yet are taking place in western Iraq. The Sunnis want autonomy for Anbar.
May 21, 2013: Unhappy with army performance against continuing Sunni terrorism, the government announced a major shakeup in commanders of divisions and special counter-terrorism units.
May 19, 2013: The first groups of PKK Kurdish separatist fighters have arrived in the Kurdish north from Turkey. A recent peace deal between Turkey and PKK calls for over a thousand armed PKK from Turkey to move to Iraq (the Kurdish controlled north). The Iraqi government is openly hostile to this but lacks the military power to stop it.
May 17, 2013: Shia terrorists made several attacks on Sunni targets today, the Moslem day of the week for prayer. At least 76 Sunni Arabs were killed by bombs placed in or near their mosques or funerals. This was a direct response to several days of Sunni attacks that killed over 120 Shia. In the last month more than thirty Sunni mosques have been attacked. In the same period only two Shia mosques were hit. This discrepancy is partly due to years of heavier security around Shia mosques. In response to that, Sunni terrorists have gone after less protected targets, like market places or anywhere Shia civilians congregate.
May 13, 2013: The border crossings with Jordan were reopened. They had been closed last month because of the growing Sunni Arab violence in the area (Anbar Province).