Iraq: Begging For American Help Is Not An Option

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August 6, 2013: The continued success of the resurgent Sunni Arab terrorists is due in large part to corruption and political malpractice in parliament. The corruption enables the terrorists to frequently buy their way past checkpoints or security guards. It means vital information about security systems can be bought. Then there are the problems in parliament, where Iraqi politicians have not yet learned that without compromise you have no government and suddenly dictatorship seems like a viable alternative to a lot of Iraqis.

The Sunni terrorists are fighting to replace democracy with another Sunni dictator and the Shia want no part of that, or a Shia dictator either. So the increasing death toll from the Sunni terrorism is forcing the Shia (and Sunni and Kurd) politicians to cooperate, or at least make it look like they are trying harder. The voters are not happy with this deadlock and are very angry about the inability to suppress the Sunni terrorists. This could have serious implications during the next elections because Iraqi legislators are paid very well (much better than their Western counterparts) and have an easier (or less risky) time taking bribes and such.

Part of the terrorism problem was the refusal of the Iraqi government to let any U.S. troops remain in the country after 2011. By the end of 2011 there were fewer than a thousand Sunni terrorists (al Qaeda and diehard Sunni nationalists) active and the million or so people in the Iraqi security forces owned the streets. Terrorist violence was less than ten percent of what it had been four years earlier. Led by American intelligence and special operations forces, over 15,000 Sunni terrorists had been killed or captured by the time the Americans left. The Iraqis felt that all they had to do was keep up the pressure and the Sunni terrorists would disappear.

It didn’t work out that way. Since the Americans left, the number of Sunni terrorists has tripled, as have the number of terrorism-related deaths. The Iraqi government underestimated the continuing anger, and skill, of the Sunni Arab minority and how critical the American intelligence and special operations forces were. Many Iraqi generals had warned their government in 2011 that the American Special Forces and intelligence analysts could not be replaced by Iraqis. These American capabilities were rare even in the West and had proved to be crucial in finding and eliminating Sunni terrorists. Most Iraqis would prefer that their politicians just learn how to work together, rather than begging the Americans to come back and make it all better.

There were at least a thousand (several sources provide slightly different numbers) terrorist deaths in July. The terrorist violence in Iraq has been steadily increasing since the Americans left in 2011. In the first six months of this year over 3,000 were killed. That’s far from the 2007 carnage, where over 3,000 a month died, but it is still a big jump from only a year ago. If the current death rate continues this year Iraq will suffer about a third of the losses inflicted during the worst years of the terror attacks (2006-7).

What is likely to prevent that is growing anger among the Shia majority and the increased activity by Shia terror groups and their death squads that simply kill any Sunnis they can find. The Shia terrorists can usually find the Shia run security forces willing to look the other way. Terror attacks on Sunnis are increasing. The Shia militias were defeated by Iraqi security forces in 2008, and officially went into semi-retirement as part of the deal that got most Sunnis to stop supporting the Sunni terrorists. But in the last few years thousands of these Shia gunmen have come out of retirement. First they were used to add additional security to Shia neighborhoods that were being hit by Sunni terrorists. This would usually work, because the Sunni terrorists scouted potential targets and if the security was too tight and incorruptible, they would go elsewhere. In addition, Iran has been offering good pay to go off and support the Assad government in Syria and over 2,000 Iraqi Shia have gone in the last year. This has slowed the revival of the old (2005-8) Shia death squads. Sunni terrorists are also heading for Syria to join the rebels but there are four times as many Shia than Sunni Arabs in Iraq. What many nations in the region fear is that the Sunni/Shia violence in Syria and Iraq will merge and trigger a larger Sunni/Shia war involving Iraq and Saudi Arabia. This is a worst case that gets less implausible with each passing month.

Police and local defense groups are increasing their efforts to halt the terrorists and hunt them down before they can strike. Most worrisome are the illegal (but often tolerated by the Shia dominated security forces) Shia militias, which are now warning Sunnis to stay out of Shia neighborhoods and are setting up checkpoints to scrutinize ID cards. Unlike the police, the Shia militias can accuse someone of being a terrorist and kill them on the spot. Worse, the militiamen are much less likely to take a bribe. Sunni businessmen in Baghdad and other cities with large Shia populations are being warned that if they do not help in finding Sunni terrorists they will lose their businesses or even be killed. Most of these merchants just want to take care of business and are now caught between Shia and Sunni radicals, both threatening them with death if they help the other side. Sunni terrorists have done the same thing for years in Sunni majority towns and neighborhoods.

August 3, 2013: Security forces in Baghdad went on a higher state of alert because of intelligence indicating widespread terror attacks.

July 28, 2013: In the north the 970 kilometer long oil pipeline from Kirkuk to the Turkish coast was bombed again. This pipeline has been attacked several times a month all year long.

July 22, 2013: Outside Baghdad dozens of al Qaeda attacked Abu Ghraib prison overnight and freed about 800 convicts. At least twenty guards and police were killed and an even greater (but undisclosed) number of prisoners. The escapees included some senior al Qaeda leaders and technical experts. The escapees had some help from prison personnel and many prisoners were organized to create diversionary riots and attacks on guards once the lights went out (another bribe). In the aftermath of this the national director of prisons was dismissed and Interpol was alerted to the possibility that some of these terrorists might flee the country and set up operations elsewhere. On August 3rd Interpol issued an international alert regarding the escaped Iraqi al Qaeda terrorists and provided details on the most dangerous ones. Most of the escaped convicts were common criminals and some 400 of them were recaptured over the next two weeks. The al Qaeda convicts, however, had vehicles waiting for them outside the prison and were quickly moved to safe houses. 

 


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