ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is still the greatest security threat and so far this year has killed 170 civilians and security personnel. There were about 300 wounded. Half the dead were civilians and more than half the wounded soldiers and police. It could have been worse because so far this year ISIL has lost 135 dead. The greatest damage to ISIL had been its losses of equipment and hideouts. So far this year there have been about a thousand security operations (raids, ambushes, searches and so on) against ISIL and that led to most of the actions that killed ISIL members. The counter-terrorism activity led to the discovery and destruction of 279 hideouts, including a growing number of tunnels built for hiding personnel and material. Most of these hideouts contained some equipment, including weapons, ammo, explosives, roadside bombs and explosive vests ready for use as well as computers, vehicles, communications gear and so on.
Most Iraqi ISIL personnel still operate in a wide strip of territory between Baghdad and the Kurdish controlled north, from the Syrian to the Iranian borders. The largely Sunni population in this area has always been partial to Sunni causes, from the Sunni dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the Sunni led Islamic terrorism campaign that began after the Saddam government was removed from power in 2003. This “ISIL Zone” also contains a lot of other minorities, especially Kurds and Turkic Iraqis and well as several different religious minorities and many Shia, who are the majority in Iraq. For Iraq this area has long been the local blood lands, where deaths was more common, unexpected and violent than in the rest of the country.
Currently, ISIL is trying to take advantage of the covid19 quarantine situation, which is tying up a lot of police and restricting army operations to limit the spread of the virus. Many ISIL members believe Allah decides who shall die from the virus and since ISIL men are soldiers of Allah they will have an advantage as long as the virus is active. ISIL often uses delusions like this to keep their members motivated.
The Other Terror
So far Iraqi has 1,621 identified covid19 cases and 83 dead. That’s 41 cases per million and two dead per million. Iraqi medical experts know a lot of covid19 infections and deaths are going unreported and often unnoticed. The virus mainly kills the elderly and anyone with existing serious medical problems. A covid19 death can easily be mistaken for pneumonia.
Israel, the best prepared nation in the region to detect and deal with the virus, has had 1,686 cases per million and 57 deaths. Turkey, the other highly developed state, has had 1,170 cases and 28 deaths per million. Israel and all the other Moslem states in the region are cooperating when it comes to dealing with the virus. The major exception is Iran, and its subordinates Syria and southern Lebanon. Iran is where the virus hit first and hardest in the region because China is a major trading partner and supplier of forbidden goods. Iranian religious leaders at first denied that the virus could hurt believers, especially Shia. That was incorrect and made the government even more unpopular. Iran admits to 1,024 cases and 64 deaths per million. While Iran is unwilling to cooperate openly with Israel to deal with the virus, unofficially Iran will accept help from Israel but will not publicize that.
Iranian efforts to expand their control in Iraq and Syria are not producing the desired results. Worse, Iraq and Syrian involvement is causing more anti-government activity inside Iran. Iran is hard hit by covid19, in part because the government initially dismissed the possibility of the virus posing a serious threat.
Despite the much reduced budget for operations in Syria and Iraq, the Iranian Quds Force officers in charge convinced their bosses back in Iran that more cash was needed Iraq and Syria to prevent the Iranian efforts there from collapsing. The cash has apparently come though because the Iranians have increased the pay and benefits for many of the mercenaries in Syria and local loyalists in Iraq. This increased Iranian activity is unpopular in both countries. In Syria, it has turned into a very costly (for Iran) war with Israel. In Iraq the opposition is local and it is growing. Iraqis want the Iranians to leave and the Americans to stay, mainly to keep the Iranians out.
April 22, 2020: The U.S. Navy was ordered to fire on and destroy any Iranian speedboats that harassed American ships. Iran has long violated the generally accepted navigation rules that were developed to avoid collisions at sea. The Iranians make videos of all this nautical misbehavior and present it on Iranian TV as Iranian gunboats intimidating larger American warships. Russia and China have done this but using larger warships that could do some real damage if there were a collision. The Iranian IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) small craft are built for coastal patrol and suicide attacks when carrying a hundred kg (220 pounds) or so of explosives. These harassment attacks are not constant and tend to occur when Iran is having a hard time, as they are now in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and need some positive publicity as well as training for their suicide speedboat crews. Now the Americans have declared playtime is over and in the future, the U.S. ships will open fire. The IRGC has to decide if they will test this. Much would be lost of the Americans did actually fire on the boats. While Iran can afford to lose a few of these boats and declare a dozen or so men lost as martyrs, they cannot afford to lose the element of surprise. Until now the Iranians knew they could carry out of few successful suicide speed boat attacks because the Americans never opened fire. If that changes the Iranians have turned their speed boats into target practice rather than potential ship destroyers.
All this is another side effect of the problems of having with American troops inside Iraq. Ever since early January, when the Americans killed the commander of their Quds force and the head of the largest Iran-backed militia in Iraq, Iran has been on the defensive in Iraq. Efforts to strike back with ballistic missiles and unguided rockets have failed and anti-Iran sentiment in Iraq grows.
April 20, 2020: The government relented and agreed to lift some of the covid19 quarantine rules before the holy month of Ramadan begins on the 23rd. Retail and manufacturing operations can resume supplying the nightly feasting after fasting during daylight hours. Government employees can return to work but only 25 percent of workers can be at their workplace at one time. Restaurants will remain closed, along with mosques and schools. Anti-corruption demonstrations have already resumed although with fewer participants.
April 18, 2020: Outside Baghdad two rockets were fired at a Chinese oilfield development operation. There were no casualties. This was the second such attack this month and the cause appears to be a local militia that did not get the terms they wanted from the Chinese for a business deal.
In the north (Diyala Province) ISIL carried out four attacks, three with bombs and one with gunfire. Nine soldiers and police were wounded along with two civilians.
April 13, 2020: In the north (Kirkuk) province Iraqi troops called in American aerial surveillance and airstrikes to find and destroy an ISIL base in the thinly populated Wadi Ashai area. The airstrikes killed twenty of the 23 ISIL members. The rest died as the Iraqi police and troops captured the base.
April 10, 2020: In the last three days, Iran has made it obvious that they have declared war on American forces in Iraq. Iran did this via revealing three new pro-Iran Iraqi militias. Usbat al Thairen, one of several new Iran-backed Iraqi militias announced its existence by releasing a quad-copter video of the Al Assad airbase in Anbar province. This is where U.S. troops have been stationed for five years. Another one of these militias, Ashab al Kahf, took credit for an April 8th attack on an American convoy. The convoy was traveling north from Baghdad to the Kurdish controlled north. A third Iranian militia, Qadbat al Huda, insisted that the U.S. was planning on attacking pro-Iran Iraqi militias and that the American and British ambassadors must leave Iraq within 48 hours or else.
Also heard from was Katab Hezbollah, an Iran-backed groups based on the Lebanese Hezbollah that has been active in Iraq since 2003, after the U.S. removed the Saddam Hussein government. Katab Hezbollah grew enormously after 2014 when the Iraqi government allowed the formation of more militias to oppose the ISIL invasion. Technically Katab Hezbollah is a creation of the original Lebanese Hezbollah that was created in the 1980s, with the help of Iran, to protect Lebanese Shia during a 1975-90 civil war. Hezbollah military and political power grew since the 1980s due to financial and military aid from Iran, via neighboring Syria, which became an Iranian ally in the 1980s. Lebanese Hezbollah is increasingly unpopular in Lebanon, where they exist as a separate military and political entity that constantly tries to gain control over the entire country. That is difficult because Hezbollah only has the support of about a third (the Shia portion) of the population and even the Lebanese Shia are growing tired of the Iranian domination and interference. Iraqis are aware of these developments in Lebanon and Katab Hezbollah is accused of working for Iran to achieve Iranian control over Iraq. The head of Katab Hezbollah was killed along with Quds commander Qassem Soleimani back in January. Now the United States is offering a $10 million reward for information about the location of Mohammad Kawtharani, the senior Lebanese Hezbollah in Iraq, where he coordinates Iranian support for and control of Katab Hezbollah.
Another Soleimani associate killed in January was Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, the Chief of Staff for the PMF militias. His death led to the accelerated disintegration of Iranian control over many factions in the PMF. The Chief of Staff takes care of the details and those details included what had to be done to maintain the loyalty of the
Iran-backed PMF militias. These links were deteriorating during 2019 as the leaders of the 67 PMF brigades increasingly developed divided loyalties. That meant more of these brigades, although pro-Iran and receiving weapons and other “aid” from Iran, could no longer be considered under Iranian control. The Iraqi government has been removing or remoting senior PMF officials who are pro-Iran. Since the death of
Muhandis more PMF brigades have openly broken their links with Iran. Some are even leaving the PMF, which is what a few of the more extreme militias have already done. One example is the Katab Hezbollah, which is very openly fighting with American forces in Iraq.
April 9, 2020: Once more since the September 2018 Parliamentary elections Iraq has a Prime Minister-designate. This one is Shia intel chief Mustafa al Kadhimi. Since 2018 Iraq has not been able to agree on an acceptable prime minister. Kadhimi is known to be uncorrupt and capable and for the first time since 2018 a prime minister has the support of all the Shia parties. Kadhimi has one month to form a government and that is not going to be easy. He may have the support of all the Shia parties, but that is contingent on the major parties getting their people appointed to the right ministries in the new government. Another key task is arranging the next parliamentary so that they are not as corrupted and unreliable as the last ones.
March 30, 2020: The two most senior Shia Iraqi clerics (Sistani and Badr) refused to meet with Ismail Ghaani, the new head of the Iranian Quds force. Ghaani was on a visit to Baghdad, despite the fact that the U.S. is targeting Ghaani for the same treatment (death by Hellfire missile) his predecessor suffered in January. The U.S. considering about putting a multi-million dollar price on him (dead or captured alive).
The U.S. revealed that it had brought in Patriot anti-missile batteries to the two Iraqi bases where most U.S. troops are now stationed. In fact, these two bases now host American personnel from seven other bases the U.S. forces have left. All these bases have been attacked by Iran and Iran-backed Iraqi groups. The consolidation of U.S. troops on two bases makes it easier to deal with the growing Iranian rocket attacks on U.S. troops.
Two Patriot batteries are already in Iraq and two more on the way. It is unclear if the U.S. got permission from Iraq for this as a request was made back in January and not much happened after that. Iraq is under heavy pressure from Iran to block the U.S. from bringing in Patriot batteries. Iran is unlikely to use ballistic missiles against American bases as it did in January. That attack backfired big time and was considered a failure. The U.S. is also bringing back the C-RAM (Counter-Rockets And Missiles) anti-rocket system. This has long been used to defend bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. C-RAM is basically the American Phalanx naval gun system with new software that enables it to take data from its own or other radar systems, and shoot down just about any kind of artillery shell or rocket within range. It uses high explosive 20mm shells that detonate near the target, spraying it with fragments. By the time these fragments reach the ground, they are generally too small to injure anyone. At least that's been the experience in Iraq. The original Phalanx used 20mm depleted uranium shells, to slice through incoming missiles. Phalanx fires shells at a rate of 75 per second. Another advantage of C-RAM, is that it makes a distinctive noise when firing, warning people nearby that a mortar or rocket attack is underway, giving people an opportunity to duck inside if they are out and about.
The first C-RAM was sent to Iraq in late 2006, to protect the Green Zone (the large area in Baghdad turned into an American base). It was found that C-RAM could knock down 70-80 percent of the rockets and mortar shells fired within range of its cannon. In its first four years of use, C-RAMR systems in Iraq intercepted several hundred rockets or mortar shells aimed at the Green Zone and other bases. Not bad, since it only took about a year to develop C-RAM. A C-RAM system, which can cover an area about four kilometers wide, costs $15 million. In addition to the United States, Britain and Israel have also bought C-RAM. There is a mobile version, mounted on a flatbed trailer, and hauled by a tractor. Iran-backed militias get around C-RAM by launching large numbers of rockets at once to overwhelm the defenses. That works, but it also sends more of these unguided rockets into areas where Iraqis live and cause damage and casualties. This makes these militias even more unpopular and more likely to get informed on by fellow Iraqis.