Iraq: Rage Against The Machines


November 23, 2021: The November 7 attack on the prime minister and its aftermath did not work out to Iran’s advantage. Only one of the three explosive-laden UAVs hit the target, with the other two shot down. Examination of the debris from the two downed UAVs and the one that hit the target, were examined to determine who made it.

The attack caused some material damage and wounded a few security personnel but there were no fatalities. Iran-backed Iraqi militias promptly denied responsibility as did Iran. The quick denial was no surprise because Iran frequently uses middleman groups for attacks and deny carrying out attacks that only or largely, benefits Iran. For a long time, Iran often got away with this but eventually this script became so familiar, and so much physical evidence of deceit was discovered, that Iranian denials have little credibility except for those who are pro-Iran. Even that has been exposed via wire-taps and similar data collection efforts, including some captured pro-Iran locals who willingly or accidently admitted they knew when Iran was playing media games and getting away with it.

In the days before the UAV attack there were increasingly violent crowds outside the Green Zone protesting the recent elections, which saw most pro-Iran candidates losing, even when some of those candidates believed they could rig local voting results. At the time of the assassination attempt the protests outside the Green Zone had already left at least one participant dead and many more injured.

The attack on the prime minister was not unexpected because Iran was running out of support and options in Iraq. Even before the attack there were growing calls for disbanding the militias organized in 2014 to fight the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) invasion that quickly took control of about a third of Iraq. Iran was active in organizing the militias, which had to do the work of the Iraqi security forces that surrendered or fled from approaching ISIL forces, even when the attackers were far fewer than the troops and police facing them. Corruption in the security forces produced low morale, missing weapons and training and commanders that were more interested in stealing than commanding. There was a repeat of this in 2021 when the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan. That gives you an idea of how firmly this culture of corruption is embedded in the Middle East.

Good News

Iraq is more dependent on oil income than any other Gulf nation. Because of lower oil prices and lower oil demand during 2020, the Iraqi GDP shrank eleven ten percent that year. That turned around in 2021 as oil prices went up, the domestic non-oil economy saw rapid growth of over 20 percent in the first three months of 2021, and maintained lower growth rates during the rest of 2021. The rate of increase for non-oil GDP growth is expected to stay positive, but much lower, for the next two years because of continued covid19 problems, plus the disruptions created by a stand-off between Iraqis backing clean government and smaller pro-Iran factions that want a government like the Iranian religious dictatorship.

The battle against corruption is also a major issue. Economics is more important to most Iraqis. Government income can no longer support the massive corruption that was long considered normal. The covid19 recession and lower oil prices means Iraq cannot afford to spend as much money as they want. Too much government spending is stolen and in early 2021 the government was under a lot of pressure to save money by making a serious effort to shut down the scams that steal as much as a third of the payroll costs. For most of 2020 the government was able to borrow money to cover the monthly payroll shortfall. By 2021 the government was considered a credit-risk and unable to borrow. Firing unneeded government workers was seen as political suicide. For most of 2021 millions of Iraqis were not getting paid on time or at all. In 2021 the corruption faction was on the defensive and it was safer to publish details on how government funds were stolen and who benefitted. Iran also suffers from this disease and has also been experiencing persistent anti-corruption protests. The difference is that Iraqi elections are real while those in Iran are a cover for the religious dictatorship. Because of that the Iranian protesters call for a new government and accuse Islam of being part of the problem.

Earlier in 2021 the government sought to avoid major spending reductions, or reducing corruption and mainly depended on higher ($60 a barrel would be nice) oil prices to work. That did not work and the anti-corruption protests continued. The politicians were facing major unrest and decided to hold the next national elections six months earlier. That put many of the more corrupt politicians out of a job and enraged the Iranians who saw their dreams of an Iranian Shia empire slipping away.

A further complication is that the Americans still intend to get all their troops out of Iraq by the end of 2021. American warplanes will still be based in Kuwait and the UAE, but further airstrikes inside Iraq will be arranged on a case-by-case basis. A more explicitly anti-Iran government could negotiate mutual defense deals with the Americans that so many Arab Gulf states already have.

November 22, 2021: In the northeast (Diyala Province) ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) gunmen attacked an army outpost and were repulsed. One soldier was killed and three wounded. Elsewhere in Diyala Iraqi Air Force L-159 light bombers attacked an ISIL camp in the mountains. Iraq has been using the L-159 for six years. In 2015 Iraq was desperate for weapons to stop ISIL and in one of several similar deals obtained fourteen used L-159 ALCA light bombers from the Czech Republic for about $3 million each. This is the single-seat version if the 8-ton L-159 jet trainer that, like most aircraft it this type, can also be used for combat, carrying two tons of weapons including 20mm autocannon pods and smart bombs. Easy t0 fly and, maintain, it is also cheap to operate compared to the F-16s the Iraqis also purchased.

ISIL casualties for both clashes are unknown and army reinforcements pursued those who attacked the outpost and ground forces were also headed towards the site the L-159s attacked. While the security forces have been successful at keeping ISIL out of major urban areas, these Islamic terrorists are still active in rural areas between Baghdad and the Kurdish north. Kidnapping for ransom is a major source of income for ISIL out in the countryside. Because of this trend, overall terrorist and political deaths in Iraq continue to decline.

November 20, 2021: In the far north (Duhok Province) Turkish warplanes carried out a massive series of airstrikes against PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) Turkish Kurdish separatist targets that continued into the next day. This was apparently related to the recent Turkish operation in the area that killed some senior PKK leaders and captured additional intel on PKK operations in Iraq, PKK camps and hiding places are in the hills and valleys of this sparsely populated region, which make ISIL a difficult target unless you knew which locations were the most important. The attacks today indicated that the Turks had a lot of specific targets to hit. The Turks used several F-16s firing air-to-ground missiles at these targets. Usually, the growing number of Turkish armed UAVs do a lot of the work. These UAVs are frequently seen in the area, usually just carrying out surveillance missions.

As many as 5,000 Turkish military and security force personnel are currently deployed in Iraq. Fire support is provided by artillery on the Turkish side of the border and airstrikes by Turkish Air Force F-16s and helicopter gunships as well as the new force of armed UAVs. Turkish special forces commandos often find PKK bases and call in the airstrikes or, if close enough to the border, artillery fire.

November 18, 2021: Powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr demanded that all militias be disarmed and disbanded. This aimed at Iran, which has used the militias to create a legal Iran-backed armed force in Iraq. Calls for disbanding these militias have been gaining a lot more support in the last five years. The recent elections mean an even more anti-Iran government and sensing what that would mean for militias in general, most militias have announced plans to disband. Disarming is another matter.

November 17, 2021: Turkey revealed that a recent joint operation involving Turkish and Iraqi forces had resulted in locating and killing Ali Haydar Kaytan, one of the two senior founders of the PKK (Turkish Kurd separatists), The senior founder has long been imprisoned. Kaytan was long suspected of hiding out in a remote location in Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. The Kurds cooperated with the search, which employed several Turkish UAVs. The Turkish made UAVs resemble the American Predator. The Turks carried out the air strike and supplied most of the ground troops that went in to retrieve bodies and collect evidence. One of the dead was positively identified as the 69-year-old Kaytan.

November 15, 2021: In western Iraq (Anbar province) the border crossing at Iraqi Qaim/Syrian Bukamal (Deir Ezzor province) has, since 2011 been the scene of violence and currently Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militias in Syria are suffering more airstrikes as Iranian warehouses they guard are attacked. In the last month the Shia militias in Syria have been busy moving Iranian weapons from warehouses to multiple storage sites to reduce the losses from these constant airstrikes. This imposes a higher workload on the Iraqi militiamen and they are vulnerable to attack by ISIL groups still in the area as well as Sunni tribesmen who are extremely hostile towards Shia in general and foreign Shia in particular,

This important border crossing was officially closed in 2012 as Syrian rebels battled the Syrian army for control. Possession changed hands several times but the area remained a combat zone and had not quieted down sufficiently until it could be declared officially reopened until 2019. The highway going through this crossing allows trucks to travel from Iran, through Iraq, across Syria and into Lebanon.

Iraqi militias loyal to Iran were increasingly common after the 2019 reopening. Less than a year later Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and several prominent Iraqi pro-Iran militia leaders were killed by an American UAV missile attack outside Baghdad. The road from Anbar to Lebanon was unofficially named the Soleimani Road and the Syrian side of the border became an increasing dangerous place for Iraqi militias. In the last few months there has been at least one airstrike against Iraqi militia targets near the border crossing each week that were believed to be Israeli as the Israelis do not attack in Iraq, while the Americans will occasionally hit Iranian targets on the Iraqi side of this crossing in addition to the Syrian side.

November 14, 2021: In the west (Anbar province) an investigation by military intelligence resulted in the arrest of the senior ISIL logistics official for Anbar. Taking him alive was important because that provided an opportunity to gain more information about how the ISIL supply and financing system works. The arrested man was responsible for getting supplies and cash to ISIL camps out in the desert areas that comprise most of Anbar.

November 12, 2021: Responding to pressure from the EU, Turkey halted airline ticket sales to citizens of Iraq, Yemen and Syria who want to travel to Belarus. Middle Eastern migrants are traveling to Belarus with the intention of entering Poland, Lithuania, or Latvia, with the help of the Belarus government and military.

November 10, 2021: A month after the 5th national elections (since the Sunni dictatorship was overthrown in 2003) were held, it appears that the Sadr coalition won. While the turnout was low (44 percent of registered voters, 36 percent of eligible voters) the voting was well policed by Iraqis and foreign observers, who agreed that there was no significant cheating. The low turnout was because of low expectations that this vote would be honest and result in anything different. Several major parties, especially that led by senior, and very popular Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr and that of former prime minister Maliki, who was leading an anti-Iran effort. The big losers were the pro-Iran parties and this angered Iran big-time. This election was held six months early in order to appease the persistent and growing demonstrations to protest corruption. The protestors won, to the consternation of the many corrupt politicians who were now out of a job.

November 7, 2021: In Baghdad’s Green Zone three Iranian made UAVs carrying explosives were used to attack the home of the prime minister when it was believed the prime minister was there. Two of the UAVs were shot down and the third hit the prime minister’s home, wounding several security personnel.

November 6, 2021: Saudi Arabia signed a deal with Iraq to build and operate a second major border crossing in Muthanna province. This is one of three Iraqi provinces that border Saudi Arabia and the one closest to Kuwait. Muthanna is where the borders of Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia meet. The Saudis will pay for construction on both sides of the border for this massive border crossing complex which will enable trade between Iraq and Saudi Arabia to increase from the current one billon dollars a year to three billion. Years of violence in Iraq have led to the closing and destruction of the major border crossings to Saudi Arabia that could handle large amounts of commercial traffic. The new crossing is a big deal for the 770,000 residents of Muthanna province, where half the population lives in poverty and there is not a lot of economic activity.

October 31, 2021: In Baghdad someone fired three unguided rockets at the Green Zone but all three missed and landed in a nearby neighborhood. The Green Zone has become a haven for Iraqi politicians but a nuisance for most Baghdad residents. The zone did not exist twenty years ago. The zone was b uilt by coalition forces after 2003 as a well-protected area in downtown Baghdad. The Zone was turned over to Iraqi soldiers and police a year before the last foreign troops left in 2011. Iraqi politicians and their families moved in along with some government agencies that required heavy security. Embassies remained as well. Iraq handled the security and did a good job. Before that it was handled by American troops and American security contractors. This ten square kilometer (four square mile) sanctuary in downtown Iraq was long a safe refuge for Americans and senior Iraqis. Most Baghdad residents wanted the Green Zone, and the way it disrupted major traffic patterns, eliminated after the Americans left. But rich and powerful Iraqis wanted to live in the Green Zone, as protection from criminals and terrorists, both of whom murder, kidnap, and rob the rich. The Green Zone lives on, under Iraqi management. But the Green Zone also became the target of increasingly frequent and well-attended demonstrations protesting the inept and corrupt government.

October 26, 2021: In the northeast (Diyala Province) ISIL gunmen attacked a largely Shia village, killing 11 civilians and wounding four. This was apparently a retaliation attack because ISIL had earlier kidnapped two villagers earlier and the villagers refused to pay the ransom.


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