Iraq: Good Versus Evil Deadlock

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August 26, 2022: Senior Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al Sadr has been unrelenting in his anti-corruption campaign, especially against former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Evidence of corrupt Maliki decisions since he became the first prime minister of post-Saddam Iraq in 2003 led to his being banned from running for prime minister again. Sadr wanted Maliki banned from politics altogether, but court rulings allowed Maliki to remain active and his party alliance was key in blocking the selection of a new prime minister after anti-corruption parties obtained a majority in the 2021 elections. Iraqi courts are less corrupt than many other institutions but can still be influenced by cash or convincing death threats. Currently the courts are closed because of a Sadr supporter occupation of the entrance to the SJC (Supreme Judicial Council). In response the SJC ordered all courts in the country closed. Everyone is playing by the rules, with no violence. Nonetheless there is a deadlock between Sadr, who wants new elections because the current parliament contains many members elected fraudulently. A pro-Iran block in parliament blocks acceptance of Sadr’s demand. Sadr followers see this as an essential battle to eliminate Iranian influence and reduce corruption. Both Iran and corrupt Iraqi officials refuse to back down.

Despite the political gridlock, the economy is doing well. Foreign economists believe the Iraqi economy (GDP) will grow 5.5 percent this year and 4.4 percent in 2023. This is happening despite a high level of corruption in the economy and politics. Corruption has been reduced in the last few years and that has mobilized the corrupt factions to defend their lucrative but illegal practices.

August 25, 2022: Another leaked audio featured Ahmed Al-Jubouri, current MP (Member of Parliament) and former governor of Saladin province, negotiating a corrupt deal in which the judge would receive a $205,000 bribe (in Iraqi dinars) and in return appoint Jubouri a judge on the criminal court, as well as obtain jobs for fifteen people in the Ministry of Education. A month ago, the first recording was released and senior Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al Sadr demanded that former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki be prosecuted because of audio recordings of his political views that demonstrate him making deals with anyone, including Iran, to defeat Sadr and his many supporters. If convicted, Maliki faces life in prison or even execution. So far Maliki has managed to avoid prosecution of any judicial action because of the recording. Sadr has been unrelenting in his anti-corruption campaign, Evidence of corrupt Maliki decisions since he became the first prime minister of post-Saddam Iraq in 2003 led to his being banned from running for prime minister again. Sadr wanted Maliki banned from politics altogether, but court rulings allowed Maliki to remain active and his party alliance was key in blocking the selection of a new prime minister after anti-corruption parties obtained a majority in the 2021 elections. Iraqi courts are less corrupt than many other institutions but can still be influenced by cash or convincing death threats.

Iraqi journalist Ali Fadel, now living in the United States after surviving many efforts to kill him in Iraq, obtained both recordings. The first was an hour-long audio recording of Maliki discussing his plans to thwart Sadr and his anti-corruption efforts by any means. That includes mobilizing Iran-backed armed groups for what could turn into a civil war. Fadel released the first audio recording a minute or two at a time. The second one was released all at once via Twitter.

Maliki’s views are no secret because he often expresses them in private to associates or potential allies. Maliki insists the audio recording is a fake but it sounds real and is certainly plausible considering Maliki’s political activities for over a decade. An official judicial investigation of the recordings and their revelations began yesterday. Maliki refuses to cooperate, which may result in an arrest warrant. If and when the full audio is released and available for technical analysis to determine authenticity, it would persuade many Iraqi party leaders to back Sadr and give his coalition enough (a two-thirds majority) votes to select a new prime minister.

The second recording documents judicial corruption that has long been a feature of Iraqi politics. Recordings such this have long been used to document details of corrupt deals. In the past these recordings rarely reached the public. But now two showing up in a month seems to confirm that Sadr’s anti-corruption effort is having an impact.

In the north (Nineveh province) a truck mounted rocket launcher launched nine 107mm rockets at a Turkish base. There were no casualties or substantial damage. Turkish bases and military forces have been in northern Iraq since 2016 and are used by troops hunting for Turkish PKK Kurdish separatists who continue to operate there.

August 24, 2022: In the west (Anbar province) Iraqi F-16s carried out six airstrikes against ISIL occupied locations out in the countryside. The army and special operations forces supplied the locations to be attacked.

August 23, 2022: The Supreme Judicial Council in Baghdad suspended all court functions throughout the country to avoid pressure from followers of senior Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al Sadr on the courts to dissolve parliament. Shutting down the courts also disrupts prosecutions for corruption. Sadr followers began a sit-in at the Supreme Judicial Council’s offices to pressure the judges to dissolve parliament and hold new elections. Parliament has been unable to form a new government for ten months. By the end of the day Sadr told his supporters to life their blockade

August 22, 2022: In the south (Dhi Qar province, 375 kilometers south of Baghdad) a crashed UAV carrying explosives was found. It is unknown where the UAV came from or where it was headed.

August 20, 2022: In central Iraq (Saladin, or Salahuddin, Province) a counter-terrorism operation in the Hamrin Mountains killed six ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) gunmen via an airstrike. When soldiers reached the site of the bombing, they discovered that one of the dead was Abu Maryam Al-Qahtani, a senior ISIL official in the province.

Elsewhere in Saladin province an Iran backed group used a roadside bomb to attack an American supply convoy. There was no damage or casualties.

August 15, 2022: In the west (Syrian border) American troops at a border base shot down two UAVs seeking to attack their base.

August 11, 2022: There were explosions at two Iran-backed PMF militia bases. It is unclear if these explosions were the result of an attack by anti-Iran groups or a heat-caused detonation of munitions stored above ground. This time of year daytime temperatures often exceed 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

August 8, 2022: In the south (Najaf province) a munitions storage warehouse belonging to an Iran-backed militia exploded. The cause was believed to be days of exceptionally hot weather, which tends to make munitions unstable and prone to spontaneous explosion. This was a large explosion and there were apparently some casualties.

August 6, 2022: In the Kurdish north (Duhok province) Turkish warplanes attacked several villages believed occupied by PKK members. Turkey believes that several thousand PKK members use the mountains of northern Iraq as a sanctuary. Turkey has been attacking PKK bases in this area since 1983.

August 2, 2022: In the northeast (Diyala Province) ISIL ambushed an army patrol, killing five soldiers and wounding four. The soldiers were speeding towards a checkpoint that had been fired on by a smaller ISIL force. This killed one soldier and wounded another. That triggered a rapid reaction force to rush to the scene.

July 31, 2022: In Afghanistan, an armed American UAV killed al Qaeda supreme leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was living openly in Kabul. In 2011, when al Qaeda leader and founder Osama bin Laden was killed in his Pakistani hideout by American commandos, Zawahiri took over and continued operating from temporary hideouts on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border. His mentor, bin Laden, had obtained sanctuary in a residential compound in a Pakistani military city. Zawahiri had a decade’s old relationship with Iran, which provides some sanctuary for prominent al Qaeda members, but under restrictive terms dictated by Iran. This arrangement gives Iran some leverage in getting al Qaeda to ease up on attacks on Shia Moslems worldwide, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. When the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in late 2021, Zawahiri felt it was safe for him to move to Kabul and live there with his family. He misjudged the situation. Meanwhile his second-in-command and successor was apparently safe in Iran. This new head of al Qaeda will have to leave Iran and reveal his identity to assume control of al Qaeda.

In the late 1990s al Qaeda headquarters moved to Afghanistan, where the Taliban provided sanctuary. That ended when the American attacked in late 2001. Pakistan quietly provided sanctuary. Against groups like al Qaeda, the U.S. uses decapitation attacks as part of their counterterrorism strategy. Decapitation is what you call the strategy of seeking out and killing the senior leadership of an organization, especially an international Islamic terrorist group like al Qaeda. Founded in 1988 to foster the creation and growth of Islamic terror groups worldwide, the term “al Qaeda” means “the base”. Founder Osama bin Laden was the wealthy Saudi citizen whose billionaire father died in a plane crash in 1967 when Osama was ten years old. The elder bin Laden was not only fabulously wealthy. Osama inherited about $30 million and studied business, engineering, public administration and religion but left his university studies in 1979 to go join the fight against the Russian invaders of Afghanistan. Bin Laden discovered he was more useful as an organizer and fundraiser for Afghan men who were refugees in Pakistan but regularly went back to Afghanistan to fight the Russians. Bin Laden raised a lot of money and organized the delivery of weapons and distribution of them to Afghan fighters. Bin Laden demonstrated an exceptional organizational talent and, as the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988, bin Laden formed al Qaeda to continue his work of organizing Islamic terror groups and planning operations against non-Moslems, especially those in the west. Bin Laden was responsible for planning the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington. This made him a much more effective fund raiser and recruiter of Islamic terrorists. That enabled al Qaeda to establish affiliates in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and many other countries. Bin Laden’s successor, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, was one of the reasons Bin Laden organized over a dozen al Qaeda affiliates before his death. The American commandos carried away his body and all his files, which detailed how bin Laden and al Qaeda operated. Zawahiri carried on bin Laden's work and was responsible for going stealthy after ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) showed up in 2013 when a faction of the Iraqi al Qaeda went to Syria and founded ISIL. Zawahiri saw ISIL as an opportunity, not a threat. ISIL factions were always smaller than nearby al Qaeda groups and would attack everyone, including other Islamic terror groups who refused to be absorbed into ISIL. Zawahiri told al Qaeda affiliates to avoid getting into a war with local ISIL but to seek a truce so ISIL could go after more appropriate targets. ISIL was always the primary target for counterterrorism efforts, including airstrikes. That meant fewer attacks on al Qaeda which continued to establish new affiliate groups and expand existing ones. When an al Qaeda group got into trouble, as the one in Yemen did, Zawahiri would advise them and send money so that they could go quiet for a while and rebuild. Yemen’s ISIL group is down to a few dozen members and growing weaker.

It is unclear who will succeed Zawahiri, who had long been bin Laden’s designated successor. Zawahiri never revealed who, if anyone, was his designated successor. There may be one, for Zawahiri had several capable associates. He never met with them regularly, as that was part of his survival strategy. Not naming a successor kept that successor off the target list. Zawahiri did have a designated successor initially, but he was killed in 2015. Whoever Zawahiri’s successor is, he won't have over a decade of working personally with the al Qaeda leader. Zawahiri had strategic and organizational skills before he joined al Qaeda and bin Laden depended on Zawahiri to deal with operations. The capabilities, or lack of them in Zawahiri’s successor is decisive for al Qaeda growth. Without capable leadership al Qaeda ceases to be a successful affiliation and source of support. Current affiliates will weaken and there will be less Islamic terrorism.

July 26, 2022: Since early in 2022 Iraq has been seeking to lease or buy 14 Rafale fighters from France. This deal is still pending, as are other weapons purchases from France. The Rafale deal will cost at least $100 million per aircraft if purchased and $240 million on a short -term lease. Iraq is offering to pay in oil, not cash. Iraq will also accept used Rafales. Iraq is not alone. The growing threat from Iran has made it easier for France to sell a lot more Dassault Rafale jet fighters than anyone expected. Increased Iranian and Chinese aggression expedited and escalated sales to Arab states, India and Indonesia. For Iraq, the need for Rafales is different. Currently Iraq needs new fighters because its current fighter force consists of 34 F-16 fighters and Iraq has been unable to keep them flying because of a shortage of spare parts and maintainers. The spare parts shortage is because of corruption, where much of the spare parts money is plundered by larcenous politicians. A more immediate problem is a lack of maintainers. Most of them are foreign contractors who left the country in 2021 because the Balad airbase where the F-16s are has experienced a growing number of attacks from Islamic terrorists. This lack of security led the foreign contractors to leave and they won’t be back until Balad is safe. Apparently the Rafales will be based elsewhere and the contract maintainers will be more willing to work in a combat zone. Much of the violence against Balad was caused by local Islamic terrorists or Iran-backed groups that want American forces out of Iraq. The French are seen as just another bunch of foreign specialists, who are common in the Iraqi oil industry. As a bonus France will sell advanced air-to-air missiles for these Rafales that the U.S. refused to provide for the F-16s.

July 24, 2022: Central Iraq (Saladin Province, 200 kilometers north of Baghdad) and the Syrian border west of Saladin province continue to be a major source of casualties as ISIL has to fight to maintain ISIL access to sanctuaries in the mountains of Saladin province and the desert areas of eastern Syria where most ISIL offensive operations are taking place. During 2021 major counterterror operations in and around Saladin Province crippled the terrorists to the extent that ISIL attacks in Saladin and surrounding areas were down 95 percent. ISIL is still active. This is despite the increasingly lethal atmosphere for ISIL members in Iraq. ISIL faces more widespread and effective opposition in Iraq and is bringing in more fighters from Syria to avoid losing more, or all, sanctuaries in Iraq. The battles with ISIL are a major source of terrorism related casualties in Iraq. Even with that such fatalities are way down in Iraq. There is a similar decline in Syria, which is still suffering more deaths than Iraq. In both countries the presence of Iranian or pro-Iranian forces is a major factor in the continued violence. ISIL and Iran are extremely hostile to each other. ISIL sees itself as the champion of Sunni superiority while Iran champions Shia Islam. This is a conflict that has been going on for nearly a thousand years and it periodically gets very bloody. The current upsurge is the result of all that oil money in the region and ISIL and Iranian animosity towards Israel.

 

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