Iraq: Epic Stalemate Continues

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October 4, 2022: In the Kurdish north, Iran has been making attacks on the Iraqi side of the border for the last ten days. To distract attention from their own responsibility, Iran’s mullah regime falsely blames Iraqi and Iranian Kurds for the anti-hijab protests that have taken place for the last two weeks. Most of the ten million Iranian Kurds live in northwest Iran, on the Iraqi border with Iraqi Kurdistan. Most of the five million Iraqi Kurds live across the border in autonomous Kurdish Iraq.

Most of the Iraqi problems are caused by Iraqis, in particular the many corrupt Iraqi politicians and businessmen. Various audits revealed that since Saddam was removed from power in 2003, over half a trillion ($500 billion) dollars’ worth of foreign aid and oil income has been stolen by the many corrupt Iraqis handling this money. This is what is keeping the anti-corruption effort going. The corrupt families are a minority in Iraq but all that cash is used as a defensive weapon and that is what has been happening for the last year.

Four weeks ago, the Federal Supreme Court rejected lawsuits from Sadr supporters to dissolve the Council of Representatives. At the same time the courts will not support any efforts by the minority of Iran-backed parties to form a government in spite of the Sadr coalition having a majority in parliament after winning the 2021 elections. The deadlock is nearly a year old and Iran has managed to keep the pro-Iran members of parliament dedicated to not giving into the Sadr demands. The political deadlock over forming a new government shows no sign of being settled. This is all about Iran playing the spoiler and using its minority coalition of Iranian-controlled parties to block the coalition led by Senior Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al Sadr from forming a government, 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. The courts were briefly closed in August by a Sadr supporter occupation of the entrance to the SJC (Supreme Judicial Council). In response the SJC ordered all courts in the country closed. Sadr ordered his supporters to leave. Everyone is played by the rules here, 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. This is a clash between a younger generation of very anti-Iran Iraqis versus older men who have prospered, often because of Iranian support, during the last two decades. The one group that can break this deadlock are a small group of senior Shia clerics. Muqtada al Sadr has been the most active senior cleric supporting change but he needs the support of several less activist senior clerics who, so far, have been unwilling to join Sadr. Intentionally or by accident Sadr’s activism is pressuring the cautious senior clerics to join the opposition to Iranian interference. Another factor aiding Sadr is the current anti-government demonstrations in Iran, which call for the end to the corrupt religious dictatorship that has misruled Iran since 1979.

Despite Iranian violence in the north, continued Iraqi protests against corruption and successful Iranian interference in Iraqi politics, the economy is in reasonably good shape. Iraqi foreign cash reserves have reached a record $87 billion and foreign economists predict continued GDP growth over the next five years. The catch is that the 9.5 percent for 2022 will gradually decline to less than three percent by 2025 and stay there until at least 2027. The cause of this reduced growth is high (nearly 30 percent) unemployment rates which contributes to an even higher poverty rate. All this is caused by the political chaos related to corruption, and growing anti-corruption efforts. Iranian interference in Iraqi politics is another disruptive element. In third place is the continued presence of some ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) Islamic terrorists in northern and western Iraq. Meanwhile most (currently 94 percent) of the government budget is paid for with oil income. Oil prices are high ($95 a barrel) because two major producers (Iran and Russia) have to deal with sanctions on their oil exports. Iraq is exporting over $80 billion worth of oil a year and that accounts for 90 percent of Iraqi exports.

October 2, 2022: In the Kurdish northeast (Sulaymaniyah province) Turkish airstrikes and ground forces killed or captured 23 PKK members who were based near Asos Mountain.

October 1, 2022: In the Kurdish northeast (Arbil province) Iran artillery fire forced the evacuation of six border villages.

In Baghdad thousands 0f people turned out to protest against corruption. These demonstrations have been taking place since 2019, especially in southern Iraq and Baghdad. The interim caretaker prime minister Kadhimi ordered troops to not use rubber bullets or tear gas against demonstrators. There were casualties even when only rubber bullets and tear gas was used and that just encouraged more people to join the protests by Sadr supporters. That led demonstrators to throw rocks and gasoline bombs at the security forces, who responded by just throwing rocks back at the demonstrators. This led to 110 demonstrators injured along with at least 40 security personnel. The protestors greatly outnumbered the security personnel and the security forces suffered proportionately more injuries from the rocks and gasoline bombs thrown at them. The security forces held their ground on narrow routes, like bridges and some roads.

September 30, 2022: Iraq installed its second GM-400 series air defense radar in September. Two more will arrive early in 2023 and finally provide Iraq with nationwide radar coverage of air traffic. The GM-403 has a max range of 470 kilometers for larger commercial aircraft and can detect combat aircraft at 390 kilometers. All aircraft can be detected at altitudes up to 32 kilometers (100,000 feet).

September 28, 2022: In the Kurdish northeast (Sulaymaniyah province) Iran used guided and unguided rockets as well as armed UAVs to cause over 70 explosions that left 13 dead and 58 wounded. Two of the dead were American (a mother and her day-old infant). Iran justified this attack by blaming Iraqi Kurds for supporting twelve days of demonstrations protesting the death of Kurdish woman in Tehran who was accused of not properly covering her hair with a hijab. The 12 days of protests have left over fifty dead and thousands arrested. Anti-hijab protests have been taking place since 1979 when a religious dictatorship replaced the monarchy. Iraq made a diplomatic protest against Iran for the Iranian rocket and artillery attacks in the north.

In nearby Erbil (Arbil) province American troops shot down an Iranian Mohajer-6 UAV. About half the weight of an American Predator, Mohajer-6 is normally used for aerial surveillance but is equipped to carry about a 100 kg (220 pounds) of missiles and bombs. American bases in Iraq, especially near the Iranian border in the north, have strong air defenses. Mohajer-6 is among the many UAVs Iran recently sold to Russia for use in Ukraine. Some Mohajer-6s were given to Iran-backed PMF militias in 2021. These have to be careful not to fly too close to any American bases.

September 26, 2022: In Lebanon the Central Bank reported that $18 billion deposited by the Iraqi and Kurdish governments as well as Kurdish and Iraqi politicians and businessmen, was temporarily unavailable for withdrawal because of an ongoing economic crisis in Lebanon. Only $2 billion was deposited by Iraqi or Kurdish governments but the rest was definitely from Iraq and Lebanon is one of the few countries in the region where corrupt politicians and businessmen can put their money and keep it safe from efforts to seize funds stolen by corrupt politicians and businesses. The Lebanese bankers said that the foreign deposits would eventually be available for withdrawal, as soon as the economic crisis in Lebanon was cleared up. The Lebanese bankers don’t want to lose foreign deposits like this, so they will make an effort to get the Lebanese economy working again. Lebanon had long been a major banking center in the region but the 1975-1990 Civil War put an end to that and Lebanon has been trying to regain its primacy in regional banking for the last two decades. By the 1980s most of Lebanon's foreign depositors had fled to new safe havens in the UAE (United Arab Emirates).

September 13, 2022: Iraq had agreed to take about 30 percent of the Iraqis held prisoners in Syrian prison camps, and prosecute those who are suspected of ISIL crimes. That process has taken more time than expected. There are still about 56,000 of these prisoners at the al Hol camp, most of them women and children that no one wanted to take back. Many of the ISIL wives are obviously still active ISIL members and many were caught smuggling weapons into the camp when they were searched before entering. These ISIL women are terrorizing other camp residents and seeking to intimidate the camp guards. The Kurds needed help paying for the camp and wanted the nations these people came from, including Syria, to claim and take custody of them. Nearly all camp residents claim to be non-Syrian but for many of them it is unclear exactly where they come from. Some active ISIL terrorists are in the camps and are the source of much violence. Nearly a hundred prisoners were killed in al Hol this year and ISIL leadership keeps calling for members inside and outside the camps to cooperate to create a major uprising in the camps in northeast Syria (Kurdish controlled Hasaka province), Kurdish security forces have spent several weeks searching the al Hol prison camp for Islamic terrorists and gangsters hiding out there. Several dozen suspects have been arrested. Since 2018 the SDF has been maintaining prison camps for captured ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) fighters and their families. This includes persistent problems with criminal activity taking place among the prisoners. The SDF has to keep pointing to their allies that without some help in dealing with the huge number of ISIL captives they ended up with the situation would get out of control. By 2019 the SDF had over 50,000 prisoners held in a large refugee/prison camp and various governments were asked to verify who was a citizen of where. The UN has been asked to take custody of those found to be stateless.

September 12, 2022: Iraq also had a Cholera outbreak this year, for the first time since 2015. This may be related to the recent incident in eastern Syria (Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces) where a failure to provide chlorine for water pumping stations led to contaminated water and an outbreak of Cholera. At least three people have died so far. Typically, about three to four percent of Cholera cases turn fatal.

August 31, 2022: Responding to Iraqi and American complaints and retaliation, Iran ordered all its militias, including Hezbollah, in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province and the Euphrates River Valley) to take down any rocket launching facilities aimed at American bases near the Iraqi border. Iran wants to concentrate its efforts on Kurdish forces in the area.

 

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