Iraq: Overdue And Underestimated


February 10, 2023: Iranians continue to feel unwelcome in Iraq and that process will continue until Iran is no longer a threat to Iraqi control of Iraq. Despite problems inside Iran, there are still corrupt Iraqi businessmen and officials who make some money anyway they can. The illegal export of Iraqi currency and U.S. dollars to Iran is one example of the continued cooperation between two countries that are in so many other ways enemies. In these deals both sides come away believing they have gotten the better of the other. Iranians are somewhat more aware of this and have long believed the Iraqis were delusional and easily swindled. That tends to be true, but Iraqis get the best of the Iranians often enough to keep these deals coming.

Since 2021 Iranian influence in Iraq has visibly declined because of so many Iraqis opposing Iranian interference in Iraq plus help from other Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, in reducing Iranian influence in Iraq. This was obvious after the 2021 national election where pro-Iran parties did poorly while the anti-corruption Sadr coalition won 73 of 329 seats in parliament. Senior Shia Islamic cleric Moqtada Sadr now had momentum and the best chance of forming a majority coalition and of forming a government that would make good on his promise to do something about government corruption (the two are not the same, which is often true in politics). Sadr was unable to get enough ethnic or religious coalitions to join him and form a government. Even then, Sadr would have to achieve a two-thirds vote in parliament to elect a new president. This was seen as a win for Iran and corrupt Iraqi politicians.

With the Sadr coalition gone, Sudani was able to get himself elected as prime minister. Sadr and his followers claim that Sudani will be ineffective in dealing with the corruption and continuing influence of Iran in Iraqi politics. It’s up to Sudani to prove Sadr wrong. Mindful of Sadr’s criticism, Sudani began arresting and prosecuting corrupt Iraqis and dealing with the lack of public services, especially in the Shia majority south (Basra province). Sadr’s followers are holding protests against Sudani and that won’t stop until Sudani proves he can do something effective about the corruption and poor government performance.

Sudani also has to deal with accusations that he will not act against Iranian efforts to operate in Iraq and influence government decisions. Sudani can deal with a lot of those criticisms by effectively reducing corruption and improving government services. That means dealing with the pro-Iran members of parliament who backed him becoming prime minister. Sudani has to move carefully here because as much as he wants Iraq free of Iranian influence, many of his supporters in parliament were more cooperative with Iran. That cooperation includes leaving alone Iraqi oil and American currency smugglers who do business with Iran. There is also Iranian opposition to the small American military contingent staying in Iraq. Most Iraqis want the Americans to stay in order to help keep Iran out. To Iraqis, their situation versus Iran has improved because inside Iran nationwide anti-government protests in September 2022 persisted into 2023. This is the most public opposition the Iranian Islamic dictatorship has ever faced and it’s unclear how and when it will end.

Iraq is making some progress against corruption, which many Iraqis see as an example of Iranian influences. To reduce corruption you have to eliminate each specific incidence and keep that corrupt practice gone. Same with the presence of Islamic terrorists. Iraqi oil production remains strong and revenue from oil exports grows, providing more cash for long-overdue updates of elderly infrastructure.

February 7, 2023: The government approved the decision by the central banks to change the official exchange rate for the dinar from 1,450 to 1,300 dinars for one dollar. Three days ago, the U.S. government agreed to assist in stabilizing the value of the dinar, which was actually as high as 1,600 dinars to buy a dollar. For the new official rate to work the government has to control corruption, which is often the worst inside the government.

February 6, 2023: A massive earthquake registering 7.8, on a scale where anything over six is considered major, devastated the Turkish-Syrian border in northeast Syria. This has long been a major combat zone on the Syrian side of the border. Most of the earthquake damage took place on the Turkish side. Total deaths soon grew to over 20,000 and the total won't be known until the massive numbers of collapsed structures, especially in residential areas, are searched. The quake brought a halt to combat in Syria and Turkish military operations in the area as well as the food and other aid for the many civilians trapped in the Syrian Idlib province combat zone. This disrupts the operations of Islamic terror groups in the area. Islamic terrorists in other parts of Syria, particularly near the Israeli and Iraqi borders, reduced or suspended operations because of fears they would be subject to more attacks as a result of the temporary neutralization of Islamic terrorist operations in northern Syria. Israel and Iraq have both sent rescue and relief aid to Turkey. Iran ordered its Islamic terrorists support units (Quds Force) in the area to provide any quake relief they are capable of. Some other Islamic terrorist groups did the same.

February 4, 2023: The United States agreed to help Iraq stabilize the values of their dinar versus American dollars. Since late 2022 the dinar has been losing value against the dollar because of public panic over corrupt government officials illegally providing Iran and other sanctioned nations dollars. From 2010 to late 2022 the exchange rate for the Iraqi currency (dinar) has hovered around 1,200 dinars to buy one dollar. Then an American effort to halt the illegal moving of dollars to Iran and Syria increased that by more than 20 percent. With dollars more expensive in dinars, imported goods in Iraq become more expensive. The government blamed the Americans but the root cause was corruption in the Iraqi banking system. Many government officials profit from this, but blaming Westerners for mistakes by local officials is a long-standing custom. The new currency curbs leave Iran with fewer dollars and less capability to interfere in Iraqi affairs. After a few months of this, the Iraqi government apologized to the United States and cooperated in shutting down the illegal dollar transfers. The joint announcement by Iraqi and American treasury officials was enough to stabilize the dinar versus dollar situation.

February 1, 2023: In the north (Nineveh province) eight rockets were fired at the local Turkish army base. There were no casualties.

January 29, 2023: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) unidentified armed UAVs attacked a convoy of trucks that had just left Iraq and were moving towards a nearby base used by Iran-backed militias. Many of these militiamen are from Iraq or Lebanon (Hezbollah). Sometimes the UAVs are American but sometimes they are Israeli, which has UAVs capable of doing this and intelligence assets (photo satellites and local informants) to detect and track such Iranian supply convoys. Iraq doesn’t care who does it as long as the attacks take place on the Syrian side of the border.

January 21, 2023: In Iraq, American counter-terrorism efforts are aided by Iraqi efforts to eliminate ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) presence in Iraq. The Iraqis arrest or kill lots of ISIL members. So do the Americans. This is one reason why the major American counter-terrorism effort is still in the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq. While ISIL no longer controls any territory in these two nations, that area still contains the largest concentration of ISIL members and is thus a “target rich” environment for counter-terror operations. This area is still where the senior ISIL officials live (and more frequently die) because of 3,400 American troops and even more from local organizations that are very good at finding, fighting and killing or capturing ISIL members. In 2022 that amounted to 1,100 ISL members killed or captured. Nearly 60 percent were killed because even when cornered, ISIL members tend to fight to the death. While most of the ISIL losses were suffered by ISIL affiliates, none were as concentrated as the ISIL activity and losses in Syria and Iraq. There are over a dozen ISIL affiliates outside Syria-Iraq, most of them in Africa (from North Africa to Mozambique and South Africa). There are affiliates in Arabia, Israel (Palestinian territories), Afghanistan and South East Asia. In short, ISIL is becoming small but more dispersed and much less active.




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