Iraq: The Enemy Within


June 21, 2023: Iraq has two major problems, one external and the other internal. Neighboring Iran is ruled by a religious dictatorship that condones aggressive interference in neighboring countries. Iraq has long been the main recipient of this meddling. Iran has long sought more economic and political influence in Iraq. This is made easier by Iraq’s internal problem with corruption. Historically what is now known as Iraq was seen as the most corrupt region in the Middle East, if not the world.

For the last 30 years Transparency International mas been monitoring corruption worldwide. This is done by measuring corruption on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The nations with the worst score are currently Syria (score of 14), South Sudan (12) and Somalia (12). The least corrupt nations are currently Denmark and New Zealand, each with a score of 88. Iraq had a score of 23 in 2022, up from 21 in 2020, 20 in 2019, 17 in 2017-18 and 16 in 2013.

Since Iraq became a democracy in 2004, reducing corruption has become more and more at the center of reform efforts. Iraq has long been infamous for its high levels of corruption. Before Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003, the corruption was somewhat controlled by Saddam and his government. Saddam used the corruption to raise money and reward friends and punish enemies. Eliminating Saddam did not eliminate the corruption but did mean you could openly protest the corruption without risking arrest or execution.

To deal with corruption and Iran the Iraqis rely on more reliable foreigners. Prominent among these foreigners are Americans. In addition to many American contractors, Iraq also hosts several thousand American troops. These are part of an effort to reduce growing Iranian influence in Iraq. Arabs see Iran as a major troublemaker in the region. The Turks, Americans and Israelis agree and are all doing something to keep the Iranians out. The Assads in neighboring Syria are somewhere in the middle when it comes to Iran. At the moment the Assads want closer relations with its fellow Arabs, have been readmitted to the Arab League, and are negotiating with Saudi Arabia for reconstruction assistance and commercial investments.

Keeping Iran out of Iraq is complicated by the fact that lots of Iraqis have been pro-Iranian for almost twenty years, and a growing number appear to be on the government payroll via the post-2014 deal that put all PMF (Popular Mobilization Force) militias on the army payroll. Technically this meant that the PMF units had to report to senior army commanders and obey orders issued by army generals. That was fine in theory but did not work in practice. The PMF units took the payroll cash but refused to obey army commands or requests. Each year the PMF units demanded more money from the government. This cash came out of the army budget. This year PMF wants nearly $3 billion. The PMF claims that this is what it needed to support about 200,000 PMF members and that number increases each year. The PMF leadership additionally contends that many of its troops will resort to violence if not paid. The PMF is composed of many groups with different and/or conflicting motives (some are even patriotic and lots more are pro-Iranian), but most are corruption scams (“ghost soldiers”). This is when large numbers of soldiers are claimed but do not exist and whoever controls the payroll and other expenses for these non-existent troops just steals the money. It is suspected that some of the ghost soldier cash going to the PMF is being diverted to Iran. This would not be the first time that cash from Iraqi corruption went to Iran, which is responsible for a lot of the corruption in Iraq. Iran also has problems with corruption but not to the extent of Iraq. To Iran, Iraqi corruption is an opportunity for them and a constant drag on Iraqi economic and social development. Iraqis are increasingly active in trying to reduce corruption but it is one of those situations where “we have met the enemy and they are us” applies. For Iraqis, reducing corruption is the ultimate form of self-improvement. Another problem is that while most Iraqis recognize corruption as a major problem, few are willing to take the lead in suppressing it. They want other Iraqis to go first. The corruption is so pervasive that eliminating it costs many Iraqis a lot of income. Reducing corruption is nice in theory but in practice is a painful adjustment for many and no one wants to make the first move.

June 17, 2023: In the north (Kirkuk) an ISIL roadside bomb attacked an army convoy but only one soldier was wounded. Over the last fifteen years Iraq has obtained over a thousand MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected), which are similar to armored trucks and greatly reduce the effectiveness of roadside bombs and anti-vehicle mines.

June 13, 2023: In the Kurdish north, Turkey claimed that one of their airstrikes killed three Yazidi militiamen and wounded three others. Yazidi officials insisted there were no casualties because the Turkish UAV had fired a missile at an abandoned village and the only one killed was a local shepherd. The Turks accuse the Yazidi of supporting PKK (Turkish Kurd separatist). The Yazidi are Kurds who practice a pre-Christian religion related to the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian religion once common in Iran before Islam and now only found in India. The Yazidis are considered pagans by ISIL and to Moslems pagans must either renounce their beliefs or die. The Kurds have always gotten along better with Yazidis, Christians and other minorities and many of those people fled to the Kurdish north. In 2015 it was the Kurds who recaptured Yazidi territory from ISIL.

June 12, 2023: Parliament approved a record high $153 billion budget which included a record high deficit of $49 billion. This was four times higher than the 2022 deficit. The heavy spending is meant to deal with reconstruction in the wake to more than two decades of fighting. There are also development projects, especially to increase oil production. Oil income pays for most of the federal budget and 99 percent of foreign exchange for imports. To keep the peace, money is needed to rebuild infrastructure, including water, sewage disposal and the health care system. Roads have to be maintained as well as irrigation systems that is a major reason for a 60 percent increase in wheat production to 3.5 million tons. Iraq consumes 4.6 million tons of wheat annually and what can’t be produced internally has to be imported.

June 11, 2023: In the north (Kirkuk province) two soldiers were killed and three wounded by an ISIL attack.

June 8, 2023: Iraq confirmed that 3,000 Iraqi terrorists had been returned from Syria and prosecuted for their crimes. There are still over 10,000 Iraqi in al Hol prison camp. The Iraqis terrorists had been held in eastern Syria (Raqqa province) by the Kurdish SDF forces who operated al Hol. Kurdish security forces regularly search the al Hol for active Islamic terrorists and criminal gangs operating in the camp. Several suspects are arrested during each search. SDF has been maintaining the prison camps for captured ISIL fighters and their families since 2018. The SDF must divert troops and other resources to maintain camps This includes persistent problems with criminal activity taking place among the prisoners. The SDF has to keep complaining to their allies that without some help in dealing with the huge number of ISIL captives in al Hol, the situation would get out of control. In 2019 the SDF had over 50,000 refugees (most of them under 18) in the al Hol complex 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. Iraq agreed to take about 30 percent of the refugees and prosecute those who are suspected of ISIL crimes. That process was slower than expected. The SDF decided to try the known ISIL members, turning those convicted over to the UN and releasing the rest, along with their families. Most of the people in the camps are women and children.

Al Hol has existed since the 1991 Gulf War when the UN established it to handle refugees from the fighting. Al Hol kept expanding since then because there was more fighting in Syria and Iraq and more refugees. There are still about 50,000 people 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. There is a separate high-security area for known Islamic terrorists and other criminals. 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 are killed in al Hol some years and ISIL leadership keeps calling for members inside and outside the camps to cooperate to create a major uprising in the camps. Food and other aid from the United States and other donors is distributed by the UN to NGOs (Non-Government-Organizations) that do the actual work in al Hol distributing food and other supplies as well as providing medical care. The Kurds need to maintain good relations with the United States, which has been a major supplier of military and other assistance to the Kurds. Because of that the Kurds can’t just walk away from al Hol.

June 7, 2023: In Baghdad, raids by soldiers and PMF militiamen killed four ISIL members.

June 2, 2023: In the northwest the IRGC used UAVs carrying explosives to attack Iranian Kurdish separatists based in northern Iraq.

June 1, 2023: During May, American forces carried out 21 attacks on ISIL in Iraq, leaving six ISIL members dead and eleven captured.

May 25, 2023: A legal dispute continues to block the flow of oil through the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline. The pipeline can carry about 450,000 barrels a day from northern Iraq to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The flow stopped March 25 after an arbitration court ruled that Turkey violated the 1973 pipeline transit agreement and now owes Iraq around $1.5 billion.




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