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Iraq: Confronting Turks And Iranians

Friday, 31 July 2020 18:43

Iran still has enough loyal (to Iran) Iraqi militias to be a threat to the Iraqi government. Most Iraqi politicians and voters want less Iranian influence. Iran wants fewer foreign troops in Iraq. That is a point of contention because Iraqis realize the foreign troops offer some assurance that Western and Arab states would actively assist Iraq if Iran sought to take control via a civil war or invasion. Civil war is the more likely option, but only in an emergency, such as Iraq appearing to succeed in disbanding all the pro-Iran militias.

Iran has ordered its associates in Iraq to try terror, as in kidnapping and assassination, to extract cooperation from Iraqi officials. Iran also ordered its militiamen to fire on protestors who were protesting corruption or Iran. In response to that the prime minister officially announced that the security forces had orders to not shoot at protestors but to use force against anyone who is harming protestors. Iran was not mentioned but this announcement made it clear that anyone shooting at protestors was working for Iran. Same with the growing number of kidnappings and assassinations. Some of these are the work of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) but a growing number are carried out by pro-Iran Iraqis. If the victim has been speaking out against Iran and the perpetrator wasn’t an Islamic terrorist then Iran was probably responsible.

Worse still is the fact that Iranian influence inside Iraq has waned since the American airstrike in January that killed Quds commander Qassem Soleimani, along with the commander of the Iraqi Katab Hezbollah and several other key Iran-backed Iraqi militia leaders. Iranian influence was already declining rapidly in 2019 and Soleimani was seen as a major factor in slowing that decline. Soleimani was an exceptional leader and Iran was unable to replace him with anyone of similar capabilities, stature and influence. This was made worse by the growing Iranian financial crises. This was demonstrated when Esmail Ghaani, the new Quds commander, made his first visit to Iraq and he, like Soleimani, crossed the border with impunity. Things went downhill from there. Iraqi supporters of Iran expected Esmail Ghaani to bring lots of cash for Iraqi commanders, to reinforce the alliance with and obedience to Iran. Ghaani didn’t have any cash and passed out some cheap jewelry. Ghaani went back to Iran and reported that he had made progress. That turned out to be overly optimistic because they next time he tried to cross the into Iraq, he was stopped by border guards and told he, specifically him, had to apply for a visa first. Once Ghaani got back into Iraq he found that the reports of declining PMF morale and evaporating support for Iran were true. Again, Ghaani did not have any cash to pass around to encourage his followers.

Iraqis are also aware of similar anti-Iran sentiments in Lebanon, which provided trainers and advisors to create the Iraqi Katab Hezbollah, which is openly accused of working for Iran to achieve Iranian control over Iraq. Growing popular anger in Iran against the religious dictatorship there also sends a message to Iraqis that even Iranians don’t trust or like the Iranian government. Both Iranians and Iraqis are defying the Iranian government thugs in both countries and tearing down or defacing posters and billboards promoting the Iranian government and its policies. The Iraqi government does not back off on its resistance to Iranian control keeps applying economic and other pressure on PMF militias to act like they are Iraqi, not agents of Iran.

 

Reduced support for Iran within the PMF crippled the recent Iranian attack plan against American forces in Iraq. This effort began in October and has included over 40 attacks so far. Few of these efforts did any damage and caused even fewer caused casualties. General Soleimani was trying to fix that when the American got to him in January. Iran expected the death of Soleimani would trigger more anti-American anger among Iraqis. Didn’t happen. Most Iraqis saw Soleimani as more of a threat than the Americans. Iran was next door and forever threatening. The Americans were far away and had left once before, in 2011, and had to be asked to return in 2014 to deal with the ISIL invasion. The Americans are again eager to leave, the Iranians are not. Most Iranians want less money spent on subverting Iraq and more spent on building the Iranian economy and raising the standard of living. That is not a priority with the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) and its Quds Force that specializes in destabilizing other countries, like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Creeping Covid19 Crisis

Back in April Iraq had 1,621 covid19 cases and 83 dead. That was 41 cases per million population and two dead per million. Three months later and its 2,900 cases per million and 114 dead per million. Iraqi medical experts know a lot of covid19 infections and deaths are still going unreported and often unnoticed. The virus mainly kills the elderly and anyone with existing medical problems. A covid19 death can easily be mistaken for pneumonia or just an already very sick patient dying of their non-covid19 illness. Known covid19 infections and deaths are mainly an urban thing and Iraq has several large cities where the virus has settled in.

 

Covid19 experience throughout the region varies. In Iran there have been 3,531 cases per million people and 194 deaths per million. The Iranian official data is bogus and the true death rates are more than four times higher. Covid19 has become a major crisis in Iran. In Turkey its 2,723 cases and 67 deaths per million. In Kuwait it is 15,409 and 104. In Saudi Arabia it is 7,806 and 81. In the UAE it is 6,006 and 35.

Identified cases are not as important as confirmed deaths. That is a true indication of how far the virus has spread. It is also now known that for most of the population covid19 is no more of a than a bad strain of influenza, like the one that came along as recently as 2018 and not as fatal as flu strains that showed up in the late 1950s and 60s. Where covid19 does the most damage is among those already seriously ill with something else. This means many of the elderly. Protect the most vulnerable and you limit the covid19 death rate enormously. Wealthier nations have better medical care and larger populations of older people who are being treated, but not cured, of many afflictions that covid19 can turn into a fatal condition. Most of the covid19 deaths so far have been among the most vulnerable, not the general population.

Among the large industrialized nations with good public health, several have suffered over 500 deaths per million so far. These include Britain (677), Spain (608), Italy (581) and Sweden (567). Sweden was notable because they did not impose any restrictions on Swedes but did report the status of the disease and who to keep isolated (the already ill plus the elderly). Sweden did not shut down its economy.

 

Several industrialized nations have done much better, like Germany (110), Canada (236) and the United States (465). Even the death data from industrialized nations is not entirely accurate because not all suspected covid19 deaths are checked for the presence of the virus. Hospitals in industrialized nations find a lot of sickly people showing up claiming to have covid19 but turn out not to have it. They have something similar or nothing at all. It’s a common reaction during well publicized epidemics. Even during the annual influenza season hospitals and doctors are visited by a lot of people who think they have the flu but don’t. These are complex diseases in more ways than most people know or will admit.

July 29, 2020: In the northwest, across the border in Syria (Deir Ezzor province) Iran backed Iraqi Katab Hezbollah have been seen operating 20 kilometers from the Iraq border. The Iraqi government forbids Iraqi militias from operating in Syria without government permission. Iran is increasingly flaunting this rule.

July 27, 2020: In the north (Saladin, or Salahuddin, Province) two explosions at an army base 85 kilometers north of Baghdad that also hosted some U.S. troops was the result of four rockets fired at the base and two of them landing inside the base. Back in March a similar attack killed three foreign soldiers.

July 26, 2020: Turkish airstrikes and ground attacks in northern Iraq continue. Turkey has been crossing the border for over a decade. The cause is the PKK, an organization of Turkish separatist Kurds fighting to create an autonomous Kurdish region in eastern Turkey. Iraqi Kurds tolerate the PKK presence in remote areas of the north, and sometimes in populated areas where the PKK helped with the fight against ISIL. The ISIL threat faded several years ago and now PKK presence anywhere in the north is considered a target for Turkish airstrikes or raids by Turkish troops.

 

The current Turkish campaign began in June 16 and is still active, more so than any previous campaign against PKK activity in northern Iraq. Turkey has established about 30 temporary bases on the Iraqi side of the border indicating that Turkish ground forces, which have already advanced as far as 40 kilometers inside Iraq, will be in Iraq for a while.

The Turks consider the current operation a continuation of a smaller cross border offensive that began at the end of May. Turkish warplanes, armed UAVs and artillery hit over 700 targets in a combat zone extending from border areas of Dohuk province (on the Syrian border) to Hakurk, the mountainous region where the borders of Iraq, Turkey and Iran meet. There were also airstrikes against a refugee camp outside Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish north. Iran cooperated in this operation by attacking PKK and local Iranian Kurd separatists found inside Iran opposite the Iraqi Hakurk region.

The Iraqi Kurds asked the PKK to get out of Iraq. For a long time, the Iraqi Kurds had tolerated the PKK presence with the understanding that the PKK would not be violent inside Iraq and would stay away from Iraqi Arab and Kurd population centers. Over the last decade the PKK has increasingly violated that understanding and the Turkish attacks have become more frequent and intense. Iraqi Kurds will not go to war with the Turkish Kurds but now the PKK accuses Iraqi Kurds of supplying the Turks with information about where PKK camps are. There is no proof of that but more damage is done to the PKK-Iraqi Kurd relationship.

The Arab world has noticed that Turkey is actively fighting Arabs in Libya, Syria and Iraq and ready to get involved elsewhere as well. Centuries of Turkish rule over Arabs ended a century ago when the Western allies defeated the Ottoman Empire. The Turks are determined to keep their own separatists and Arab Islamic terrorists under control in or near Turkey, no matter what the cost.

 

July 25, 2020: Oil exports for June were 2.8 million BPD (Barrels Per Day) at $34 per barrel. Exports were down 12 percent from May. Oil income has been down sharply in 2020 because of the covid19 generated global recession. This drop in income has forced the government to consider going after the massive, blatant and longstanding corruption at border crossings where corrupt officials or local tribal militias take control of collecting the various fees that must be paid by those entering the country. The government loses about $10 billion a year to this theft.

With oil prices stuck at around $30 a barrel Iraq called on Arab Gulf oil states to give or lend Iraq billions of dollars to keep their government operating. Any financial help from other Arab oil states is unlikely because all of them are suffering budget deficits. Iraq is more dependent on oil income than any other Gulf nation. Because of lower oil prices and lower oil demand the Iraqi GDP is expected to shrink at least ten percent in 2020. The monthly government payroll is $4.5 billion and so far this year oil income has only been able to cover a third of that.

The 2020 government budget is $135 billion but taxes, mainly on oil income, are less than $90 billion. The shortfall must be obtained elsewhere. The Arab Oil states are willing to help, but only if Iraq can reduce the Iranian operations in Iraq and control the corruption. Most Iraqis agree with both of these demands but there are doubts that the current Iraqi politicians can deliver. Despite a year of violent anti-corruption protests and national (parliamentary) elections that have most politicians denouncing corruption, not much has changed. It’s not that Arab states cannot reduce corruption because several Gulf states have. The UAE is now less corrupt than Israel and Saudi Arabia is carrying out reforms. So why not Iraq? Unless the Iraqi politicians can demonstrate real change, the Arb oil states are reluctant to provide the emergency cash. If Iraq cannot get the loans it will not be able to pay salaries and pensions that a fifth of the population depends on. Most of the salary and pension payments are actually bonuses or adjustments. A lot of this is bribes and outright theft. So how the government actually makes the cuts, if no loans are obtained, will reveal how serious the current politicians are about reducing corruption.

Another problem with the reduced income is that it makes it difficult to do anything about the growing electricity shortage. Decades of corruption in the construction and management of power plants. This is a very volatile issue with all Iraqis. Jobs and working/living conditions depend on there being a steady and sufficient supply of electricity. There is neither and this creates anger in the workplace and at home. The unreliable electricity supply also cripples other essential utilities like water supply and sanitation.

 

July 24, 2020: South of Baghdad four rockets landed in a base used by foreign troops. That ends tomorrow as the Besmaya base is turned over to the Iraqi Army. The rockets damaged some buildings but there were no casualties.

July 23, 2020: In Baghdad security forces found, seized and disarmed a quadcopter armed with a two kg (4.4 pound) bomb. This quadcopter was modified to release the bomb on command and return to be equipped with another bomb.

Outside Baghdad the airport resumed operations after being closed since March because of covid19. Commercial flights will resume on August 1st. Until then there will be charter and other special flights.

July 22, 2020: In the south a pro-Iran militia took credit for an attack on a convoy transporting equipment from Kuwait to an American base near Baghdad. Two roadside bombs were used but the explosions only damaged some trucks.

July 19, 2020: In Baghdad two rockets landed in the Green Zone but there was no damage except to some vegetation.

July 15, 2020: The U.S. led TFTC (Terrorist Financing Targeting Center) and key members Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) detected and identified the components of the ISIL financial network and are now cooperating on destroying that network and detecting and going after replacement networks. TFTC has been around since 2017 when it was established as a joint American-Saudi effort to detect and take down terrorist financial networks, especially those used by ISIL and Iran.

There are still a lot of individual Arabs, including some very wealthy ones, who support Islamic terrorism and some even support Iran. But the majority of Gulf Arabs are hostile to ISIL and Iran and TFTC uses American knowledge of and influence over the international banking system along with the Gulf Arab knowledge and role in local or international Moslem banking systems to detect and go over ISIL and Iranian cash movements. For a long time, a weakness of Western efforts to disrupt financial networks used by Islamic terrorists was the inability to obtain detailed information about this separate Islamic banking system that had been around for centuries and had few links with the current Western dominated international banking system. It was known that billions of dollars a year seemingly disappeared into this ancient Islamic money transfer system and ended up elsewhere, often to finance Islamic terrorist operations. Before TFTC Western investigators could do some damage to the this less formal banking system and came to realize that the “center” of this system was in the Persian Gulf, where oil-rich Arab states, plus non-Arab Iran generated a lot of the cash for both traditional and Islamic banking systems and provided major transfer points between the two. The Arabs are mainly concerned with disrupting Iranian cash movements but everyone can agree on hurting ISIL finances because ISIL is literally at war with all Moslems and non-Moslems.

ISIL got a lot (over $100 million) of cash out of their collapsing Syrian-Iraq Islamic State by 2017. Access to that cash is a major reason why ISIL is still so active. Remove a lot of the cash for a long time and ISIL activity will diminish as well. Currently most remaining ISIL activity is in rural areas of eastern Syria and northern Iraq. How effective the recent TFTC action is will make itself manifest In Syria and Iraq by the end of the year.

July 11, 2020: In the south a pro-Iran militia took credit for an attack on a convoy transporting equipment from Kuwait to an American base near Baghdad. Several vehicles being transported were set on fire. The fire was put out as the attackers fled.

In the northwest, across the border in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) an airstrike, apparently Israeli, hit a convoy of Iranian mercenaries in Syrian Army uniforms. At least 35 men were killed including two officers. Deir Ezzor is now a key link in a land route from Iran, via Iraq to Lebanon. Deir Ezzor is also where Iran bases most of its mercenaries and a growing number of them are Iraqis.

July 4, 2020: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) near the Iraq border and the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq, Russian troops took control of a Syrian oilfield by surrounding it with combat vehicles and demanding that the Syrian security force leave. The Syrians did so and the Russians later brought in their own Syrian mercenaries to guard the oilfield.

June 28, 2020: In the northwest, across the border in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) two airstrikes, apparently Israeli, hit Iranian targets near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. Structures and vehicles were damaged or destroyed and about ten Iranians or Iranian mercenaries. In the aftermath of these two attacks Iran ordered the remaining troops in the camps bombed to temporarily leave their camps and move to the countryside, dispersed into small groups living in the open. Many of the Iranian controlled gunmen passing through here are Iraqis.

Source: Strategy Page