Iraq: Is It Worth Going To War Over?

September 6, 2012: The government is demanding proof from the United States that Iranian airliners flying over Iraq to Syria are carrying weapons. If the U.S. complied the Iranians would know how the Americans are obtaining information on the arms transport and be able to hide this activity more effectively. Iraq refuses to force Iranian airliners to land, before proceeding to Syria, to check for weapons and other forbidden goods for the Assad dictatorship in Syria. The U.S. is threatening to withhold aid and military assistance if Iraq does not help enforce the arms embargo against Syria. The Iraqis are apparently not impressed with these threats.
There's a growing generational conflict over lifestyle. Younger Iraqis, especially women, want to dress in Western clothing, and not the traditional head scarfs, veils and abaya (that covers everything). Most Moslem clergy and many older Iraqis are opposed to Western dress styles young Iraqis prefer. There is fear that if dress laws are passed and enforced there will be massive resistance.

The government is threatening to deal with the independent oil production operations of the Kurds by deducting money the Kurdish provinces currently receive from oil sales from the main oilfields further south. The Kurds would have more incentive to declare independence if this went too far, although that would risk war with the Arab south. While there are four times as many Arabs, the Kurds are better fighters. Moreover, the Kurds have made their oil deals in cooperation with Turkey, which has promised to help defend the Kurds against Arab attack. At least that's how the Kurds understand the arrangement. The Kurds believe they are not getting a fair share of the Iraqi oil revenue and too much of it is being stolen by Arab politicians. There's some truth to that, but is it worth going to war over?

Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki is being accused of trying to establish a dictatorship. Maliki has successfully manipulated parliament to prevent votes he opposes and is taking control of the IHEC (Independent High Electoral Commission). There was a lot of cheating during the last elections and with control of IHEC, it's much easier to rig the vote. Maliki risks triggering a civil war if he persists in grabbing more power and money. The corruption is still out-of-control and the inability to spend enough of the oil income on basics like roads, water supply, electricity, education and healthcare is also fueling public anger. The security forces cannot be depended on to blindly serve, and defend, Maliki and his cronies. Alas, this is the way governments have operated in this part of the world for thousands of years. Changing such ancient habits are difficult, especially since those most eager to do so are either killed or, more often, flee to more hospitable places (usually the West). For example, you are more likely to encounter an Iraqi doctor in Britain than in Iraq.

Maliki helps Iran in Syria in part because he expects help from Iran if there is an anti-Maliki uprising in Iraq. Maliki is trying to avoid that, by maintaining the illusion that he is pro-democracy and anti-corruption. But that illusion is wearing thin and Maliki may need help from Iran (in the form of intelligence experts, death squads and other experts at dealing with rebellious populations). While Maliki would probably get this assistance if he asked for it, Arabs have never been keen on Iranian domination.

Maliki has another reason for keeping the Syrian Shia dictatorship in power; the thousands of senior Saddam Hussein supporters who have taken refuge in Syria since 2003 have to flee if the Syrian government falls. Many of these men are wanted internationally for crimes-against-humanity, and are not eager to flee to the West. Many of these thugs are seeking to get back into Iraq, where they still have supporters, many of them armed. Iraq is trying to catch these guys if they try and return, at least the 300 that are already on watch lists and have specific charges against them for various atrocities and other crimes. But some of these criminals are heroes to many Iraqis Sunni Arabs, and they are coming home to fight for their lives.

September 1, 2012: Terrorism related deaths fell by half last month, to 164, compared to July (when 325 died compared to 282 in June). The sharp decline is the result of several factors. First, the increased terrorist activity has resulted in a lot of police action and the terrorist groups have suffered heavy losses. The Sunni terrorist groups could not sustain the level of violence they began in January (when 225 died). Second, pressure from the government (in reaction to public anger) produced more tips from citizens, more neighborhood self-defense groups and more effective performance by the police. Third, some Sunni Islamic terrorists have gone to fight in Syria, where the Sunni majority is rebelling against the Shia minority dictatorship. The feeling is that, at the very least, Sunni terror groups will have sanctuary in Syria once the Shia government is overthrown. That would enable to the Sunni terrorists to use Syria as a base for continued attacks on the majority Shia government of Iraq. Finally, the Sunni terrorists have cut back on their bombing attacks and switched to more assassination operations against police and military commanders. This is an effort to get the security forces to back off on their efforts to wipe out Sunni terror groups. In some places, this will work, as it has in the past. But when the Sunni terrorists start killing a lot of Shia civilians again, the low-performing (and often intimidated) commanders are replaced and the Sunni terrorists again find themselves playing defense.

August 25, 2012: Turkish F-16s bombed several suspected PKK camps in northern (Kurdish) Iraq.

The main border crossing into Syria (in Sunni dominated Anbar province) was closed. The government is trying to halt men and weapons from getting across the border to the Sunni rebels. This is part of Iraq's effort to support the Iran-backed Syrian Shia dictatorship. The closed border is also supposed to keep out Syrians fleeing the violence.


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