Post By Oldwazhisname
September 2015 Status of Iraq –
Are Conditions Conducive For An RV Event? Part 2 of 4
Maliki’s Second Term – When All of the Prior Good Gets Undone
Bush left office and Obama became President in January 2009. With the Obama administration vowing to end Bush’s “dumb war,” and the continued distraction of the global economic crisis, Maliki seized an opportunity. He began a systematic campaign to destroy the Iraqi state and replace it with his private office and his political party.
He sacked professional generals and replaced them with those personally loyal to him. He coerced Iraq’s chief justice to bar some of his rivals from participating in the elections in March 2010.
After the results were announced and Maliki lost to a moderate, pro-Western coalition encompassing all of Iraq’s major ethno-sectarian groups, the judge issued a ruling that awarded Maliki the first chance to form a government, ushering in more tensions and violence.
This was happening amid a leadership vacuum at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. After two months without an ambassador, Crocker’s replacement had arrived in April 2009. Reports coming from Iraqi and U.S. officials in Baghdad were worrisome.
While American troops bled and the global economic crisis flared, the embassy undertook an expensive campaign to landscape the grounds and commission a bar and a soccer field, complementing the existing Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, basketball court, tennis courts and softball field at our billion-dollar embassy.
Relations between America’s diplomatic and military leadership — so strong in the Crocker-Petraeus era, and so crucial to curtailing Maliki’s worst tendencies and keeping the Iraqis moving forward — had collapsed. Maliki’s police state grew stronger by the day.
In a meeting in Baghdad with a Petraeus-hosted delegation of Council on Foreign Relations members from the U.S. shortly after the 2010 elections, Maliki insisted that the vote had been rigged by the United States, Britain, the United Nations and Saudi Arabia.
One stunned American representative, the father of an American Marine, was heard to ask, “American troops are dying to keep that son ## ## ##### in power?”
With the political crisis dragging on for months, a new ambassador, James Jeffrey, was sent to try to salvage the hard-won success that was rapidly being squandered by Maliki and other Iraqi leaders. Kurds were asking how they could justify remaining part of a dysfunctional Iraq that had killed hundreds of thousands of their people since the 1980s.
Sunni Arabs — who had overcome internal divisions to form the secular Iraqiya coalition with like-minded Shia Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians — were outraged at being asked to abdicate the premiership after pummeling al-Qaeda and winning the elections.
Even Shia Islamist leaders privately expressed discomfort with Iraq’s trajectory under Maliki, with Sadr openly calling him a “tyrant.” Worst of all, perhaps, the United States was no longer seen as an honest broker.
White House senior staff members, the ambassador, the generals and other colleagues, were in agreement that Maliki needed to go. But in September, 2010, Vice President Biden was in Baghdad for the change-of-command ceremony that would see the departure of Gen. Ray Odierno and the arrival of Gen. Lloyd Austin as commander of U.S. forces.
The Vice President made the fateful decision that Maliki was the only option. Indeed, the following month he would tell top U.S. officials, “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,” referring to the status-of-forces agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq past 2011.
Of course, no SOFA Agreement was negotiated and a full withdrawal of military forces was finished by the end of 2011, in part because President Obama didn’t want it bad enough and in part because Maliki had already struck an agreement with the Iranians to usher the Americans out of the country and to make way for a greater Iranian influence into Iraq.
There was great optimism in Dinarland that this single event of the withdrawal of US troops would be a precursor to a concurrent revaluation event in Iraq. Of course, this scenario was completely off base, out of touch with what was really going on and was never, in fact, a possibility.
In reality, Maliki moved quickly to grab additional power and eliminate his political opponents, a systematic method he employed throughout the balance of his Premiership period.
On December 19, 2011 (the day after the last US Military person left Iraq), Sunni politician and Vice President of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashemi, was accused of orchestrating bombing attacks and a hit squad killing Shia politicians, and his arrest warrant was issued. Hashimi was sentenced to death in September 2012 in absentia but had already fled to Turkey, which said it would not extradite him to Iraq.
This affair fueled Sunni Muslim and Kurdish resentment against Maliki who critics said was monopolizing power. Increasingly non-Shia politicians boycotted Parliament and almost no laws of any importance were passed over the next two years.
In mid-October 2012, another Maliki instigated arrest put the Dinar community into a frenzy. Iraqi authorities issued arrest warrants for the longtime Governor of the Central Bank of Iraq (“CBI”), Sinan al-Shabibi (who had led the bank since 2003) while he was out of the country on official business following allegations of financial wrongdoing.
At the time, the arrest warrants were widely seen as politically motivated and no one was fooled nor even particularly surprised. In part, because in 2011, Iraq’s Supreme Court ruled that the central bank and other previously independent bodies should be put under supervision of the Iraq Cabinet instead of parliament given that their decisions are executive in nature.
The international community immediately stepped up its condemnation of this blatant attempt to put the reserves of the bank under the control of Maliki. Since then Maliki has appointed two proxy Governors to attempt to put control of the Bank under him.
With only partial success in his influence, the CBI has been much less effective in controlling the value of the IQD and quelling systemic corruption with money laundering and other matters largely seen as beneficial to Iran and corrupt Iraq politicians and leaders.
In January 2013 al-Maliki’s opponents passed a law which prohibited al-Maliki from running for a third term but a heavily Maliki-influenced Iraqi court later rejected it.
As the country descended into increasing stagnation, the rise of militarized opposition groups and the real threat of Iraq being split into three individual countries, by August 2014 al-Maliki was still holding on to power tenaciously despite Iraq’s President Fuad Masum nominating Haidar al-Abadi to take over.
Al-Maliki referred the matter to the federal court claiming the president’s nomination was a “constitutional violation.” In August 2014, however, in the face of growing calls from world leaders and members of his own party the embattled prime minister announced he was stepping down.
On July 24, 2014, Fuad Masum became the new president of Iraq. He, in turn, nominated Al-Abadi for prime minister on August 11. For the appointment to take effect, Al-Abadi was required to form a government to be confirmed by Parliament within 30 days.
Al-Maliki, however, refused to give up his post and referred the matter to the federal court claiming the president’s nomination was a “constitutional violation.” He said, “The insistence on this until the end is to protect the state.” By mid-August 2014, in the face of growing calls from world leaders and members of his own party, the embattled Prime Minister announced he was stepping down to make way for Al-Abadi.
The Iraqi Parliament approved al-Abadi’s new government and his presidential program on September 8, 2014. Since assuming office, Abadi has made determined efforts to increase Sunni participation in the Iraqi government. Abadi appointed Khaled al-Obaidi, a prominent Sunni politician from Mosul, as his Defense Minister, and the appointment was ratified by the Iraqi parliament after two months.
In mid-December 2014, Abadi forged a new revenue-sharing agreement with the Kurds, under which Baghdad agreed to pay the Kurdish Regional Government one half of all income from Kurdish-controlled oil fields.
To counter the widespread corruption in the army stemming from the Maliki years, Abadi announced that 50,000 “ghost soldiers” had been identified and would be removed from army payrolls. “Ghost soldiers” were men on army payrolls who never showed up for duty, but paid their officers part of their salaries, thus institutionalizing corruption and hollowing out the armed forces.
This greater transparency and inclusiveness have helped to encourage a hope that some of the important laws, like the Amnesty Law, a final hydrocarbon law (“HCL”), the National Guard law and others that are believed necessary for the ultimate success of getting Iraq stabilized will ultimately be passed.
However, make no mistake, there is stiff opposition to these being ultimately passed and they may never get done.
Iraqi President Fuad Masum paid a goodwill visit to Saudi Arabia in November 2014. In response, Saudi Arabia prepared to reopen its embassy in Baghdad, which had remained closed since the start of the Gulf War in 1990.
Abadi has also visited Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey to discuss regional strategies to combat militant Islamist forces. Foreign Affairs magazine has written that after four months in power, Abadi’s attempts to resolve Iraq’s sectarian strife make his premiership “a welcome change from the schismatic style of his predecessor”.
As a result of Abadi’s reforms, the United States pledged $1.5 billion to train Iraqi forces and resumed the sale of F-16 fighter jets, suspended after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The Emergence of ISIL
According to a study compiled by United States intelligence agencies in early 2007, ISIL, a branch of Al-Qaeda, planned to seize power in the central and western areas of Iraq and turn it into a Sunni caliphate. The group built up strength and at its height enjoyed a significant presence in the Iraqi governorates of Al Anbar, Diyala and Baghdad, claiming Baqubah as a capital city.
The Iraq War troop surge of 2007 supplied the United States military with more manpower for operations targeting Al-Qaeda, resulting in dozens of high-level members being captured or killed.
Between July and October 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq was reported to have lost its secure military bases in Al Anbar province and the Baghdad area.
During 2008, a series of US and Iraqi offensives managed to drive out Al-Qaeda-aligned insurgents from their former safe havens, such as the Diyala and Al Anbar governorates, to the area of the northern city of Mosul. By 2008, the ISIL was describing itself as being in a state of “extraordinary crisis”.
Its violent attempts to govern its territory led to a backlash from Sunni Arab Iraqis and other insurgent groups and a temporary decline in the group, which was attributable to a number of factors, notably the Anbar Awakening.
In late 2009, the commander of US forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, stated that the ISIL “has transformed significantly in the last two years. What once was dominated by foreign individuals has now become more and more dominated by Iraqi citizens”.
In April 2010, the ISIL’s two top leaders, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, were killed in a joint US-Iraqi raid near Tikrit.
In a press conference in June 2010, General Odierno reported that 80% of the ISI’s top 42 leaders, including recruiters and financiers, had been killed or captured, with only eight remaining at large. He said that they had been cut off from al-Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan.
In May 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed the new leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi replenished the group’s leadership, many of whom had been killed or captured, by appointing former Ba’athist military and intelligence officers who had served during Saddam Hussein’s rule.
These men, nearly all of whom had spent time imprisoned by the US military, came to make up about one third of Baghdadi’s top 25 commanders. One of them was a former colonel, Samir al-Khlifawi, also known as Haji Bakr, who became the overall military commander in charge of overseeing the group’s operations.
Al-Khlifawi was instrumental in doing the ground work that led to the growth of ISIL. With the withdrawal of all American troops in December 2011, ISIL was essentially left to become what it wanted to become.
In July 2012, al-Baghdadi released an audio statement online announcing that the group was returning to former strongholds from which US troops and the Sons of Iraq had driven them in 2007 and 2008.
He also declared the start of a new offensive in Iraq called Breaking the Walls, aimed at freeing members of the group held in Iraqi prisons. Violence in Iraq had begun to escalate in June 2012, primarily with Al-Qaeda car bomb attacks, and by July 2013, monthly fatalities exceeded 1,000 for the first time since April 2008. Building off of the Syrian conflict the strength of ISIL began to dramatically grow in Iraq.
On June 29, 2014, the organization proclaimed itself to be a worldwide caliphate.
In July 2014, ISIL recruited more than 6,300 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, some of whom were thought to have previously fought for the Free Syrian Army.
In June and July 2014, Jordan and Saudi Arabia moved troops to their borders with Iraq, after Iraq lost control of, or withdrew from, strategic crossing points that then came under the control of ISIL, or tribes that supported ISIL.
There was speculation that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had ordered a withdrawal of troops from the Iraq–Saudi crossings in order “to increase pressure on Saudi Arabia and bring the threat of ISIL over-running its borders as well.
In June 2014, ISIL captured Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and other large cities in Northern Iraq. It became a significant threat to Kurdistan.
In August 2014, ISIL captured the cities of Zumar, Sinjar, and Wana in northern Iraq.
The need for food and water for thousands of Yazidis, who fled up a mountain out of fear of approaching hostile ISIL militants, and the threat of genocide to Yazidis and others as announced by ISIL, in addition to protecting Americans in Iraq and supporting Iraq in its fight against the group, were reasons for the American intervention in Iraq in August 2014, to aid the Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar and to start an aerial bombing campaign in Iraq. This significantly increased the World’s awareness of the threat of ISIL.
In October 2014, it was reported that ISIL had dispatched 10,000 militants from Syria and Mosul to capture the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad, and Iraqi Army forces and Anbar tribesmen threatened to abandon their weapons if the US did not send in ground troops to halt ISIL’s advance.
On October 13, 2014, ISIL fighters advanced to within 25 kilometres (16 mi) of Baghdad Airport. It was at this point, the pressure became too great for a huge loss of American prestige that the Obama Administration finally began to take the situation seriously.
Of late, the tides of fortune appear to be turning in favor of the Iraq military, in spite of their basic incompetence. This is happening because Abadi is demanding better military accountability and the Iranian-backed Shia militias and American/Coalition “advisors” have made them a more effective fighting force.
The Iraqi Army and Shia militias continue advancing slowly against ISIL in central (towards Mosul) and western (Anbar Province) Iraq. The advance is so slow that there are doubts about any progress at all and some accusations that ISIL is actually in more areas now than at the beginning of the year, despite thousands of air strikes.
The main problem is the difficulty in obtaining accurate data about what is happening on the ground. As the government gains access and then control of more territory more is revealed about what is going on there. Turns out that in late 2014 the government abandoned a lot more territory than ISIL took control of.
This sort of chaos is common in Iraq and the region. A lot of it has to do with the culture of corruption. This highlights another problem: as ISIL has become less of a problem (stalemated or put on the defensive) this year another revolution has appeared.
This uprising is about the endemic corruption that has long crippled Iraq (and the region). The popular anger about the corruption has been growing for decades and became a real threat once democracy was introduced in 2004.
Now there are regular (usually Friday, the start of the “weekend” in Moslem majority nations) and the government has been forced to act. In addition to firing hundreds of corrupt officials the government has also rushed to be more frank, prompt and honest in reporting the state of the war with ISIL. That means admitting that problems exist.
The military leadership is still a mess as is that portion of the military responsible for keeping the fighting troops supplied. The government never liked to admit that the military was corrupt and incompetent, but the Iraqi people can find detailed reports of this on the Internet and in a growing number of Iraqi media outlets. It is no longer forbidden to report the unpleasant truth.
It can still be dangerous, especially if you talk about Iran backed Shia militia. The upshot of more information is the confirmation of what American advisors and trainers have been saying for over a decade; it takes time to find and train competent officers.
An even more unpopular bit of advice was warnings about the impact of corruption. It is now generally accepted that once the Americans left in 2011 the unsurprisingly corrupt Iraqi politicians began replacing competent officers with more corrupt ones who were believed more concerned with politics than in running an effective army. That was the major reason why ISIL advanced so quickly in mid-2014.
Most Iraqis now accept this rather than the usual “it’s all because of a foreign conspiracy” excuse that is so popular throughout the region. All this openness and honesty does not solve the leadership problems in the military and government, but does allow a fix to proceed more quickly.
There is still some resistance to replacing incompetent officers, usually from politicians who sponsored those officers. There is still fear of another civil war between Shia political factions and politicians feel safer if they “own” a few senior commanders.
This mutual mistrust is an ancient tradition in this part of the world and such long-standing practices are not easily changed.
Meanwhile ISIL is also having leadership and morale problems. Popular resistance in ISIL occupied areas, especially Mosul and western Iraq, is growing despite ever more arrests and executions.
Further, ISIL fighters are being reported as deserting the fight to seek a new life in Europe with the rest of refugees swarming there. It’s hard to keep pace with how interconnected the various moving parts of the Middle East have become.
In Mosul there are apparently dozens (at least) of executions each week. Some of the victims are ISIL members accused of failure, misbehavior, bad attitude or trying to desert. Sources in the city report that a growing number of ISIL men are fleeing the city, often semi-officially by claiming they are needed in Syria.
Civilians can still get in and out of the city because ISIL needs trade with the outside to survive in this huge metropolis. Intelligence analysts can take large numbers of reports and sift through them to determine what is true and what is rumor or lies.
This is easier to do with computerized databases and special software. In addition the Americans have brought back their aerial electronic monitoring capabilities, which adds more data to the pool of reliable intelligence and makes it even easier to separate fact from fiction.
In 2011 the more astute Iraqi commanders tried to convince their political bosses that the loss of these intel capabilities (the Americans would take it all with them) would be dangerous. The politicians were not convinced then but most are now.
A lot of the results of this intel collection and analysis are not released. This is done to prevent the enemy from figuring out exactly where a lot of the intel is coming from and how it is analyzed.
If you know that information you can more effectively deceive the intel effort. Many of the ISIL leadership are former officers in the pre-2003 Iraqi military and know how this stuff works (often courtesy of Russian military schools).
The intel also shows that the same opportunities for destroying Sunni Islamic terrorists are available now as they were in 2007. Back then the Americans convinced the Shia controlled government to make deals with Sunni tribes to get Sunni support to crush Sunni Islamic terror groups.
Many Shia opposed this (and many still do) but it worked then and after the Americans left the Shia politicians dismantled the rewards (jobs, political opportunity and money) that were part of the deal.
History is repeating itself with most Sunnis now hostile to the Sunni Islamic terrorists (ISIL this time instead of al Qaeda in 2007). ISIL is even more unpopular with most Sunnis than al Qaeda was back in 2007.
But the Sunnis feel trapped between ISIL savagery and Iran-backed Shia militias and politicians who feel they are engaged in a war between Shia and Sunni.
While most Iraqi Shia want no part of this enough of them do, and belong to Iran supported militias, to give credence to Sunni fears. The American military advisors are trying to get American diplomacy behind an effort to persuade the Iraqi government to make a convincing offer to the Sunnis and get another 2007 going.
Meanwhile ISIL shows signs of collapsing from a combination of internal disputes and declining morale. In rural areas the locals are increasingly organizing armed militias and waging guerilla, or open warfare with ISIL.
This may seem suicidal but the tribes have centuries of experience with this sort of thing and when they detect that the “occupier” is stretched thin and vulnerable, the tribal militia becomes a popular and effective option. ISIL understands this and informally grants autonomy in these situations.
There is a downside; as in ISIL makes another resurgence and becomes capable of suppressing the autonomous tribes, the retribution can be brutal. This has already happened a few times in the last year in eastern Syria and western Iraq.
But the tribes are always attuned to what is going on in their territory and more tribes are detecting a decline in the ISIL ability to crack down on disobedient tribes, especially heavily armed and determined one.
The Iraqi Army has about 10,000 troops in Anbar and nearly as many Shia militiamen. The main problem with this force is the lack of good leaders and troop support (maintenance and logistics).
These are the things the Kurds have taken care of but what the Arab Iraqis still have problems with. Thus, the Iraqi Arabs are much less effective against ISIL than the Kurds or Western troops.
The American advisors have convinced the Iraqi generals that an advance is possible but only if carried out slowly and methodically, using the few units with competent leaders (battalion and brigade commanders) to lead the way. There is still a shortage of reliable unit commanders.
The U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Anbar to train and advise Iraqi soldiers, police and pro-government tribal militias. Most of these troops were at al Asad airbase (in eastern Anbar) but more are being sent west, closer to ISIL occupied Ramadi and the main ISIL forces. Iraqis handle security for these bases but American troops take part in the fighting when needed.
More American troops are being seen out in the countryside with Iraqi troops. There are about 5,000 ISIL gunmen in Anbar and most of them were originally recruited from local tribes.
These constant defeats at al Asad and in the two major cities (Ramadi and Fallujah) have been bad for ISIL morale, and many, if not most of the local hires have deserted and taken with them useful information on where ISIL stores its weapons and other important stuff. More of these sites are being bombed even though they are, from the air, just another building with nothing special going on around it.
The locally recruited tribesmen (especially those on the ISIL payroll) were also unhappy with the ISIL policy of kidnapping tribal elders and killing them or holding them for ransom (money or cooperation from tribal chiefs). A lot of the local tribesmen working for ISIL are related to some of the elders kidnapped or murdered by ISIL and that bad treatment is not appreciated.
ISIL needs some victories in Anbar but is having a hard time making that happen. In the meantime ISIL makes what it can of the fact that they still occupy Ramadi and the Iraqi Army advance is not moving much at all. American officials say they believe Ramadi will be retaken by the end of the year.
Such claims are often based on intel that is not available to the public. But sometimes these claims are just wishful thinking. There’s a lot of that going around.
In the north the Kurds continue to push south but are hampered by a shortage of troops. The problem is that protecting Kurdish controlled northern Iraq requires a lot trained and reliable people and takes priority.
There is a long border with Syria and ISIL is always trying to get in or at least cause casualties among the border guards. One reason for the Kurdish success is that their military leaders look after their troops and don’t expose them to needless danger.
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