Author Topic: Iraq  (Read 402822 times)


Crafty_Dog

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GPF: US troops still wanted
« Reply #1001 on: April 03, 2019, 09:40:19 AM »
The U.S. welcome in Iraq. Iraq’s parliamentary speaker said in an interview that U.S. forces are still needed in Iraq to combat the Islamic State’s remaining presence. It seems Iraq is being pulled in two directions: It still wants ties with the United States, and some 5,000 U.S. troops remain stationed there. But it also has a strong Iranian presence as Iran-backed politicians are winning seats in the government, Iranian trade (including electricity) is increasingly important to the Iraqi economy, and tens of thousands of Iran-backed militants operate in Iraq. The speaker’s comments show that Iraq still believes it needs U.S. support despite the growing Iranian influence in the country.


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Stratfor: Iraq: Protests threaten to upend the government
« Reply #1004 on: October 04, 2019, 08:37:12 PM »
Iraq: Metastasizing Protests Threaten to Upend the Government
4 MINS READOct 4, 2019 | 21:10 GMT
The Big Picture

Despite possessing some of the world's most sizable oil reserves, Iraq has struggled to stabilize its security or provide its citizens with sufficient access to goods, services and job opportunities. An ongoing swell of protest demonstrates the extent of Iraqis' exasperation with ongoing government inefficiency and how ill-equipped Iraq is to answer protesters' grievances in the near term.

What Happened

If protests in Iraq, fueled over the past week by long-standing grievances over corruption and economic need, continue to increase in intensity and scope, they could bring down the government. Substantial unrest in major Iraqi cities over the past three days has occurred largely in Shiite areas in the central and southern parts of the country. Although they were triggered by a handful of disparate political and economic issues, the demonstrations have since coalesced into a broad movement and taken a violent turn. Clashes between protesters, who have chanted anti-government and anti-Iran slogans, and security forces on Oct. 4 have left more than 40 people dead and hundreds more injured.

The resignation of the Abdul-Mahdi government could come sooner than later.

In an address delivered early Oct. 4, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told Iraqis there were "no magic solutions" to solving their grievances and pleaded for more time to solve the country's endemic issues of corruption and unemployment. In an effort to assuage public anger, the prime minister has announced a new stipend program for poor families and the firing of 1,000 government employees accused of corruption, among other measures. But those promises have done little to calm the situation — something that isn't surprising given that Iraq's underlying problems endure despite similar assurances during previous bouts of unrest.

Elsewhere on Oct. 4, the influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned the security response to the protests and urged the prime minister to establish an anti-corruption committee. Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr also issued a call for the government to resign, saying his Sairoon bloc in parliament would stop participating in legislative activities until the government introduces real reform, echoing his long-standing call for anti-corruption measures.

Why It Matters

Unrest driven by economic and political concerns isn’t new in Iraq. But the current outburst features several unique facets that indicate the risk they pose to the continuity of the current government. They differ from previous years' economically motivated demonstrations, primarily in terms of scale and scope. In addition, these protests do not appear to have a centralized leader, making them harder to control, whether by the Iraqi government or foreign actors. Even though there are signs that pro-protest social media hashtags may be originating from Saudi Arabia, given the diversity of Iraq's social and political spectrums, it's unlikely that any single external actor will be able to take advantage of the current unrest.

The protests come at a time of particular weakness in the Iraqi government. There is a wide divergence among its factions, especially the Shiite elite, over how to respond, especially since none of the near-term solutions under consideration will solve the long-term, endemic issues that have been festering for years.

What To Watch

    The resignation of the Abdul-Mahdi government could come sooner than later. Watch for a surge of unrest as the first anniversary of his Oct. 25 assumption of office approaches.

    The headquarters of U.S. and other foreign companies, especially in the oil and gas sector, could become targets, especially if pro-Iran factions in the country's political and security forces want to take advantage of the unrest. While this has not occurred during the current round of protests, foreign businesses have been attacked during previous episodes of unrest.

    A meeting on Oct. 5 in parliament with representatives of the protesters will provide an important indicator of the direction of the unrest. Watch for any tangible promises as part of an effort to placate their demands, including the resignation of specific government officials and offers of economic concessions.

    The mostly Shiite Popular Mobilization Units could play a key role in the eventual outcome. Given their grassroots origins, it’s unlikely that they'll be willing to put down protests. But their connections to Iran and their formal inclusion in the Iraqi security apparatus make it an open question as to how they will react moving forward.

    The Islamic State and other jihadist groups could take advantage of the current unrest, especially if Iraqi security forces are focused on dispelling serious unrest.

Crafty_Dog

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Stratfor: Iraq-- pressures building , , ,
« Reply #1005 on: October 11, 2019, 11:15:03 AM »
Why Baghdad's Attempts to Mollify Protests Are Falling on Deaf Ears
6 MINS READOct 11, 2019 | 14:15 GMT
This photo show burning tires in a Baghdad street during protests on Oct. 5.
(AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)

Burning tires block roads in Baghdad during protests on Oct. 5, 2019. Issues including corruption, poor public services and unemployment have fomented public anger at the Iraqi government. Its options for responding will come at a cost.
Highlights

    Popular anger at lingering political and economic grievances is bound to keep resurfacing in Iraq so long as the economy continues to suffer from deep structural problems.
    Citizens, mistrustful after years of unfulfilled promises of more jobs and better services, are pushing their leaders to root out the corruption at the heart of Iraq's economic stagnation.
    Contrary to popular perceptions about Iraq, the unrest isn’t sectarian in nature, but focused instead on poor governance, corruption and a general lack of economic opportunity.

Deadly anti-government protests in Iraq have shed fresh light on the fragility of Iraq's post-2003 government and economy. Like episodes of significant unrest in 2011, 2015, 2016 and 2018, these protests include calls for improvements in social services, an increase in economic opportunities and an end to government corruption. But in terms of scale and scope, this spate of protests is unprecedented, perhaps portending the beginning of a moment of transition for Iraq’s government — not only for Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi's current administration, but also the broader system of governance as a whole.
The Big Picture

A deep and wide mistrust of government has made keeping the peace in Iraq more difficult. As Iraqis demand more tangible and complete solutions to their political and economic grievances, the state is faced with two broad choices over how to manage cyclical unrest — and both will mean disruptions for businesses in Iraq.
See Broken Contracts in the Middle East

In the long run, the promises of increased subsidies and jobs that the Iraqi government has used to calm previous economically fueled grievances are unsustainable. To preserve the current system in the face of repeatedly resurfacing political and economic gripes, the political class has two stark choices. It must either permit massive structural changes that will transform the economy into a stronger, more diverse and sustainable system, or it must stage the harshest crackdown since the U.S. intervention in 2003 to preserve the system as it is. Both options, naturally, will lead to profound business disruptions in the near term.
The Cycle of Economic Weakness Endures

One issue repeatedly drawing Iraqis onto the street is the country's structural economic weaknesses. Iraq's economy leans heavily on oil and natural gas extraction (energy exports constitute 99 percent of Iraqi exports and provide 84 percent of government revenue). But to keep producing at capacity, the energy sector sorely needs reform. Half of the government's budget goes to state pensions and public sector wages, plus handouts and subsidies that maintain social support. This has stifled diversification in the Iraqi economy, leading to an anemic private sector and a population overly dependent on public sector jobs that counts on the government to provide cheap and often unreliable services. A few reforms have taken place, but not enough to solve these structural problems. Donations from countries concerned about Iraqi stability, plus help from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have helped paper over the fundamental issues but failed to bring about the needed changes.
This map shows the total number of protests in Iraq's provinces in 2018 and 2019.

The government's familiar tactic of offering piecemeal solutions ultimately worsens the problems at the heart of Iraq's structural economic inefficiency. Overspending on public wages and subsidies that the government deems necessary to ensure stability has inflated public debt and created a massive budget deficit. In part to appease demands for jobs, public sector employment tripled from 900,000 in 2004 to roughly 3 million today; the subsequent wage inflation took jobs spending from 7 percent of the overall budget in 2004 to more than 40 percent today. Even with public-sector hiring freezes, such as one implemented in 2016, that's an unsustainable growth rate that could lead to breakdowns in government spending. Nevertheless, the government is relying on those familiar promises to quell the current unrest, including offers to add even more public sector jobs, plus hand out cash transfers and housing support that would deepen the hole it has found itself in.

The familiar government promises do not satisfy Iraqis like they once did. With previous pledges to create jobs and improve services going unfulfilled, this round of promises, unsurprisingly, hasn't convinced all protesting Iraqis to get off the streets. This also means that its familiar pattern won't work in the future. In fact, broken promises of reform have become such a familiar refrain that they have provided a platform that nationalist leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr have used to win popular support.
Broken Trust Transcends Sectarian Lines

Also feeding the protests is Iraqis' perception of a broken political system that doesn't answer their demands for representation and solutions. Iraqis have gone to the polls for at least eight local and national elections since Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003. But none of the leaders they have chosen have managed to turn the broken economy around or satisfy their needs. In fact, poverty levels and security woes have increased during that time. Mistrust in parts of the government system isn't new; previous instances of unrest also stemmed from Iraqis' demands for an end to corruption and the introduction of fresh faces into the government. What's new this time is the breadth of the frustration, which transcends Iraq's traditional sectarian politics. Public anger is not directed at any single sect, party or external patron. For example, the influence of powerful cleric Ali al-Sistani, whose voice once commanded considerable respect among all Iraqis, is reportedly weakening among a younger generation that has heard the same unfulfilled promises, year after year, from traditional sources of authority. This points to the likelihood that demands will emerge from Iraq's citizens that will become harder for the government to solve.

Iraqis are pushing their government to tackle tough political issues, like solving pervasive corruption, instead of just offering the same old solutions.

Although the protests transcend sectarian lines, their predominant participants — and many of the targets of their ire in government — are Shiite Muslims. This reflects the fact that Shiites constitute the largest share of the Iraqi population, a reality reflected in the structure of the post-2003 government system. One factor influencing the current protest movement is the deepening influence of Iran, a Shiite power, in Iraq. Anti-Iranian slogans that have become part of the ongoing protests point to a popular rejection of the growth of Iranian sway. This stems not so much from a specific rejection of Iranian influence as much as a desire to preserve Iraqi sovereignty, ultimately translating into a rejection of how the Iraqi government conducts its affairs and foreign policy.
The Risks to Iraqi Stability

Iraqis are pushing their government to tackle tough political issues, like solving pervasive corruption, instead of just offering the same old solutions. But a sincere and effective effort to diminish corruption in Iraq would require the state to engage in massive structural reform while unraveling some of the patronage networks that have formed within the political class around the energy sector. Not surprisingly, there is little enthusiasm among the political class to take this challenging and controversial route, which would create widespread disruptions and necessitate a reorganization of the energy sector over the long term. Nevertheless, the government has taken small steps in that direction. On Oct. 8, the Iraqi government froze the activities of provincial councils, followed by a government reshuffle announced two days later. The question in the near term remains whether that will be enough to assuage protests; it certainly won’t be enough to overhaul the entire system.

Crafty_Dog

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GPF: How Iran lost its hold over Iraqi Shiites
« Reply #1006 on: November 18, 2019, 03:46:52 AM »
November 18, 2019   Open as PDF



    How Iran Lost Its Hold Over Iraqi Shiites
By: Hilal Khashan

After the creation of the Iraqi state in 1921, Iraqi Shiites largely chose to eschew politics for decades, bogged down as they were in the bitter split in Islam that pitted them against the Sunnis. Iraqi Shiites have always been proud of their roots in Yemen and the Hejaz in the Arabian Peninsula, but they were never particularly drawn to Arab nationalism. They did, however, absorb pan-Arab nationalist influences following the 1958 military coup that toppled the Hashemite monarchy and, more importantly, after the radical Baathist coup that brought Saddam Hussein to power in 1968. The Baathist regime inundated Iraqi Shiites with pan-Arab political and cultural rhetoric that, during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, turned into anti-Persian propaganda.

Shiites overlooked Saddam’s oppression that culminated in the execution of prominent opposition cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who issued a religious edict banning membership in the Baath Party. They fought for Iraq against Iran, a Shiite-majority country. Shiites, who account for two-thirds of the population of Iraq, played a decisive role in winning the war, which ultimately led to a surge in Arab national identity and widespread animosity for a fellow Shiite country.
 
(click to enlarge)
Politicization of Sectarian Identity

The 1991 uprising in Basra that spread throughout southern Iraq was started by an Iraqi soldier who was humiliated by the defeat in the First Gulf War. The Republican Guard’s brutal crushing of the Shiite uprising caused Shiites to turn inward, shifting their focus from Iraqi nationalism to sectarian concerns. The fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003 ushered in a new political system based on sectarian accommodation that gave Shiites, who for 60 years stood outside the corridors of Iraqi power, overwhelming control over the state and its resources.

The Badr Brigade, established in Tehran in 1982, became the military wing of a Shiite political party known as the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The brigade, which took Iran’s side during the Iran-Iraq War, led the rebellion in 1991 and joined the U.S.-led coalition to overthrow Saddam’s regime in 2003. It took advantage of the vacuum left by the collapse of the government and ousted those who played a significant role in the war that led to Iran’s defeat in 1988. Poor post-war planning by the Americans allowed Iran to use the SCIRI and Iran-funded Shiite militias to overwhelm Iraq and penetrate its centers of power.

Despite the rapid spread of Iranian influence in Iraq, especially in the south, Iran’s promotion of an exclusivist and belligerent sectarian identity did not sit well with most Shiites, who see themselves as the descendants of major tribes that hailed from Arabia. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the leader of the 2005-06 transitional government in Iraq, sought to supplant Iraqi Shiite Arab heritage with a narrow sectarian identity. His zeal for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious edicts alienated him among Shiites, who did not hide their distaste for religious revolutionism and influenced his political demise. Iran’s clerical establishment has always sought to dominate Iraqi Shiism and replace Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who does not subscribe to Khomeini’s rule of the jurisconsult, with a conformist spiritual leader. This policy backfired, despite Iran’s financial support of students in Najaf’s religious academies, making Iranian pilgrims generally unwelcome in the holy city.

Since 2003, almost 70 Iran-sponsored Shiite militias have emerged, most of which have been legitimized by the government in Baghdad. Iran has financially supported these groups, including the Popular Mobilization Forces, which have been active in fighting the Islamic State. Wahhabi raids on Shiite holy shrines in the early 20th century, and the Islamic State’s capture of a large swath of Iraqi territory, convinced only a minority of Shiites that Iran should be seen as a trusted ally. Distrust of Iran in Iraq runs deep and cuts across sectarian lines. Despite endless proclamations of solidarity with Iraq, Iran – which is still haunted by the memory of its defeat in the 1980-88 war – had been contributing to the country’s instability by providing it with arms and explosives. Shiites therefore understand that Iran wants Iraq to remain a weak and fragmented country.

An Identity Crisis

Suspicion of Iran is by no means surprising since Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis, who hail from the same tribes, are culturally and ethnically homogeneous. Most Shiites are former Bedouins who adopted Shiism in the 19th century after the development of Najaf into a provincial city and an economic hub in central Iraq. Iraqi Shiites are part of the national struggle between Arabs and Persians that dates back to the Muslim conquest of Persia and the fall of the Sasanian Empire in the seventh century. This deep-rooted conflict has been disguised as an ideological crusade since Khomeini’s Islamic revolution, but Shiites share the Sunni belief that Iranian influence is actually detrimental to Iraq. They argue that Iran sees Iraq as a base for its tug of war with the United States and a key part in its bid to establish itself as a supreme power in the Middle East.
 
(click to enlarge)

An example of Iraqi grievances against the Iranians is Tehran’s water management policies. After 2003, Iran accelerated the Shah’s policy of dam construction and diversion of the Tigris River’s principal tributaries such as the Lower Zab, Karun and Kerkhe that feed into the Shatt al-Arab river south of Baghdad. Iran dumps wastewater into the river, which is the primary source of water for Basra. Iraqis blame Iran for water shortages and salinity, as well as its deliberate destruction of their country’s fishing industry.

Torn between Baathist oppressive hegemony, rapacious pro-Iranian militias, and abandonment by wealthy Arab states in the Gulf, many Iraqi Shiites feel they have lost their sense of identity. They see themselves as a besieged population, portrayed as untrustworthy by Sunni Arabs and manipulated by the Iranians. Indeed, a large number of Iraqi Shiites want to resolve their identity crisis and appear to have settled for an Arab national identity. They appear to have lost hope that the post-Saddam regime will release them from the repression they have suffered and concluded that the time has come for the regime to go.

Over the past month, anti-government protests have erupted in several cities, including Basra and Bagdad. Angry demonstrators have burned the posters of Khomeini, who is revered as sacred by Iraqi Shiite political parties and militias, and set the Iranian consulate in Karbala ablaze. In Basra, they chanted: “Iran out, Basra is free.” In Nasiriyah, southeast of Baghdad, they burned the offices of pro-Iran parties, as well as the headquarters of the Badr Brigade.

The size and scope of the demonstrations that have spread throughout southern and central Iraq reveals the magnitude of the anger toward Iranian influence in Iraq – which has become synonymous with corruption, poverty and unemployment. The rise in youth unemployment and surge in poverty levels in oil-rich southern Iraq have fueled the protests. But it’s clear that the demonstrations, which the government has used excessive force to subdue, say more about the search for a true identity than they do about living standards. Demonstrators want to regain their dignity and free themselves from Iran’s grip. Most Iraqis, be they Sunni Arabs or Shiites, reject any suggestions of a cultural link to their Persian neighbors and see their connection to Iran as purely spiritual. (Imam Ali al-Rida, the eighth imam in Twelver Imami Shi’ism, died and was buried in Tus, in northeastern Iran.)

Iran Entrenched in Iraq

Iraqi Shiites turned to Iran reluctantly. Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror cut off Iraq’s contact with the outside world and its liberating tendencies. With the emergence of the information revolution, Iraqi Shiites after 2003 were energized and tried to break the sectarian shackles Iran had used to bind the two countries together. But having given sanctuary to Shiite dissidents in the 1980s, who became the rulers of the post-Baathist regime in Bagdad, Iran controls the power centers of the Iraqi political system and its armed forces. In this respect, Iraq doesn’t differ from other Arab countries. Despite the schism between the public and the despotic rulers, the latter continue to wield power at the top because they are willing to use excessive coercion to prevent real political change from taking place. Iraqi citizens of all denominations are emerging as a real political force, but this is a long and painful process, and one can only hope that it will grow to become impervious to sabotage. In the meantime, Iran seems well-positioned to maintain its hold over the centers of power in Iraq.   






ccp

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Re: Iraq
« Reply #1009 on: December 31, 2019, 03:17:41 PM »
"Iranian Militia Leader Leading Iraq U.S. Embassy Raid Listed as Obama White House Guest"

so he has ties to the Deep State that is working furiously to  oust Pres. Trump.


G M

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Re: Iraq
« Reply #1010 on: December 31, 2019, 05:55:03 PM »
"Iranian Militia Leader Leading Iraq U.S. Embassy Raid Listed as Obama White House Guest"

so he has ties to the Deep State that is working furiously to  oust Pres. Trump.

Good point!


Crafty_Dog

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Stratfor: US Iraqi ties reach breaking point?
« Reply #1012 on: January 06, 2020, 03:37:19 PM »
Iraqi-U.S. Ties Reach a Breaking Point
8 MINS READ
Jan 6, 2020 | 23:03 GMT


An Iraqi demonstrator poses with the national flag as angry protesters blocked roads in the central city of Najaf on Jan. 5, 2020, to oppose the possibility that Iraq would become a battleground between the United States and Iran.
An Iraqi demonstrator poses with the national flag as angry protesters blocked roads in the central city of Najaf on Jan. 5, 2020, to oppose the possibility that Iraq would become a battleground between the United States and Iran. The killing of senior Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani has driven a wedge between Washington and Baghdad.

(HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP via Getty Images)
HIGHLIGHTS
The U.S. killed Qassem Soleimani in part to roll back Iranian influence in the Middle East. At least in Iraq, the decision is poised to do the opposite. ...

In death, senior Iranian military figure Qassem Soleimani may be getting closer to achieving one of his overarching aims: removing the U.S. military presence from Iraq. On Jan. 5, Iraq's parliament convened a special session in the wake of the U.S. airstrike that killed Soleimani and other Iraqi militia leaders to accelerate the government's expected request that the United States withdraw its forces from Iraq. In the nonbinding resolution, legislators demanded that the Iraqi government cancel its request for assistance from the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, remove all foreign troops from Iraqi land and airspace, keep all weapons in government hands, investigate the U.S. airstrike that killed Soleimani, and lodge a complaint at the United Nations over Washington's alleged violation of Iraqi sovereignty. One day later, a draft letter from the U.S. Department of Defense and a statement from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper indicated that the United States could be already preparing to reposition its forces there.

The Big Picture

The issue of U.S. forces on Iraqi soil has been a lightning rod ever since U.S. and British forces ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003 and, more recently, since Washington deployed troops to assist Iraqi forces against the Islamic State in 2014. The Iraqi parliament's resolution to demand a withdrawal of American troops, and the U.S. response that it might already be repositioning its forces in the country, won't rupture U.S.-Iraqi ties, but it will lead to a significant readjustment.

The parliamentary resolution is just one facet among many suggesting that Iraqi authorities will ultimately ask the U.S. military to leave the country. Naturally, Iraq is weighing the pros and cons of continuing its security cooperation with the United States, but one outcome ultimately seems far more likely than the rest: namely, that Iraq pushes ahead with its request that the United States leave, or supports a U.S. decision to withdraw, resulting in an overhaul to their ties that downgrades their security cooperation.

Why Iraq Would Want the U.S. to Go

U.S. forces are currently in Iraq under a relatively informal agreement between the Iraqi and U.S. governments following Baghdad's 2014 request for military assistance and security cooperation to help defeat the Islamic State. Given that, the agreement between Baghdad and Washington is not a typical status of forces agreement but more like an invitation that Baghdad can rescind as it wishes.

One key reason that Baghdad would want the United States to go is that the original reason for the invitation — the threat of the Islamic State — has receded, given that the group has lost influence (as well as all its territory) over the last several years. The close coordination between the United States and Iraq in their fight against the jihadist group has also become a target for extremist recruitment.

At present, Iraq resents how the United States has dragged it into its campaign of maximum pressure against Iran. More than that, however, it fears that the American campaign has made it vulnerable to collateral damage from yet more proxy conflict between Iranian-allied forces and U.S. troops. In fact, the airstrike that killed Soleimani illustrated the threat of the United States' anti-Iran campaign so starkly that even the country's U.S.-allied politicians are voicing a more independent stance. The Jan. 5 session began with an unusual condemnation of U.S. actions by Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who voiced his anger over Washington's infringement of Iraqi sovereignty. (The acting prime minister, meanwhile, revealed on Jan. 5 that Soleimani traveled to Baghdad the night he was killed to deliver a message to Iraq regarding Saudi-Iranian mediation talks, underscoring how Iraq feels the United States might have manipulated it with the strike on Soleimani.)

A greater rift between the United States and Iraq won't automatically translate into greater closeness between Baghdad and Tehran. After all, many Iraqis of all walks of life resent the impudence of Iranian-allied militias.

Why Iraq Would Want the U.S. to Stay

The wave of Iraqi anger at the United States notwithstanding, there are many reasons why Baghdad would prefer Washington's continued involvement. For one, the strong pro-Iran camp in Iraq has been threatening to vote on the U.S. presence in the country since the last election in 2018, but the backlash over Soleimani's assassination has emboldened it — a development that could worry Baghdad as it tries to maintain a modicum of an independent foreign policy and rein in Iranian-allied militias that rarely heed the commands of the Iraqi government. Without question, that balance would be harder to maintain if the United States withdraws and loses some of its direct influence, ceding ground to Iranian-allied politicians and militia forces.

Ultimately, the Iraqi government is split over the issue, as many lawmakers want to maintain U.S. support. With just 172 out of the 329 total lawmakers present for the vote, the Jan. 5 resolution barely met quorum requirements, as practically no Kurdish and Arab Sunni lawmakers attended the session. Moving forward, further political fractures in Baghdad are a distinct possibility, particularly between the Kurds — the U.S. government’s closest allies in the Iraqi government — and the rest of the largely Arab government.

Given such considerations, a greater rift between the United States and Iraq won't automatically translate into greater closeness between Baghdad and Tehran. After all, many Iraqis of all walks of life resent the impudence of Iranian-allied militias, their tendency to operate outside the control of the Iraqi government and their violence toward civilians. But a rift would open a vacuum that other powers including Iran, naturally, but also external actors like Russia and China, would move to fill.

What Happens Next

These considerations notwithstanding, the Iraqi government is ultimately likely to move forward with a request for the United States to withdraw. Procedurally, the government can now use the Jan. 5 resolution to pressure the U.S. government or submit a bill to parliament articulating some of the motion's demands. Aside from the legally hazy issue of whether a caretaker prime minister has the authority to make such a decision, it is clear that it is only the executive branch, rather than parliament itself, that holds the power to oust the United States. What's more, the Federal Supreme Court would also need to rule on such a bill given that its contents affect Iraq's national security.

If Iraq does, indeed, show the United States the door, there will likely be a period of negotiation between the two governments over how the withdrawal will occur.

And then there's the question of the battle against the Islamic State — a common enemy to Washington, Iranian-backed militia forces and the Iraqi army alike. A U.S. withdrawal could help presage a resurgence of the group, which endures but is largely contained. The threat of Iranian-backed militia groups to the United States, in particular, is now so great that U.S. forces in the country announced a pause in the battle against the jihadist group to focus on defense against Tehran's proxies.

If Iraq does, indeed, show the United States the door, there will likely be a period of negotiation between the two governments over how the withdrawal will occur — rather than Washington attempting to stay against Baghdad's wishes. To many, that would put the United States in the role of an occupier, necessitating even more troops on the ground to protect the mission amid an almost-certain uptick in militia attacks on U.S. forces and installations.

At the same time, however, the United States, especially the White House, could respond to an Iraqi request for its withdrawal by adopting a punitive stance toward Baghdad by, for instance, taking a harder line on Iraq. In February, for example, Iraq is likely to apply for waivers from Washington to be able to continue importing the Iranian natural gas it needs to generate electricity. Such action, however, would only drive a bigger wedge between Washington and Baghdad, driving the latter further into the arms of Tehran over the long term, despite the economic barriers created through sanctions. U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has floated the idea of imposing sanctions against Iraq, although it's unlikely the United States would do anything that would significantly reduce Iraqi oil production. After all, at 4.7 million barrels per day, Iraq's volume is simply too big for Saudi Arabia to offset — and a rising cost of crude could result in higher fuel prices in the United States, dragging down presidential approval ratings.

Before the airstrike that killed him, Soleimani and Iranian-backed militia leaders were polarizing figures, inspiring reverence and loathing in Iraqis in equal measure. But amid Baghdad's bid to walk a fine line between Washington and Tehran, the killing of the senior Iranian military figure could tilt the balance, putting the Islamic republic in the ascendancy in Iraq at the expense of the United States.

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WSJ: The Baghdad vote is not the last word
« Reply #1015 on: January 12, 2020, 10:07:55 AM »
The U.S., Iraq and Iran
The Baghdad vote isn’t the last word on American troops.
By The Editorial Board
Jan. 5, 2020 5:37 pm ET


A handout photo made available by Iraqi prime minister office shows Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi (C, down) and Iraqi parliament speaker Mohamed al-Halbosi (C, up) attending an Iraqi parliament session in Baghdad, January 5. PHOTO: PRIME MINISTER OFFICE HANDOUT/SHUTTERSTOCK

The U.S. strikes in Iraq against Iranian-backed militias and Qasem Soleimani were necessary, but they always risked a nationalist backlash. The Iraqi Parliament’s symbolic vote Sunday to oust U.S. troops from the country is an example of that backlash, but it’s also far from the last word.

Trump Orders an Attack on Iran's Revolutionary General


The vote was not decisive, as only a little over half of Iraq’s 329 members of parliament were present to vote on the nonbinding resolution. Kataib Hezbollah, the militia allied with Iran’s Quds Force that stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad last week, issued threats against lawmakers who voted against the resolution.

Shiite lawmakers hold a majority and most voted in favor, while Kurdish and most Sunni members didn’t show up. Iraq’s minorities understand better than anyone the risk of Iranian domination, and both have supported a continuing American military presence.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi supported the vote, but he’s a caretaker who in November promised to resign after widespread protests sapped the legislature’s legitimacy. Elections for a new parliament are expected this year. The public already has registered its disgust with the Iraqi ruling class, and no doubt the U.S. and Iranian presence in the country will be major election issues.

The parliament also voted to file a complaint with the United Nations about the strike against Soleimani. Those suddenly concerned about international law apparently weren’t worried that Soleimani’s presence in Iraq was illegal under a 2007 United Nations Security Council resolution that was still in force. If the terrorist ringleader had adhered to that U.N. travel restriction, he’d still be alive.

The modest presence of 5,000 or so U.S. troops is in the interests of Iraq and America. Iraq could never have retaken Mosul and defeated Islamic State without U.S. air power, precision weapons, intelligence and training. Those assets are protection against the revival of ISIS or another Sunni jihadist insurgency. U.S. troops also give Iraqi patriots confidence to counter Shiite militias armed by Iran and resist Iran’s strategic goal of making Iraq its political and military subsidiary.

The U.S. can’t, and shouldn’t, remain in Iraq if American diplomats and soldiers are under siege. Iraq’s security forces failed to protect the U.S. Embassy last week, and they proved unable to stop Soleimani and the Shiite militias that fired rockets at U.S. troops 11 times in two months.

Deterring such attacks was the reason President Trump made the decision to attack the militias and target Soleimani. Allowing open season on U.S. forces wasn’t tenable, and something had to be done. If such American self-defense is too much for Iraqis to tolerate, then the pro-Iran militias would have been allowed to drive Americans out in any case.

By the way, Ben Rhodes, Susan Rice and other Obama Administration alumni are the least credible voices on the U.S. presence in Iraq. Barack Obama used Shiite Iraqi objections as an excuse to justify a complete U.S. withdrawal from the country in 2011. “The tide of war is receding,” he claimed as he ran for re-election in 2012. Team Obama wanted out of Iraq and barely tried to negotiate a new status-of-forces pact.

But Islamic State emerged and grew in America’s absence, and Mr. Obama had to send troops back to Iraq to avoid the strategic catastrophe of a jihadist caliphate in Baghdad. If U.S. troops are forced to leave again, it won’t be because Mr. Trump wants to appease Iran as the Obama Administration did.

Mr. Trump should make clear that the U.S. presence is to maintain a free and independent Iraq and support its sovereignty when threatened by ISIS and Iran-controlled militias. Most Iraqis know the U.S. played a decisive role in defeating Islamic State and have no interest in becoming Tehran’s colony.

Crafty_Dog

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Stratfor: Iraq faces American Economic Wrath
« Reply #1016 on: January 14, 2020, 05:23:45 PM »
Iraq Faces America's Economic Wrath
Matthew Bey
Matthew Bey
Senior Global Analyst, Stratfor
9 MINS READ
Jan 14, 2020 | 10:00 GMT

HIGHLIGHTS

Washington will tighten the enforcement of its existing sanctions on Iran and Iranian proxies in Iraq, meaning more companies, banks and individuals will fall afoul of U.S. measures.

The United States will probably expand its sanctions beyond just Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to target pro-Iran politicians directly.

The country could impose limited economic sanctions on Baghdad, but only in the event that it is forced to remove its troops from Iraq.

The United States is likely to tailor any economic sanctions so as to hurt Iraq's economic future rather than inflict immediate significant economic harm — the latter of which would only occur should American forces suffer significant casualties in the pullout.

For companies active in Iraq, threats to physical security — whether from a possible military conflict between the United States and Iran, militia violence or a resurgent Islamic State — aren't the only thing they need to worry about. That's because dark economic times could also be on the way, especially as U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to enact sanctions on Iraq if Baghdad continues to push for a withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq following the U.S. assassination of Qassem Soleimani. If Baghdad pushes U.S. forces out, the aftermath, bluntly speaking, will be messy. Given that bilateral diplomatic relations inevitably would take a nosedive in such a situation, the United States would most likely impose punishing sanctions on Iraq. And even if such measures don't come to pass, the United States' campaign of maximum pressure on Iran will certainly leave Iraq worse for wear as well.

Below are some of the actions — some more likely than others — that the United States could take against Iraq amid its larger battle with Iran.

The Big Picture

Tensions between the United States and Iran reached new heights at the start of the month following the United States' targeted killing of senior Iranian military official Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. Amid an outcry in Iraq over Soleimani's killing, Washington is now threatening sanctions against Baghdad. But even if this does not occur, Iraq will bear a significant brunt of the fallout between the United States and Iran.

See Middle East and North Africa section of the 2020 Annual Forecast

Most Likely: Tighten Enforcement of Existing Sanctions

On Jan. 10, the United States announced new sanctions on Iran's metal, construction, mining and textile sectors; beyond this, though, there is little that Washington can target to ratchet up the economic pressure on Iran. Accordingly, the next wave of pressure is likely to focus on tightening the enforcement of existing sanctions on Iran — something that could place a lot more scrutiny on Iraq's significant economic connections to Iran. Regardless of whether circumstances push U.S. forces out of Iraq, more Iraqi companies and financial institutions that work with Iran are likely to become the target of U.S. sanctions, meaning they could lose access to the international financial system. Ultimately, the United States' intent is not so much to compel Iraq's companies and banks to take a harder line on Iran but to force Iraqi firms to sever their own ties with their eastern neighbor for their own economic and security interests.

So far, the United States has not enforced its sanctions on Iraq to the fullest extent over fears about the economic and political repercussions. Washington, however, could try to shape Baghdad's decisions by taking action on waivers that allow Iraq to continue buying Iranian electricity and natural gas for power generation. With the waivers set to end next month, the United States could threaten to end them or only renew them under specific conditions.

The next wave of U.S. pressure is likely to focus on tightening the enforcement of existing sanctions on Iran — something that could place a lot more scrutiny on Iraq's significant economic connections to the Islamic republic.

Very Likely: Widen Sanctions on Militias and Iranian-Linked Politicians

Over the past year, the United States has substantially increased its sanctions on Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. Most recently, it announced on Jan. 3 that it was implementing new sanctions on Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali, although it is likely to extend such measures to other groups and their leaders. At the same time, the United States could legally designate more groups and entities as foreign terrorist organizations, further circumscribing their activity and creating more of a legal basis for drone strikes.

After that, the United States could consider sanctions on Iraqi political entities linked to Iran — a line of action that would become far more likely if U.S. troops are forced out of Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the targets would likely be those pushing for the United States' expulsion, including Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Fatah political bloc, one of the largest in Iraq's parliament, and the Badr Organization militia. As it is, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused al-Amiri of being an Iranian proxy following his appearance at protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Dec. 31. A move against al-Amiri would be particularly incendiary, driving retaliation against the United States.

Possible: Limited Economic Sanctions

Economic sanctions on Iraq are possible, but likely only in the event that Iraq continues to push U.S. forces to leave. One of the first things that Washington could cut is financial support to Baghdad. The United States supports Iraq in a number of ways, providing foreign, security and other aid. Washington allocated $451 million in assistance for Iraq in the 2019 fiscal year and has so far earmarked $165.89 million in assistance for the 2020 fiscal year (although the final figure is likely to be far more under normal circumstances). Restricting the White House's actions, however, is Congress, which could pass legislation to limit Trump's aid cuts.

Another option is limited financial sanctions, in which the United States could emulate its measures against Russia by imposing restrictions on the Iraqi government or preventing Iraqi state-owned companies from raising debt. In this, Washington would not seek to starve the Iraqi government immediately but rather slowly impinge on its long-term economic security. Such a move would contrast sharply with the United States' current measures against Iran and Venezuela, which are designed to deal an immediate, significant blow.

Washington could also consider sectoral sanctions as part of a limited sanctions campaign against Iraq that targets the country's lifeline — oil and gas. Initially, the United States would likely only impose sanctions that limit U.S. companies and entities from participating in projects in Iraq. Again, this mirrors current sanctions on Russia, in which the United States has targeted Russia's Arctic, deep-water and shale production. Again, the United States would not seek to take Iraqi oil off the market quickly but rather impede its long-term expansion. Sanctions would likely focus on just U.S. companies, but given the U.S. importance to the global financial system and America's centrality to the global oil and gas industry, this would hamper all foreign companies looking to invest in Iraq's oil sector and its growth.

Washington could also consider sectoral sanctions as part of a limited sanctions campaign against Iraq that targets the country's lifeline — oil and gas.

Iraq, furthermore, is considering buying Russian military equipment amid fears that it will become the battleground between the United States and Iran as Russia has offered to sell S-400 surface-to-air missiles to the country. Doing so, however, could trigger U.S. measures under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), but Iraq is unlikely to make such a purchase until after the United States pulls out of Iraq, if it does.

Whether the United States extends sectoral sanctions to Kurdistan depends on the Kurds' support — or lack thereof — for Iraq's push against U.S. forces. Kurdish members of the Iraqi parliament, for instance, sharply opposed a Jan. 4 resolution that demanded the federal government withdraw its invitation to U.S. forces to remain in the country. It is possible that instead of blanket sanctions against all of Iraq, the United States could simply focus on entities that are linked to Baghdad. For example, the U.S. could place sanctions on new deals with Iraq's Oil Ministry and some state-owned oil companies, like the Basra Oil Co., while sparing the Kurdish Oil Ministry.

Unlikely: Significant Economic Sanctions

In responding to the resolution demanding U.S. troops leave, Trump specifically threatened to impose sanctions on Iraq that were even larger than those against Iran. Realistically, the United States would not go that far, but if the U.S.-Iraqi breakup creates a political mess amid frequent attacks on U.S. forces, the United States could view Iraq as essentially an Iranian client state — putting it on a par with Syria — meaning it could enact sanctions with the goal of immediately torpedoing the Iraqi economy.

Already, the United States has reportedly threatened to freeze Iraq's access to the Iraqi central bank's account with the New York Fed, having previously done so once in 2015. A move like that would affect Iraq's ability to trade in U.S. dollars and require it to become more creative in accepting payments for oil. Even so, the United States would likely only freeze access for an extended period of time in the event of a more significant breakdown in relations.

In addition, the Trump administration could impose direct sanctions on Iraq's central bank due to its transactions with the Iranian central bank and impose substantial secondary sanctions to reduce Iraq's oil exports. Still, at least at the outset, the United States would likely not cut the Iraqi central bank's access to the U.S. financial system as a result of its involvement in importing oil from Iran — as it has for the central lenders of other countries that have purchased Iranian oil. Instead, such U.S. sanctions would more likely echo the current sanctions against Venezuelan oil exports, which focus more on the companies themselves. After all, attempting to hit Iraq's oil exports would certainly reverberate across the global oil market, meaning the United States would carefully have to weigh the pros and cons before proceeding.

In the end, rather than knock Iraq's economy out for the count if U.S. troops are forced out of the country, the United States is likely to take a different tack by reviewing just how stringently it enforces existing sanctions on Iraqi companies, politicians and militias with ties to Iran. But even if U.S. soldiers get to stay in the country, Iraq — as well as the foreign firms that operate in it — have little chance of escaping the blowback from the wider U.S.-Iranian battle.

Crafty_Dog

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Stratfor: Iraq remains ripe for US-Iran Confrontation
« Reply #1017 on: February 04, 2020, 10:32:04 AM »
Why Iraq Remains Ripe for a U.S.-Iran Confrontation
Omar Lamrani
Omar Lamrani
Senior Military Analyst, Stratfor
Emily Hawthorne
Emily Hawthorne
Middle East and North Africa Analyst, Stratfor
6 MINS READ
Feb 4, 2020 | 10:30 GMT

Iraqis run for cover during an anti-government demonstration in Baghdad on Jan. 23, 2020. Protests have rocked Iraq since October but recently had abated amid spiraling tensions between the country's key allies, the United States and Iran.
Protesters run for cover on a highway in Baghdad during a Jan. 23 anti-government demonstration. Amid escalating political unrest, the Iraqi government will struggle to keep the country's armed militias from conducting an attack that pushes the United States and Iran toward war.

HIGHLIGHTS

Iraq is the most likely site for a U.S.-Iran confrontation in the coming months because of Iran's deep ties to several violent and capable Iraqi militias in close proximity to U.S. forces.

While the perception of a common U.S. threat will foster short-term cooperation between Iran-allied militias, Washington's assassination of a prominent Iraqi militia leader will ultimately increase competition between the country's rival armed forces.
This will make it all the harder for Baghdad to control militia-led violence, in addition to political violence being stoked by escalating anti-government protesters.

In Iraq, a mix of violent militias and volatile politics could provide the spark that sends Iran and the United States spiraling into an armed conflict — and with it, any remaining shreds of stability in Baghdad. In June, the United States declared that the killing of any U.S. military personnel and other American citizens in Iraq would warrant retaliation. Washington then proved its willingness to enforce that red line in a series of raids and strikes following a rocket attack that killed an American contractor in December.

In the aftermath of the Jan. 3 assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, it can be argued that a potential trigger for a full conflict between the two countries was narrowly avoided when an Iranian counterstrike with ballistic missiles didn't kill any U.S. troops in Iraq. But there is no guarantee that a follow-up round of clashes arising from another deadly attack wouldn't push the two countries back to the brink. And indeed — rife with militias, weapons and unrest — Iraq offers the perfect site for such a scenario to unfold in the months ahead.

The Big Picture

Following the uptick of U.S. tensions earlier this month, Iran is as motivated as ever to retaliate against Washington's maximum pressure campaign. And proxy attacks in Iraq are one of the most powerful methods that Iran has in its playbook in pursuing this objective. But as Iraqi militia groups seek to coordinate their strategies in the face of a common U.S. threat, the government in Baghdad will find it increasingly difficult to stabilize the country's security situation.

Setting the Scene

The fact that both Iran and the United States are prepared to use violent action against each other following the recent surge in tensions is further inflamed by the nature of the Iraqi theater itself. Iraq remains highly unstable and awash with weaponry, with the Iraqi government unable to exercise its will on the vast array of disparate militias operating in the country. Of the dozens of militias in Iraq that don't fall under direct state control, there are three broad factions: those closely allied with Iran, those closely allied with Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr and those under the leadership of the more mainline Shiite clerical authorities in the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala. All of these militias are all largely comprised of Shiite Iraqi fighters. Many also assisted and worked alongside Iraqi federal forces and, in some cases, even U.S.-led coalition forces to fight the Islamic State. And while none fall directly under the state's command and control, most Iraqi militias also fall under an umbrella organization, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), which has become a formal component of the Iraqi state's security forces.

While the Iran-allied militias logically fall the closest under Tehran's command and control, they remain independent actors. This distance provides Iran some plausible deniability about its culpability when an armed group attacks a U.S. or civilian target in Iraq. But the United States is increasingly willing to directly blame Iran even when a proxy group is the culprit of an attack, which could prompt retaliatory attacks from militias and spark a cycle of escalation. Already, U.S. forces in Iraq are increasingly targeting heavyweight Iranian proxies such as Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq. Shortly after the assassination of Soleimani, Iran hosted a series of meetings with Iraqi militia leaders. And as this U.S.-Iran pressure intensifies, there will be more efforts between Tehran and its Iraqi proxies to coordinate retaliation against the United States.

But of the plethora of armed groups in Iraq, many are also already hostile to U.S. troops in the country without necessarily being loyal to Iran. This means that some Iraqi militia forces — regardless of whether they're closely allied with Tehran — have both the motivation and the means for further mortar, rocket or improvised explosive device attacks on nearby U.S. forces. So while it's often assumed that most of the militia attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq are somehow tied back to Iran (including the latest attack on the U.S. Embassy on Jan. 26), a strike that results in U.S. casualties could thus also conceivably originate from different armed factions on the ground, only to be misconstrued by Washington as an Iranian-led or -directed operation.

Enduring Iraqi Instability

The intensifying competition between various militia groups, as well as Baghdad's long-standing inability to exert command and control over any of them, further deepens the likelihood of greater overall instability in Iraq. In the same airstrike that killed Soleimani on Jan. 3, the United States also killed the prominent Iran-allied militia leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. A powerful consolidator, al-Muhandis was increasingly the center of gravity within the PMU umbrella organization. His absence will thus eventually open up space for even greater competition among Iraqi militias, further weakening what little control Baghdad had over the country's militias as they jockey for more power. This will increase the risk for violence, inhibiting cooperation between external actors such as the United States and Iraq's central government and federal security forces on counterterrorism operations.

In Iraq, a mix of violent militias and volatile politics could provide the spark that sends Iran and the United States spiraling into an armed conflict in the months ahead.

Compounding this chaos for Baghdad is also an emboldened anti-government, nationalist protest movement that has been demanding government reforms since October. There already have been violent crackdowns by federal security forces on protesters, who managed to prompt the resignation of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi in November. And the unrest is likely to intensify as different political factions in Iraq attempt to manipulate the movement, including the one led by al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr's recent decision to switch from supporting the protests to opposing the movement reflects his desire to maintain his political power, which over the years has grown in tandem with the central government's weakening authority. The move also appears to show some coordination between al-Sadr, Iran-allied militias and the federal government who otherwise have fundamentally opposing visions for Iraq's political future. Rather than a larger political alignment, however, al-Sadr's decision to reverse his position is more reflective of a shared desire among Iraq's political elites to avoid disrupting a status quo that has allowed them to flourish in Baghdad. But the appearance of a more coordinated front against the anti-government movement is likely only to inflame protesters' frustration with the powers that be in Iraq — raising the risk for even more unrest and, in turn, more destabilizing crackdowns in the near term.

Amid the recent surge of tensions between Washington and Tehran, there remains a fair chance that the red line of U.S. casualties will be crossed in the coming months. And with even less control over both its armed militia groups and angry citizens, there's little the Iraqi government will be able to do to keep a bloody proxy war from breaking out on its turf. Iraq — as an activated front between Iran and the United States — will, therefore, remain one of the likeliest flashpoints for another confrontation for the foreseeable future.

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Re: Iraq
« Reply #1018 on: February 16, 2020, 07:56:02 AM »
"unconditional-surrender
Noun
A surrender without conditions, except for those provided by international law."
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
On 3 August 1990, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 660 condemning the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and demanding that Iraq unconditionally withdraw all forces deployed in Kuwait.
http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/peace/docs/scres660.html

3 March 1991—Iraq accepted the conditions of the UN resolutions.

Iraq soldiers were waving white underwear in the air in the desert.
http://media.gettyimages.com/photos/iraqi-soldiers-surrendering-to-the-allied-forces-thus-becoming-of-picture-id607457408?s=594x594
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Gulf War I - reversed the occupation of a sovereign country, the demand of the coalition.   We did not depose Saddam or rebuild the nation.

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Stratfor: Iraq: US strategy could come back to bite
« Reply #1020 on: April 06, 2020, 02:59:34 PM »
The U.S. Strategy in Iraq Could Come Back to Bite
Emily Hawthorne
Emily Hawthorne
Middle East and North Africa Analyst, Stratfor
6 MINS READ
Apr 6, 2020 | 19:35 GMT

An image of cracked, painted picture of the U.S. and Iraqi flags illustrates the two countries' decaying relationship due to Washington's ongoing pressure campaign and proxy battle against Iran. 
An image shows the U.S. flag intersecting with the Iraqi flag. Against the backdrop of the low oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington’s emboldened push to rid Iraq of Iran's economic and military influence risks further damaging its already fragile relations with Baghdad.
)
HIGHLIGHTS

Iraq has become a hot theater for escalating U.S.-Iran tensions, with Iran-backed Iraqi militias attempting to force U.S. military forces out of the country via ongoing attacks. The United States has responded by repositioning its troops instead of withdrawing them, highlighting its continued priority of ensuring Iraqi stability. But against the...

The Big Picture

Iraq has become a hot theater for escalating tensions between Iran and the United States, with Iran-backed militias continuing to attack U.S. military forces stationed in the country. The United States has responded by repositioning its troops instead of withdrawing them, highlighting its continued priority of ensuring Iraqi stability. But against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 crisis, Washington’s intensified pressure campaign against Iran’s regional proxies and economic ties risk backfiring by throwing Iraq deeper into chaos.

See Iran's Arc of Influence

By tightening the screws on Iran’s regional proxies and energy sector, the United States risks damaging its remaining ties in the Iraqi government. Pentagon documents leaked in late March show an internal debate within the U.S. military over whether to escalate against Iran-backed Iraqi militias, which have recently ramped up their attacks on nearby U.S. and U.S.-allied targets in the country. Then, on March 26, the United States granted Iraq its shortest sanctions waiver yet for Baghdad to continue purchasing crucial Iranian natural gas exports without facing Washington’s financial wrath. These efforts are aimed at squelching Iran’s economic and military influence in Iraq, which the United States perceives as key to ensuring Iraqi stability under a U.S.-friendly government. Though doing so at a time when the economic blow of COVID-19 and low oil prices is threatening to already rip Iraq’s government apart at the seams could ultimately undermine this goal, and in turn, the U.S.-led fight against global terrorism.

Shifting U.S. Priorities in Iraq

The United States views containing Iraqi militias — especially those with the closest ties to Tehran, such as Kataib Hezbollah — as ultimately combatting Iran’s rivaling influence in the region. But degrading the influence of Kataib Hezbollah, or any other paramilitary organization in Iraq, is exceptionally challenging. Though their degree of public support varies across the country, these militias are deeply enmeshed in Iraqi politics and society, and have become a fundamental component of the Baghdad’s security forces and government over the years. This means that the government endures a political cost each time the United States attacks a militia group.

Despite U.S. pressure, there is also little the Iraqi government can do to more tightly control the actions of Iran-backed militias, which will continue to fight for their own survival and territorial goals beyond the direction of Tehran, let alone Baghdad. Attempts to rein in Iraq’s many powerful militia groups could also further complicate the ability of Adnan al-Zurfi, the country’s relatively U.S.-friendly prime minister-designate, to form a government by stoking pro-Iran parties to only further argue against his formal installation.

It is thus perhaps no surprise that the Iraqi government, which has been in a precarious position since the prime minister resigned in October 2019, has issued increasingly defensive statements in response to the United States directly bombing militia groups and continuing to threaten sanctions. Meanwhile, Washington is repositioning its military forces in the country with the long-term goal of an eventual drawdown, prompting mixed reactions in the Iraqi government. Those close to Iran celebrate it, while those closer to Washington fear the opportunities a lighter U.S. presence could provide the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

Ill-timed Sanctions Pressure

The continued threat of U.S. sanctions, in particular, also risks further destabilizing Iraq’s already fragile economy, which is facing its own profound struggles due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the oil price downturn. For years, the United States has been pressuring Iraq to wean itself off of Iranian energy supplies. But Washington recently increased this pressure by shortening the latest sanctions waiver period to only 30 days before it supposedly begins sanctioning Iraq’s imports of Iranian natural gas. This is likely an effort to force Iraq to show that it has made good-faith progress on its stated goal of replacing all of its Iranian exports over the next three years, especially given that Iraqi consumption of Iranian gas imports actually increased from 24 percent to 31 percent between 2018 and 2019.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington’s heightened push to rid Iraq of Iranian influence risks only throwing the country's economy and government deeper into chaos.

Significantly reducing this consumption, however, will require massive international investment, as well as increasing Iraq’s capture of flared gas to better economize and utilize its own domestic production. And now, the dual economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the low oil prices spurred by the recent collapse of OPEC+ cooperation will make completing such an economic overhaul on such a short timeline all but impossible for Baghdad. Despite exporting roughly the same amount of oil, Iraq earned roughly $2 billion less in revenue on its oil shipments in March than it did in February, underscoring how shocks to global oil demand due to the COVID-19 crisis are further straining Iraqi’s financial reserves. With no immediate end in sight to the pandemic and the related economic impacts, the ongoing global health and economic crisis is threatening the Iraqi government’s very ability to keep its budget balanced and its essential government services running, let alone its ability to make deep structural changes to its energy and electricity sector.

Adding to the Chaos

Yet while the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to deal a sharp blow to Iraq’s economy, concerns about containing the country’s own outbreak are also offering Baghdad a temporary reprieve from the recent wave of heated anti-government protests. With more people staying home for fear of contracting and/or spreading the disease, far fewer Iraqis have taken to the streets in recent weeks to voice their grievances with Baghdad. But after the immediate health crisis begins to wane, and as Iraq’s typically severe water and electricity shortages once again emerge over the summer, the demonstrations are all but certain to return. And if the United States intensifies its bombing campaign against Kataib Hezbollah or other Iran-backed Iraqi militias, it could risk yet more protests in Iraq by fueling anger among Iraqis tired of being caught between the crossfire of the United States and Iran’s proxy battle.

Opting to ramp up the pressure at a time when Iraq is already grappling with such extreme economic and political risks could thus very well backfire on the United States by making Iraq not only a less receptive partner in the U.S. fight to contain Iranian influence, but an overall less compliant ally in the enduring global counterterrorism fight, of which Iraq remains an epicenter.

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Stratfor: Rumblings of ISIS resurgence in Iraq
« Reply #1021 on: May 19, 2020, 09:25:13 AM »


Rumblings of an Islamic State Resurgence in Iraq
Thomas Abi-Hanna
Thomas Abi-Hanna
Global Security Analyst, Stratfor
8 MINS READ
May 19, 2020 | 10:00 GMT
)
HIGHLIGHTS

The Islamic State has increased the scope and scale of its operations in Iraq due to its internal cohesion and strength, as well as a lack of significant pressure from the forces opposing it.

The militant group will continue to build off of the momentum it has already gained and increase its operations in Iraq, and potentially elsewhere in the region, over the next several months.

The developments will undermine Iraqi stability and energize grassroots militants to carry out attacks around the world, even though the Islamic State remains far from reestablishing its caliphate.

In a world preoccupied with COVID-19, the Islamic State may have faded from international headlines. But a spike of attacks across large swaths of Iraq over the past month shows the group remains a potent threat capable of returning with a vengeance. A lack of pressure from opposing forces and a groundswell of internal support have enabled the Islamic State to increase its insurgent and terrorist activity in its core territory, which threatens to not only further destabilize Iraq but energize other jihadists to carry out attacks across the globe.

The Big Picture

The Islamic State lost control of its last sliver of territory in March 2019, but has been looking to revitalize itself ever since. The group still has branches stretching from West Africa to the Philippines, though Iraq and Syria remain its most important pieces of territory. Both countries remain fragile states facing crises and stark internal divisions, which the Islamic State has sought to exploit using the tens of thousands of fighters and hundreds of millions of dollars that remain at its disposal.

While the Cat's Away

Using the lessons learned following its previous defeat in 2010, the Islamic State has amassed money, manpower and resources to pick itself back up again, while opposing foreign forces have either withdrawn or been distracted by other issues.

The group has had enough time to recover and recuperate following the loss of its final remaining core territory in March 2019 and the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019. The United Nations estimated the group still commands up to 20,000 fighters, has access to hundreds of millions of dollars and earns up to $4 million a month, which — according to estimates from the Center for Global Policy and The Washington Post — it has used to replenish itself.

Meanwhile, numerous military exchanges between U.S. forces and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, also known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) — most notably around the time of the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in January — have further eased pressure on the Islamic State by diverting the attention of two of the most powerful actors in Iraq away from the jihadist group and toward each other. In March 2020, the United States began repositioning forces in Iraq away from the Islamic State's areas of operations near Mosul and Kirkuk, as well as in the Anbar and Ninevah governorates, in order to focus on the threat posed by PMUs in other areas in Iraq, where the Islamic State is much less active.


The COVID-19 pandemic has also prompted European countries to temporarily draw down their forces from the fight against the Islamic State. Between March 19 and 25, the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands and Spain all announced they were temporarily pulling out of Iraq, while Germany and the United Kingdom indicated they were downsizing their presence. While these countries expended far less manpower and resources than the United States in Iraq, they still played a key part in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State.

Following the collapse of the Iraqi government in December, Baghdad has been bogged down in a myriad of economic, health and political crises. The country finally formed a government in May, the primary focus of which will be managing a burgeoning protest movement, as well as containing the country's COVID-19 crisis. Fears of spreading COVID-19 have also forced Iraqi security forces to limit their movements in recent months.

The Mice Will Play

With both its regional and Western enemies distracted, the Islamic State has recently increased the scale and scope of its attacks, kidnappings and other operations across northern and western Iraq. These operations are meant to intimidate locals, weaken security forces, foment instability and serve as propaganda boons for the group. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project and the Center for Global Policy, the number of violent incidents in Iraq linked to the Islamic State spiked by 58 percent between March and April alone. When comparing the number of attacks from April of last year (21) to April of this year (87), the number of attacks jumped by over 300 percent.

The Islamic State has also begun testing the waters for more sophisticated attacks. According to the Middle East Institute, the group has recently been conducting nighttime raids, multipronged coordinated assaults and suicide bombings. This marks a notable uptick from the typical drive-by shootings, mortar attacks and roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) it had done in previous months. On April 28, the group launched an attack against intelligence headquarters in Kirkuk. Such a direct attack against a government building had been a rare occurrence since the group lost its remaining territory in Iraq in 2017.

The Islamic State has been able to increase the sophistication for a number of reasons:

The lack of external pressure, for one, has given the group more time to construct larger devices and plan more sophisticated operations.

It has also seized weapons, explosives, ammunition and other materials during raids against villages and security forces to use in these operations.

Weapon inflows from Syria, where the group is also gaining momentum, has further bolstered its strength.

No Signs of Slowing

In the absence of significant pressure from the forces opposing it, the Islamic State will likely continue to increase in the coming months, building off of the momentum it already achieved. The anti-Islamic State forces are unlikely to be either willing or able to muster formidable countermeasures to contain the group in the coming months, much less drive it back. The United States, for one, has an agreement with Iraq that it will not redeploy its troops to areas of intense Islamic State activity. And amid rising U.S.-Iran tensions, the White House will likely remain preoccupied with containing PMUs in central and southern Iraq. Likewise, European nations are unlikely to redeploy its troops back to Iraq in the near term, as it remains unclear if there will be the political will to do so once the COVID-19 pandemic passes.

With its regional and Western adversaries distracted, a recent spike in attacks in Iraq shows the Islamic State is well-positioned to return with a vengeance in its core territory.

The Iraqi government, for its part, will struggle with the immediate economic and health fallout from COVID-19 for at least the next several months. Political stagnation and social unrest could plague Baghdad for years beyond that as well. Iraq's new government said it would prioritize counterterrorism efforts and the fight against the Islamic State, but its ability to do so will be constrained by a decrease in international support and internal political strife. U.S.-Iranian tensions will also remain high for the foreseeable future, raising the risk for further exchanges between U.S. forces and Iranian-backed PMUs that keep two of the Islamic State's primary opponents fighting each other instead of it.

Going Global?

The Islamic State's expanding operations will make the group and its adherents a greater threat on a local, national, regional and potentially international level. The group's attacks, kidnappings and other operations will compound the already high threat to personnel, facilities and infrastructure in northern and western Iraq, and will also pose a resurgent threat to the capital of Baghdad itself, where attacks by the group have dramatically decreased in recent years after the Islamic State lost its remaining Iraqi territory. To be clear, the Islamic State is still years away from being able to recapture territory and reestablish its so-called caliphate, which remains the group's ultimate goal. But by undermining Iraq's already fragile economy and security situation, such attacks risk setting back reconstruction efforts in areas that Iraqi authorities recaptured from the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017.

There is also the risk that the Islamic State could use Iraq as a staging ground for attacks in other regional countries such as Jordan, Iran and Lebanon. The group has launched attacks from Iraq into these places in the past and is intent on doing so again. The group has also been increasing its insurgent activity in Syria, which could serve as another springboard for launching attacks into neighboring Jordan and Lebanon.

The Islamic State's surging activity in Iraq will play a role in reenergizing grassroots militants elsewhere in the world, who have no direct connection to the group but are still inspired by its ideology to carry out attacks. While there is no precise science for determining when and where an attack will take place, these are most likely to spring up in locations where attacks by grassroots militants occurred during the peak of the group's power in 2014 and 2015, including Western European countries such as Belgium, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia also face a heightened risk of being targeted.

Returning With a Vengeance

Since beginning its initial resurgence in Iraq during 2011, the Islamic State has morphed from a local insurgent group to a global movement, with branches that have continued to launch attacks in areas ranging from West Africa to Afghanistan. And without sustained pressure from its adversaries, including the United States and Iraq, the group is well-positioned to continue its resurgence in its core territory — a development with potentially grave global consequences.

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GPF:
« Reply #1022 on: July 01, 2020, 07:35:01 AM »
Iran’s diminished influence. Iranian influence in Iraq suffered a major blow after Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi directed a raid last week on a Kataib Hezbollah post, leading to the arrest of over a dozen fighters and the confiscation of weapons systems. Several Iran-backed militias have accused the U.S. and Iraq of fomenting division, but the Iranian government itself has been careful not to publicly incite further tensions with Iraq. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, for example, said that the raid was an internal Iraqi affair and that Iran has no comment.

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WSJ: At long last, Iraq is getting back on track
« Reply #1023 on: August 06, 2020, 06:54:24 AM »
At Long Last, Iraq Is Getting Back on Track
The costs have been high, but the country is doing better in many ways than it was before Saddam’s fall.
By Sam Gollob and Michael O’Hanlon
Aug. 5, 2020 12:05 pm ET

Iraq has had a turbulent 2020. The year began with the U.S. killing of Qassem Soleimani and a top Shia militia leader on Iraqi soil. Iraq’s Parliament responded with a nonbinding demand that 5,000 American military personnel exit the country promptly, which Washington rightly ignored. Iran also retaliated, with a missile barrage against U.S. bases in Iraq.

After months of limbo, Iraqis finally settled on a new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi. He faces the daunting challenges of reducing corruption and improving employment prospects in a country rocked by demonstrations against the previous government, and now also by Covid-19. Throughout it all, Iraq remains in the unenviable position of being squeezed between the rock of proximity to Iran and the hard place of an unsettled yet important relationship with the U.S.

Yet something else of note is happening. Since the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein, there have been huge ups and downs. Recently, however, there have been modest signs of progress in the land of the two rivers. We have recently rebuilt the Brookings Iraq Index, after a hiatus of several years, and noticed some trends:

• The country’s population has grown from about 25 million in the last years of Saddam’s rule to 40 million today. That in itself is neither good nor bad, but it does mean that Iraq is big enough to be a significant player in Mideast politics.

• Per capita gross domestic product has increased to nearly $6,000 today from less than $4,000 two decades ago (in constant 2010 dollars). To be sure, there is still great poverty in Iraq, corruption abounds, and job prospects for young Iraqis are mediocre. Yet there have been positive economic developments.

• Oil production is up from about 2.5 million barrels a day in the latter Saddam years to about 4.5 million barrels now, and export revenues from oil have at least tripled, on average, since 2002.

• With the defeat of ISIS—an achievement that involved far more Iraqi than American forces—the annual rate at which Iraqis have been displaced internally has dropped by more than half since 2014-15.

• Numerous quality-of-life indicators have improved notably over the past two decades. Mobile telephones, once the exclusive preserve of the Baathist elite, are everywhere, with total users roughly equaling population. Internet users now total almost 10 million.

• Life expectancy is up from 67 in 2002 to about 73 today.

• Modern sanitation has climbed and now reaches more than 40% of the population, up from 32% before Saddam’s fall, and more than half the population has safe drinking water, too (though there is clearly much more to do on these fronts).

• The nationwide literacy rate is up from 74% at the turn of the century to 85% today.

• Electricity usage has more than tripled since 2002.

• Estimated civilian fatalities from political violence now total in the low thousands annually—still too high in a land that remains restless and unstable, but reduced 10-fold from the ugly years of the early to mid-2000s, to say nothing of the bloodiest times of Saddam’s rule.

To be sure, if Iraq is on a better path these days, it still has a long way to go to be stable politically and economically. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets last year, and 75% of Iraqis who have told pollsters in recent years that their country was headed in the wrong direction. In indices on corruption and press freedom, Iraq consistently scores in the bottom quarter of all countries. But the country is gradually becoming more prosperous and, it appears, somewhat more stable.

Keeping things going in a better direction will be a huge challenge for Iraqi leaders. Washington should do what it can to help; polls suggest that Iraqis themselves, whatever their Parliament said earlier this year, want a partnership with the U.S., and fear too close a relationship with Iran.

The U.S. has devoted so much to Iraq since 2003—at least $1.5 trillion, more than 4,500 American lives and many times that number wounded, not to mention huge political effort in the Bush and Obama years. More-modest investments are appropriate today. If the issue comes up in the 2020 electoral campaign, American politicians should emphasize not only Iraq’s terrible past, both during and after Saddam’s rule, but its potential—and America’s capacity to help realize it.

Mr. Gollob is a student at Williams College and an intern at the Brookings Institution, where Mr. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow.

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Wolfowitz: The Gulf War Ended Too Soon
« Reply #1024 on: August 13, 2020, 01:04:03 PM »
The Gulf War Ended Too Soon
Bush was right not to go all the way to Baghdad, but he should have backed Shiite rebels in southern Iraq.
By Paul Wolfowitz
Aug. 12, 2020 5:53 pm ET

Thirty years ago this month, on Aug. 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The U.S. mounted an impressive response, but strategic errors at the end of the Gulf War had consequences the world still lives with today.

As Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s representative on the Deputies Committee, I had the privilege to observe President George H.W. Bush from the second row. I have nothing but admiration for Bush’s leadership in responding to an aggressive act virtually no one had anticipated. Swallowing an entire country and its oil wealth shocked the world. While it left no doubt about the danger Saddam posed, it made the challenge all the more formidable. In less than a week from a cold start, Bush put together the basic elements of a political-military strategy to force Saddam to relinquish his conquest—peacefully if possible, by force if necessary.

Bush recognized that he could do little, and nothing militarily, without Saudi support. But he also understood the dilemma at the heart of Riyadh’s thinking. For them, the one thing worse than dealing with an aggressive Saddam on their own would be to accept U.S. support only to see it waver, as Jimmy Carter did with Iran and Ronald Reagan in Lebanon.

Bush ignored advice to play down the size of the force the U.S. would have to deploy to defend Saudi oil fields. He authorized Mr. Cheney to tell them the full extent of what was needed. The Saudi ambassador swallowed hard, then said: “At least we know you’re serious.”

The president reinforced that seriousness by his spontaneous statement to reporters: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.” Implicitly it committed him to taking military action if all else failed. Asked where that phrase came from, Bush replied: “That’s mine. . . . That’s what I feel.”

Throughout the next seven months, Bush made repeated difficult decisions crisply after consulting with his advisers. Some involved great risks, and often the advisers didn’t all agree. By the beginning of March 1991, Saddam’s army was evicted from Kuwait with miraculously low American and coalition casualties.

But unlike his principal advisers, Bush was not “exhilarated” by the outcome. “How can I be exhilarated,” he said to reporters, “when Saddam Hussein is still in power?” That unhappiness, only briefly displayed publicly, comes through clearly in Jon Meachem’s authorized 2015 biography of Bush, who allowed the author access to his diaries.

“I don’t feel euphoria,” Bush wrote on Feb. 28, 1991, the day after the combatants announced a cease-fire. “Hitler is alive, indeed, Hitler is still in office, and that’s the problem. . . . American people elated, [but] I have no elation.” What Mr. Meachem calls “Bush’s postwar despondency” was rooted in the “failure to bring about Saddam’s fall” and some specific contributing failures.

Bush regretted the decision not to force Saddam to the surrender table at Safwan, just across the Kuwaiti border, where U.S. and Iraqi troops had a standoff after the withdrawal and cease-fire. “More substantively,” Meachem writes, “when the rebellions against Saddam began after Safwan, everything went wrong. The United States did nothing to support the insurgents, and the uprising was put down in part by Iraqi helicopters,” which Saddam’s army had been allowed to keep on the pretext that it needed them because the bridges had been destroyed, not strafe and drop mustard gas on the Shiite rebels.

Historians examining how that happened need to ask why the formal decision structure, which Bush had used masterfully until then to make critical decisions almost daily, broke down at the very end.

I still believe Bush was right not to risk American lives pursuing the retreating enemy into Iraq or all the way to Baghdad, particularly since Iraqi defenses against Iran had stiffened when on their own territory. It turned out also that several Republican Guard divisions were still intact.

But there were at least three alternative courses of action that should have been considered, separately or together, as part of a postcombat strategy: Demand that Saddam or one of his principal subordinates surrender personally; secure United Nations Security Council endorsement of the large “disengagement” zone along Iraq’s entire southern border, which our U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering had proposed; and insist that Saddam stop using at least his helicopters, if not his tanks as well, to slaughter the Shiite rebels in southern Iraq.

The helicopters were a focus of attention because Iraq had been permitted to keep them on the pretext that they were needed for transportation because of the damage done by coalition bombing. At that point, the fate of the rebellions was the single most important issue for the future of Iraq and for the reputation of the U.S. in the eyes of the Iraqi people. The president himself, personally and publicly (at a March 13 press conference in Canada), had warned Iraq to stop using helicopters against the rebels.

Moreover, Saudi leaders had urged Secretary of State James Baker, during his early March visit to Riyadh, to support the Iraqi rebels. They said, as I remember, that Saddam was still dangerous, “like a wounded snake,” and added that “we’re not afraid of the Shia of Iraq,” who are “Arabs and not Persians,” and had remained loyal to Iraq during eight years of war with Iran.

None of those alternatives would have caused the coalition to collapse—particularly with the Saudis on board—nor would they have required the U.S. to occupy Baghdad. In combination, they would have been an appropriate response to Iraq’s treacherous abuse of the permission it had obtained to fly helicopters.

Supporting the rebellions had risks of its own, but those risks should have been deliberated carefully, as so many others had been over the course of the preceding seven months. But leaders were anxious to end the war and avoid mission creep that would get the U.S. stuck in Iraq, so they weren’t. As a result, Saddam played a cat-and-mouse game that kept the U.S. stuck anyway for 12 more years and beyond.

There was time to allow the president to think things through, but it wasn’t used. The lesson: If time is on your side, don’t succumb to a self-generated sense of urgency. Take the time to examine whether there are better outcomes than simply abandoning “endless wars” in the mistaken belief that you won’t be forced back to war again.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, served as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia (1986-89), undersecretary of defense for policy (1989-93) and deputy defense secretary (2001-05).

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GPF: US to move Embassy to Kurdistan?
« Reply #1025 on: October 05, 2020, 09:58:51 AM »
October 5, 2020   Open as PDF

A New US Embassy in Iraq?
By: Caroline D. Rose

Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi received a phone call that he had been dreading since he took the premiership in May. On the line was U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said Washington was considering moving its embassy in Baghdad either to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, or to the al-Asad airbase.

The relocation, Pompeo said, was a matter of security. Attacks by Iran-backed militias had been on the rise since the U.S. killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, earlier this year, but rocket attacks intensified dramatically this summer.

But the prospect of moving isn’t anchored solely in safety concerns. The U.S. is signaling that it is fed up with Iraqi security structures that house militant organizations loyal to Iran that often serve Tehran’s interests. It also reflects Washington’s desire to scale down its presence in the Middle East, and exemplifies the Iraqi government’s struggle to play the zero-sum game against Iran-backed militias that the U.S. wants it to play.

Close Calls

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is situated in the Green Zone, a fortified compound of foreign diplomatic missions and Iraqi government buildings. During the global war on terror and the Iraq war, it was the largest and most expensive U.S. embassy in the world. Yet it has always been a rich target for hostile attacks, most recently by Iran, which is highly influential among Iraq’s Shiite militias. The attacks on the U.S. embassy in the Green Zone have been almost too many to count, increasing in frequency to almost once or twice a week. For the most part, the Katyusha rockets fired into the Green Zone have failed to land on target, not imposing any casualties or major damage. However, there have been some close calls. The Iraqi public itself is also becoming cause for concern. Following months of nationwide demonstrations, anti-U.S. protesters breached the embassy’s walls and damaged embassy property in December 2019. Among the participants were Shiite militiamen who didn’t even bother to take off their uniforms.

Clearly, the U.S. can deploy more of its armed forces to deal with the threat – and, in fact, has at various points throughout the year – but Washington has made clear that embroiling itself in Middle Eastern wars is no longer part of its global strategy. Since March, the U.S. has authorized a drawdown of U.S. forces from 5,200 troops to 3,000 and departed a slew of important bases in Camp Taji, the Qayyarah airfield, al-Taqaddum and al-Qaim.

As the military reduced its footprint, the State Department followed suit. The U.S. Mission in Baghdad reduced the size of its staff again in May 2020, keeping a smaller team of State Department personnel and the chief of mission to reduce security risks.

Inducing Behavior

Washington is thus considering whether it will move the embassy to Iraqi Kurdistan. It already has a consulate in Erbil and is building a larger, more secure compound to be completed in 2022. The move is somewhat sensible; Erbil has been subjected to fewer attacks than Baghdad, thanks to increased protection from Kurdish peshmergas and increased distance from militia hotspots. But it’s not without its problems, and it’s not entirely clear that it will stay so safe. As soon as Iraqi militias caught wind of the U.S. consideration to move, they conducted strikes on a U.S. coalition base near the Erbil International Airport to send the message that unless the U.S. pulls out of Iraq entirely, Iran-backed groups will target American personnel wherever they are. Moreover, relocating to Kurdistan would aggravate a decadeslong ethnic and financial dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government. It would also require additional financial assistance to the KRG, something that would be seen as preferential treatment in highly sensitive matters of political autonomy and budget allocation that could undermine Baghdad’s authority.
 
(click to enlarge)
The option of moving to al-Asad airbase shows an even greater desire to scale down in Iraq. There are some advantages to moving the compound there, of course. It’s located in Anbar province and offers a more neutral, less-politicized alternative to Erbil. The base is one of the largest and oldest joint U.S.-Iraq bases in the country and is therefore heavily securitized. It houses Iraqi armed forces that Shiite militias are generally less likely to attack.
But that doesn’t mean it’s immune to attack. Al-Asad was one of the highest-profile targets of Iran’s response to the killing of Soleimani. At least 11 ballistic missiles inflicted heavy damage, though because of advanced warning systems no personnel were killed. Put simply, if the U.S. combined its embassy with one of its largest remaining military posts, al-Asad would become an inevitable target for attacks.

Indeed, no matter where the U.S. moves its mission, Iran-backed militias will follow. They’re simply too important to Iran’s regional strategy of projecting power to the Mediterranean. This is why, security issues aside, Washington is hoping to induce certain behaviors in the Iraqi government. Pompeo has pressured al-Kadhimi to rein in rogue militias, threatening U.S. presence and thus financial, political and humanitarian assistance. The problem is that, like his predecessors, al-Kadhimi has no solid base of support; he must try to juggle between appeasing pro-American, pro-Iranian, Sunni and Kurdish parties. This has led to short-term solutions such as one-off raids to curb the militias’ power. But Baghdad has learned the hard way that quick fixes won’t root Iranian influence in its security apparatus. The Popular Mobilization Forces, for example, is an Iraqi state organization that by law reports to the Iraqi prime minister but comprises militias like Kataib Hezbollah that unofficially are loyal to the IRGC. These militias are deeply embedded in Iraq’s defense structure and paid by Iraqi federal funds for helping defeat the Islamic State. Collectively they outmatch Iraqi armed forces, wield economic influence through infrastructural projects, tax collection, and informal trade, and are politically relevant in parliament through their parliamentary bloc, the Fatah Alliance.

What modest efforts al-Kadhimi has made to remove the militias’ influence over the state’s economy, political process and national security have come at great cost. Rocket strikes against Iraqi government sites – even Iraqi civilian centers – have been on the rise, while militias have harassed government officials and assassinated government advisers.

The relocation of the U.S. Embassy may well mark a new stage in Washington’s relationship with Iraq and thus in its influence in the Middle East. If militias simply choose to attack a new location, it may well be more of the same. Whether or not the U.S. leaves entirely, its departure from Baghdad after nearly two decades of heavy presence is at least symbolically meaningful insofar as it shows Washington’s growing disinterest in and disengagement from Iraq.
 




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Stratfor: What the US drawdown means for Iraq
« Reply #1026 on: December 24, 2020, 04:45:45 PM »
What the U.S. Troop Drawdown Means for Iraq
Thomas Abi-Hanna
Thomas Abi-Hanna
Global Security Analyst, Stratfor
5 MINS READ
Dec 24, 2020 | 12:00 GMT


HIGHLIGHTS

President-elect Joe Biden will seek to draw down the U.S. presence in Iraq due to long-standing domestic political pressure, shifting the foreign policy focus to other objectives such as near-peer competition with China and Russia. This will create room for Iran, its proxies and others to gain more influence in Iraq....

President-elect Joe Biden will seek to draw down the U.S. presence in Iraq due to long-standing domestic political pressure, shifting the foreign policy focus to other objectives such as near-peer competition with China and Russia. This will create room for Iran, its proxies and others to gain more influence in Iraq.

After the U.S. troop surge in Iraq in 2007, the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations all subsequently decreased the U.S. presence in Iraq to a degree. (The notable exception being when the Obama administration was forced to reverse course from its 2011 withdrawal following the rise of the Islamic State.)

Biden faces long-standing pressure from the left wing of the Democratic Party to deprioritize Iraq as a foreign policy objective, and the president-elect himself has a record of calling for the U.S. to draw down its presence in Iraq — most notably when he served as vice president. Likewise, U.S. Central Command has a stated goal of drawing down the U.S. presence in Iraq by 2023, during Biden's term.

Biden's current foreign policy platform focuses on other issues such as competition with China, reestablishing ties with European allies in NATO and the European Union, and addressing climate issues as more important foreign policy objectives. In fact, Iraq does not even appear in Biden's published foreign policy plan, which only indirectly refers to the issue in saying that the administration intends to "end forever wars."

Iraq's parliament passed a nonbinding resolution in January 2020 demanding Iraq expel all foreign troops, a resolution whose timing in the wake of the targeted killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad by the United States indicated it was clearly aimed at the United States.

The Biden administration will have more leeway to draw down because it does not face the same factors that constrained the previous two administrations, but will not completely withdraw in an attempt to maintain some influence in the country. The Obama administration did withdraw from Iraq, but had to reverse when the country faced an existential security crisis in 2014 from the Islamic State. The Trump administration then helped Iraq to complete a campaign to retake all Islamic State-controlled territory, while also taking a more aggressive military posture toward Iranian-backed militias in the country as a part of its wider maximum pressure campaign on Iran.

Biden faces a weakened Islamic State which, unlike in the Obama administration, no longer exercises territorial control over parts of Iraq and does not pose the level of threat that required a larger U.S. military presence.

In contrast to the Trump administration's aggressive approach, Biden has signaled he will take a far less confrontational military posture toward Iranian-backed militias in Iraq as a part of a broader policy of reducing tensions with Tehran.

The U.S. view of Iraq as a regional partner on counterterrorism and other issues means it will not completely withdraw from the country. The Biden administration understands the potential dangers of a complete U.S. withdrawal and will seek to avoid those by maintaining a limited military presence. Absent another existential security crisis in Iraq, however, the United States is unlikely to completely reverse course and increase its military presence.

Iran is the external power with the greatest incentive and ability to expand its power and influence in Iraq, which it will be able to do more extensively given a diminished U.S. presence. Geopolitical imperatives have always driven Iran to seek more influence in Iraq, while its already extensive political, economic and security links to Iraq have put it in a prime position to capitalize on any U.S. withdrawal.

Iran's proximity to Iraq gives it the incentive and capability to exert more pressure in the country. One of Iran's main strategic objectives is to prevent Iraq from becoming the independent, strong and hostile neighbor it was under Saddam Hussein.

Iran also has preexisting economic, religious and political ties to Iraq that it has built up significantly since 2003. Iran played an important role in preventing the Islamic State from seizing Baghdad in 2014, and Iranian-backed militias still hold significant sway within the country.

These factors give Iran an advantage over other regional powers such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia, which have various incentives to expand their influence in Iraq, but lack the advantages Iran enjoys.

Although it will not completely withdraw, the drawdown of the U.S. presence in Iraq will weaken its influence in the country, make it more difficult for the U.S. to achieve additional future policy objectives in Baghdad and contribute to further political instability. Various Iraqi groups have opposed the U.S. presence in Iraq and called for the full withdrawal of American troops, while elements of the country's ties with Iran and Russia have caused tensions between Washington and Baghdad.

A less significant U.S. presence in Iraq means Baghdad will look for other external powers for additional economic and political support, opening up the door for major players outside of the Middle East like China and Russia to expand their influence in the country.

Other Iraqi actors will also seek to fill the vacuum of U.S. influence, creating even more political friction points between competing groups in an already-fragmented and -fraught domestic political environment. This could compound Iraq's economic problems.

Concrete U.S. moves to draw down its military presence will also likely embolden Iraqi factions that have called for a complete U.S. withdrawal. More emboldened opposition to the U.S. presence in the country will make it more difficult for Washington to achieve other policy objectives in Iraq.

Iraqi factions hostile to the U.S., including Iranian-backed militias, will be incentivized to accelerate this withdrawal by launching attacks and driving up the cost for continued U.S. involvement in the country — a strategy they saw as successful in the run-up to the 2011 withdrawal.

Beyond 2021, a more significant Iranian influence in Iraq will also set the stage for the country to reemerge as a hotspot for a potential resurgence in U.S.-Iranian tensions.

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Iraq's currency devaluation
« Reply #1027 on: December 24, 2020, 05:09:43 PM »
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Iraq's Currency Devaluation Will Prove a Double-edged Sword
5 MINS READ

Dec 24, 2020 | 10:00 GMT

An employee of a currency exchange counter shows a stack of local currency bank notes in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar province on Dec. 20, 2020.

An employee of a currency exchange counter shows a stack of dinars in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar province on Dec. 20, 2020.

(ASAAD NIAZI/AFP via Getty Images)

HIGHLIGHTS

Devaluing its currency will help Iraq slow the drawdown of foreign currency reserves but will increase the cost of living, weakening already fraught public support for Iraqi government efforts to implement other longer term reforms in 2021....

Devaluing its currency will help Iraq slow the drawdown of foreign currency reserves but will increase the cost of living, weakening already fraught public support for Iraqi government efforts to implement other longer term reforms in 2021. On Dec. 19, Iraq's central bank adjusted the sale price of dollars to Iraqi banks and currency exchanges from 1,180 dinars to the dollar to 1,460 dinars, an almost 24% devaluation, Iraq's first since 2003. The devaluation will help the government balance sheet going into 2021 by enabling Baghdad to pay overdue salaries in local currency at a better rate, but will not help with other deeper economic reform efforts still being debated by politicians.

The government is actively debating the 2021 budget, which projects high spending — 150 trillion dinars, higher than the 133 trillion-dinar 2019 budget — but also a high deficit at 58 trillion dinars. (Passing a budget can be such a fraught process in Iraq that a 2020 budget was never officially passed.)

The International Monetary Fund warned in late 2019 that Iraq's real exchange rate risked moving into "overvalued territory" without fiscal adjustment, and indeed Iraq has increasingly used reserves to prop up its currency.

Iraq's government took the unpopular decision to devalue now because it will help balance its growing budget deficit and stem the swift drawdown on its financial reserves. Iraq's widening budget deficit was aggravated by COVID-19's negative impact on oil prices and oil revenue, Iraq's main source of income, which is earned in dollars. Iraqi foreign exchange reserves (excluding gold) fell to $51 billion by the end of September per the Central Bank of Iraq's most recent available data, down from $62 billion at the end of 2019. The same day as the devaluation, the Iraqi government estimated that it would deplete foreign currency reserves entirely within seven months if it had not devalued the currency — and if the central bank could suddenly no longer defend the currency peg, Iraq would have faced a disorderly and abrupt devaluation anyhow.

The IMF forecast in mid-December 2020 that Iraq would see an 11% contraction in gross domestic product growth this year and the World Bank forecast in October 2020 that Iraq's economic growth could recover to somewhere between 2.0% and 7.3% in 2021, but only if crisis conditions ease.

The Iraqi government derives 90% of its revenue from oil, which becomes a liability and not a strength in a year like 2020 that saw a global decrease in demand for energy.

Devaluation will enable the government to pay public sector salaries in the near term. But it will not help solve the growing price tag of public sector salaries, pensions and benefits in the long term, highlighting one of the biggest and toughest financial problems Iraq faces. Devaluation will lower the cost in dollars of public sector salaries and other dinar-denominated liabilities, but actually reducing the overall cost of salaries as a percentage of spending in the budget will require undoing long-standing social expectations of the government providing welfare, employment and other benefits to Iraqis.

Iraq's biggest employer by far is the government, which employs 4 million public sector workers, pays pensions to 3 million and supplies welfare to 1 million.

The Iraqi government loosely plans to reduce the public sector wage bill from 25% of GDP to 12% of GDP over the coming year, which will mean forced retirements likely to stir anger at the government.

A bar graph showing Iraqi Government Spending

Devaluation will raise the price of imports in a country that imports most of its goods and lacks the ability to quickly ramp up domestic substitutes, which will increase the cost of living in a poor country about to face other austerity measures. Iraq already struggles with significant poverty. Its official poverty rate has roughly doubled this year to 40%, high even by regional standards. A sharp increase to the cost of imports without sufficient cheaper domestic substitutes will exacerbate inflation and existing cost of living struggles, even if over the long term this encourages the development of domestic manufacturing. In a country that struggles with persistent economically motivated popular unrest and frequent anti-government demonstrations, any cost-of-living increase easily risks sparking even more unrest. Moreover, devaluation comes as the government is planning to implement other measures in 2021 that will increase the cost of living, including a new income tax. New planned hikes to utility costs in 2021 will also collide with planned slashes to Iranian energy imports, likely increasing the cost of electricity and creating volatility in supply.

Iraq imports more than it exports. In 2019, it imported $92 billion worth of goods, mostly manufactured goods (Iraq does not have a well-developed manufacturing sector), medication, vehicles, tobacco and food. Iraq exported $86.8 billion, overwhelmingly crude oil and fuels.

Part of the 2021 budget discussions include plans to rationalize subsidies on utilities and implement a new 15% income tax, both of which will increase the cost of living.

The Iraqi government will struggle to implement deeper reforms given the weak political will of the current government, growing public anger over devaluation and the volatile economy, and the fact that 2021 is an election year. Public dissatisfaction with the government's decision to devalue the currency will weaken Baghdad's ability to implement and follow through on much-needed reforms. Moreover, slated legislative elections in June 2021 will render many politicians skittish about making any unpopular decisions on reforms that could lead to austerity measures. And without fixing systemic corruption (a highly unlikely development over the next year), it's hard to see Iraq's economy getting on a better footing in the long term.

In mid-December, the IMF said that in order for Iraq to actually establish firm financial footing for the long term, it needed to "strengthen public finances, improve governance, reform the electricity sector, promote private sector development, and ensure financial sector stability," all of which will require significantly increased state power and stability.


Crafty_Dog

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