The military, political, and economic situation in Iraq continues to be extremely tense. Despite all the efforts by the country’s leaders, tangible changes for the better remain unattainable. The formation of the new government is still not complete, as a result of which many departments – some of key importance – are not able to fully carry out their functions. In particular, the position of minister of internal affairs remains vacant, and the mergers that occurred as part of the stated administrative reforms in many departments has paralyzed work in some crucial areas.
After an agonizingly long approval process, a new oil minister was confirmed on Aug. 15 – a technocrat named Jabar Ali al-Luaibi. In one of his first statements after taking office he declared, «We will support investment aimed at expanding our proven reserves and discovering new deposits». In practice, this has boiled down to a demand that foreign oil companies maintain their current level of production and continue to put their money into developing projects. All this – despite the fact that Baghdad is in no rush to meet its service-contract obligations.
Nor is the parliament yet able to function in a normal way. Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi – the only Sunni Muslim that held a truly important post in Iraq had to step down.
It is telling that the attack on the minister of defense happened at a time when Iraq has seen some real victories on the front lines of its struggle against the Islamic State (IS). After a year-long siege, Iraq’s ancient capital – the city of Ramadi – was liberated in June, followed by the city of Fallujah, which had been held by Sunnis since January 2014. By early August the Islamists near Al-Khaldiya, west of Baghdad, had been driven far back. The Americans did not hesitate to take credit for these achievements, emphasizing that the leading role in the battle against the terrorists belongs to the US-led international coalition. From Washington’s standpoint, this «leading role» is possible thanks to the huge sums the US is spending to arm and train the Iraqi army, in addition to its recently expanded military contingent in that country, giving it nearly 6,000 military personnel on the ground there, including combat units, such as artillery and helicopter divisions, etc. In addition, a handful of special ops forces operate in Iraq, although their exact numbers are not public information.
Iraqi armed forces carry out major combat operations only after consultations and approval from American generals and officers appointed to the joint operations command of the Iraqi armed forces. But the Pentagon tends to significantly exaggerate the magnitude of its victories, since Iraqi government forces are still unable to move freely in either Anbar province (the largest in Iraq), most parts of Nineveh province, or much of the provinces of Saladin, Tamim (Kirkuk), or Diyala, and terrorists remain quite active, not only in the capital but also in other cities. For example, a terrorist attack in Baghdad, the largest in recent years, killed nearly 300 people on July 3. On Aug. 1, IS militants attacked two oil and gas stations near the city of Kirkuk. As of Aug. 22, 9,785 people had died so far in 2016 in Iraq as a result of armed violence (excluding IS fatalities and crime-related deaths). By comparison: a total of 17,502 people were killed in 2015 from hostilities and terror attacks.
Given this environment, Baghdad has been forced to continually make new concessions to US demands, and those demands are getting more peremptory. On June 27 Washington announced a $2.7 billion targeted loan to Iraq. However, Deputy Abdel Hussein al-Mousawi bluntly labeled this «aid» as debt bondage, complaining of the high interest rate. And there’s more – it turns out that the loan funds are intended exclusively for the purchase of US weapons, ammunition, and spare parts.
Washington is deeply concerned about Russia’s bold moves in Syria and is using all its leverage to bring those to a halt, with some success. For example, at American insistence, the Iraqis have actually refused to provide intelligence information about IS to members of the four-party alliance (Russia, Syria, Iran, and Iraq) that was established last year and headquartered in Baghdad. On June 9, 2016 all the defense-ministry heads arrived in Tehran for a meeting, with the exception of the Iraqi defense minister. And meanwhile, it was at this meeting that an agreement appears to have been reached over the use of Iran’s Hamedan air base by Russian bombers to strike IS militants and their allies in Syria.
On Aug. 19, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stated that he knew nothing about the request from the Russian Federation’s ministry of defense to send cruise missiles over Iraq, but that permission to fly Tu-22M3 bombers from Hamedan air base had been «granted to the Russians, but with conditions». The details of those conditions have not been forthcoming, but their contents can be surmised on the basis of subsequent events: the missile strikes using Kalibr cruise missiles that hit IS in Syria were launched from the Mediterranean Sea; on Aug. 20 all Tu-22M3s left Hamadan and returned to Russian-based airfields; on Aug. 21 Iran’s defense minister stated that Tehran was considering allowing the Russian air force the long-term use of Iran’s network of airfields; and the very next day – Aug. 22 – Tehran announced that the question of Russia’s military aircraft using the Hamadan air base was now closed.