Iraq was already sinking into the abyss of sectarian strife, fragmentation and terrorist mayhem before the bomb attack which destroyed the Golden Mosque of Samarra on Wednesday, Feb. 22.
Shiite retribution was fierce and the Shiite-Sunni battles across the country soon conjured up fears of sectarian civil war.
Al Qaeda’s Abu Musab al Zarqawi was able to chalk up another success in his campaign to blow Iraq into a convulsion of sectarian strife, while the ayatollahs in Tehran counted the strategic fruits of the provocation he engineered.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources in Iraq report that the Samarra bombing was only one of the outrages waiting to happen since American forces began imperceptibly pulling out of Baghdad and the Sunni regions north and west of the capital. Most of the city outside the Green Zone is no longer secured by coalition forces. It has been handed over to Iraq jurisdiction.
Amid the dragging effort to bring Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish politicians into a national unity government, the Americans led by Ambassador Salmay Khalilzad are, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, pushing to keep the ministries controlling the police and army – defense and interior – out of Shiite hands. They would prefer them to go to Sunni Arab politicians.
But as the dickering goes on, Baghdad, the key to a unified Iraq, is spinning out of control and splintering the country.
Our most authoritative intelligence sources in Iraq produce terrifying figures to illustrate the mounting havoc in the capital:
Terrorist attacks up to 120 a day, 190 kidnappings a month
The number of terrorist attacks in Baghdad has shot up from 40 to 120 a day.
More than 900 bodies from Baghdad alone have piled up in Iraq’s forensic medicine institute. This figure takes no account of victims whose remains were not delivered to the institute from Baghdad or other parts of Iraq, where Iraqi authorities are said to have lost count of the deaths.
Baghdad is prey to around 190 kidnappings per month – motivated by terrorism, ransom demands and revenge.
The Iraqi police force is losing men at the rate of 15 per day, whether to murder, injury, abduction or desertion.
The outlay on counter-terror operations runs to $1million per hour for the Iraqi army, $10 million for US forces.
Six out of Iraq’s 18 provinces are out of control, including Baghdad and the regions north and west of the capital. The Shiite and Kurdish-controlled enclaves are more secure.
This means that Iraq cannot get the oil fields back to functioning normally and their production capacity of 3.2 million bpd is far out of reach. The central government is therefore strapped for the cash needed to embark on national reconstruction and recovery.
At present, oil production is running at a bit over one-third of capacity. To bring it up to scratch, an investment of $40 billion is needed to upgrade the fields which were badly over-exploited during the Saddam Hussein regime.
Even the cash shortage is not the most pressing problem besetting the Iraqi oil industry. Two more are:
Even if the new equipment for refurbishing the oil fields is made available, it cannot be transferred to the sites or start work before the local warlords, terrorist chiefs and crime gangs are dealt with. This will take time and a large outlay of cash.
The massive theft of oil which is diverted outside the state system:
Oil tanker convoys ply a smuggling route from the northern Iraqi oil fields across the border into Syria. Syrian intelligence is involved up to its ears in this daylight robbery.
Various Shiite factions dip into the southern oil wells for wholesale private profiteering.
Only 5% of the funds promised by donor nations (aside from the US) has been delivered. Iraq is saddled with a colossal national debt of $120bn, of which $50m is owed in war damages to foreign states like Kuwait which were incurred by the previous regime
Drug-trafficking rife, 150,000 street children in Baghdad
Sectarian animosities, most with long roots, burrow under all efforts at unified government. Iranian meddling keeps the pot on the boil.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources, Iranian intelligence death squads are systematically hunting down and liquidating Iraqi scientists, generals and fighter pilots who took part in Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran in the 1980s.
They account for some 300-500 of the unsolved murders in the country.
According to figures compiled by the national security council of Iraq, crime militias and their clans maintain 40,000 armed hoods. Most were freed from Iraq’s prisons by Saddam in 2002 ahead of the US-led invasion.
The market is flooded with illegal drugs smuggled from Afghanistan through Iran.
Drug abuse is rife, even discovered among some captured Qaeda operatives.
More than 100,000 street children are loose in Baghdad.
According to rough estimates, Iraq has more than 1.5 million handicapped and crippled war victims.
In stark contrast to the impression left by the December general election, that Iraq had set its feet on the road to unity, effective government and normality, the country is more divided than ever.
Sunni Arabs who ruled the country under Saddam Hussein are now subjected to campaigns of ethnic cleansing in all the mixed communal towns. They are being evicted, for instance, from Tal Afar in the northwest, Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, and Hilla and other towns in the predominantly Shiite south.
Kurdish leaders are determined to seize full control of the oil town of Kirkuk by the end of 2007. By systematic expulsions, Kurds have secured a 55% majority of the Kirkuk district’s population.
The Kurds have a bone to pick with the Americans for preventing their takeover of Iraq’s third largest city, Mosul. For the moment, the Kurdish drive west is locked in on the eastern bank of the Tigris River bisecting the northwestern town. They are determined to push across and seize the entire city as soon as American troops are out of the way.
Mosul will then be a jumping-off base for the next Kurdish push west across Nineveh province, the most religiously and ethnically diverse part of Iraq, to capture Jebel Sinjar, which is 50 kilometers from the Syrian border.
Their next leap would link Iraqi Kurdistan up with the Kurdish tribes of Syria.
Warlords take over the provinces
In southern Iraq, the Shiite majority is punishing Baghdad by withholding electricity, another source of extreme friction. As a result, the southern town of Nasiriyeh for instance has power 18 hours a day, while Baghdad has only two.
Another of Iraq’s multiple vulnerabilities as a self-sustaining national entity are its wide open borders. The Iraqi National Guard is ostensibly made up of 80 battalions. But its border units exist only on paper. Long smuggler convoys of dozens of vehicles and hundreds of loaded camels wend their way unhindered in and out of Saudi Arabia and Syria, which has consistently defied all policing efforts. The traffic is run mainly from the 800,000-strong expatriate Iraqi community in Jordan.
Now the Saudis have decided it is no use waiting for the Iraqis to secure their common border and plan to invest $1.5 billion a year to tighten controls.
A functioning economy supporting a consolidated Baghdad is the sine qua non for holding Iraq together as a viable state. The city’s 5 million inhabitants are essentially split three ways between 1.5 million Sunni Muslims, half a million Kurds and around 3 million Shiites. Iraq’s economy shows no signs of recovering from war and predators, while Baghdad is disintegrating by stages into strife-ridden components.
Some Iraqi officials accuse the Americans of turning their back on the capital and funneling resources from the seat of central government to the provinces – in particular, to steel Sunni militias in their strongholds north of the capital for fighting off Zarqawi’s terrorist units.
This tactic is working and there have been some successful actions against al Qaeda’s Iraq networks. But it has produced an injurious side-effect: the proliferation of warlordism across the country. The Sunni Triangle and the western Anbar province are succumbing to the blight; enclaves of the south have fallen under the effective sway of assorted Shiite warlords, while Kurdistan remains split between the two main Kurdish militias.
The troubled capital is being punished twice – once by the spreading havoc, again by its backlash, as seen after the Samarra outrage.