‘It is truly surreal,’ a former Iraqi minister said. ‘When you speak to any political leader in Baghdad they talk as if they had not just lost half the country.’ Volunteers had gone to the front after a fatwa from the grand ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric. But these militiamen are now streaming back to their homes, complaining that they were half-starved and forced to use their own weapons and buy their own ammunition. The only large-scale counter-attack launched by the regular army and the newly raised Shia militia was a disastrous foray into Tikrit on 15 July that was ambushed and defeated with heavy losses. There is no sign that the dysfunctional nature of the Iraqi army has changed. ‘They were using just one helicopter in support of the troops in Tikrit,’ the former minister said, ‘so I wonder what on earth happened to the 140 helicopters the Iraqi state has bought in recent years?’
Probably the money for the missing 139 helicopters was simply stolen. There are other wholly corrupt states in the world but few of them have oil revenues of $100 billion a year to steal from. The sole aim of many officials has long been to get the largest kickback possible and they did not much care if jihadi groups did the same. I met a Turkish businessman in Baghdad who said he had had a large construction contract in Mosul over the last few years. The local emir or leader of Isis, then known as al-Qaida in Iraq, demanded $500,000 a month in protection money from the company. ‘I complained again and again about this to the government in Baghdad,’ the businessman said, ‘but they would do nothing about it except to say that I could add the money I paid al-Qaida to the contract price.’ The emir was soon killed and his successor demanded that the protection money be increased to $1 million a month. The businessman refused to pay and one of his Iraqi employees was killed; he withdrew his Turkish staff and his equipment to Turkey. ‘Later I got a message from al-Qaida saying that the price was back down to $500,000 and I could come back,’ he said. This was shortly before Isis captured the city.
Monday, August 11, 2014
The Collapse of the Iraqi State
Patrick Cockburn in the London Review of Books has more on the collapse of the Iraqi army and government in the face of an attack by a few thousands jihadis from ISIS: