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article imageOp-Ed: US to provide Iraq with drones and Hellfire missiles

By Ken Hanly     Dec 26, 2013 in Politics
Baghdad - The US is sending dozens of Hellfire missiles along with low-tech surveillance drones to Iraq to help fight an Al Qaeda insurgency that is gaining ground both in Iraq and Syria.
The equipment was sent after Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki appealed for the aid when he met president Barack Obama in Washington in November. Violence so far this year has killed about 8,000 Iraqis with 952 being security forces, the highest toll since 2008.
Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is becoming more and more active in northern and western Iraq. The group ride in armed convoys, intimidating locals and assassinating officials. An attempt to raid a training camp recently ended up killing the commander of the Seventh Division and more than a dozen of his officers and soldiers. Recent bombings on Christmas in Christian areas of Baghdad bore marks of being an Al Qaeda operation.
In March of 2012, Antony Blinken, Obama's deputy security adviser, claimed that "Iraq is less violent" than " at any time in recent history." Now State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki warned that ISIS is “seeking to gain control of territory inside the borders of Iraq.” Pasaki noted that Al Qaeda was a “common enemy of the United States and the Republic of Iraq, and a threat to the greater Middle East region.”
The move by the US has considerable limits. The Iraqi foreign minister suggested that perhaps American operated and controlled Predator and Reaper drones be used to attack the expanding Al Qaeda network. Apparently, for the moment, Maliki has not requested that the US do this. It would be a move that would bring a great outcry from Iraqi nationalists. Maliki probably will run for a third term as president. There may be little support for such a move in Washington as well.
Seventy-five Hellfire missiles bought by Iraq were delivered recently. The missiles are strapped underneath the wings of small Cessna turboprop planes to be fired at militant camps. The CIA is said to be secretly providing targeting assistance. Ten ScanEagle surveillance drones will be sent to Iraq in March. The US left the Iraqis with very little in the way of an air force and so it is still US intelligence that is mapping the location of the AL Qaeda network in Iraq. However the Iraqi surveillance and air power will be ramped up: The Obama administration has given three sensor-laden Aerostat balloons to the Iraqi government, provided three additional reconnaissance helicopters to the Iraqi military and is planning to send 48 Raven reconnaissance drones before the end of 2014. And the United States is planning to deliver next fall the first of the F-16 fighters Iraq has bought.
Some experts say that the aid to Iraq is not sufficient to deter the growth of Al Qaeda. Michael Knights, an expert on Iraqi security, says: “Giving them some ScanEagle drones is great,But is it really going to make much difference? Their range is tiny. The real requirement today is for a long-range, high-endurance armed drone capability. There is one place in the world where Al Qaeda can run a major affiliate without fear of a U.S. drone or air attack, and that is in Iraq and Syria.” The use of drones in areas such as Somalia, Yemen and the border territories of Pakistan has hardly brought security even though it may have disrupted some Al Qaeda activities.
Obama has claimed that the US is very careful to ensure that there is almost no chance of civilians being targeted in the attacks, but a recent attack in Yemen that killed at least a dozen in a wedding convoy shows the actual operations are not that careful. Even though there are protests in Pakistan that have closed some NATO routes to Afghanistan the strikes also continue there with a recent strike in North Waziristan that killed at least three people.
The Obama administration is also seeking congressional approval to lease and eventually sell Apache helicopter gunships to Iraq. Some US legislators worry that Maliki might use the gunships against opponents. No doubt he will. What would one expect? The Iraqis meanwhile grew tired of waiting for a US decision and have already bought four Russian MI-35 attack helicopters and plan to buy 24 more. No doubt US military aid to Iraq not only helps the fight against Al Qaeda, it also provides jobs in the military-industrial complex in the US. The military aid may also make Iraq's Shiite dominated government less dependent upon Iran.
While some analysts think that the brutal tactics of Al Qaeda may create a backlash that will hurt the movement, others think that the failure of the Maliki government to share power with the Sunni minority causes many Sunnis to join the Al Qaeda cause. With ISIS now having established bases in Syria it is estimated that 30 to 40 suicide bombers per month are sent to Iraq.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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