Is the Iraq army in any better shape to take on ISIS (largely on their own in terms of ground forces) than they were when they initially saw massive routs at the start of this? Perhaps. No… I’ll go one step better than that. They’re definitely doing better, having retaken a couple of key population centers and limited ISIS’ reach in the Baghdad area to some suicide bombers now and again. That’s a far cry above their performance when they literally dropped their weapons and ran like sheep when ISIS first came to town. But if they hope to take back Mosul and make any further gains they’re going to need some bigger guns. Literally.
As the Telegraph reports this week, the spirit is willing, but they don’t have the weapons they need. The reason is that the Iraqi government is going broke.
Just as it is starting to turn the tide against Isil, Iraq is running out of money.
Behind the front lines of the Iraqi desert, where the Nineveh provincial police are training to retake their homes in and around Mosul, they are short of one thing: weapons.
“We have been regrouped here since the fall of Mosul,” said Major Ayman, standing over his line of men in blue uniforms. “We have been waiting here for five months but we have no weapons.”
There’s probably a multitude of reasons why the coffers are running dry in Iraq, with local corruption and outright theft being far from the least of them. But the big issue which is plaguing their check book currently has to do with black gold. The price of oil is in the basement and that usually keeps the Iraq financial system running smoothly.
In the last two months, a new foe has reared its head. The collapse in the price of oil on the world markets, thanks to a decision by Saudi Arabia to start a price war with its geopolitical foes Iran and Russia, has slashed the Iraqi government’s budget.
Around 90 per cent of its income comes from oil, and a price cut from $140 at its peak, and from $80 a year ago to $40 today has had a major effect.
“Of course, it has affected all aspects of the Iraqi government, and the first impact is on the Ministry of Defence,” the defence minister, Khaled al-Obeidy, told The Sunday Telegraph in an interview.
Oil production in the region was already weakened when the United States revolutionized its energy exploration efforts and became a world leader in that field. That’s produced a host of benefits for Americans and our allies, but there have been growing pains as well. Now, however, we’ve compounded the problems through the Iran nuclear deal, with John Kerry and Barack Obama freeing up Iran to flood even more black gold onto the global market. At this point, Iraq’s oil production is barely paying the bills.
Is it worth a second look at gearing up the Iraqi army with direct aid in the form of weapons, ammunition and support equipment? Clearly we aren’t going to get the green light to put our own troops into the battle in any significant numbers, but surely nobody would object to arming the Iraqis if we can convince the public that they won’t simply surrender again and turn the guns over to ISIS. It’s at least worth considering at this point because we have to do something.