Iraq has 10 ScanEagly tactical drones that are used for long flights at low altitude to monitor threats such as ISIS. But the Iraqi drones have carried out only two sorties since March because of apparent maintenance or other shortfalls, according to a US Lead Inspector General report released this week.
The US is assisting Iraq in its anti-ISIS operations and has been contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to training, equipping and helping Iraq stabilize its countryside in areas liberated from the extremists since 2015. This is a massive program, parts of which have been successful. But the new report indicates that Iraq may face some long-term problems with its fleet of drones. The report says that “maintenance problems resulted in only one of Iraq’s more than 10 CH-4 aircraft” being mission capable.
The aircraft is a Chinese-made unmanned aerial system, or drone. The US says it is like the MQ-9 Reaper. Similarly, the Boeing ScanEagle tactical drones that Iraq has don’t seem to be flying much. “Shortfalls have resulted in a 50% decrease in Iraq’s fixed-wing ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) sorties compared to the same period last year.”
The US is plowing up to $1 billion for training and equipping local forces in Iraq and Syria. But ISIS has a foothold in Iraq. It can move “freely” between Iraq and Syria in small groups of 20. This is “due to limited Iraqi Security Forces” on the border. The US-led coalition says that the ISF “did not plan or conduct any deliberate operations along the Iraq-Syria border this quarter.” But the US says the Iraqi 15th division in Nineveh has been arresting ISIS members. The report says that “ISIS reorganizes leadership” and seeks to establish safe havens in Iraq, while Iraq has made only “short-term gains.”
The US puts a bit of a happy face on some of the continuing projects in Iraq. It says that its “build partner capacity” model will “evolve towards greater emphasis on enhancing partner capacity” with a look toward the long term. That seems more like a word salad of terms that cover up a strategy that may not be going anywhere. The US is putting $100 million toward stabilization in Anbar province, an area ISIS once held, part of a larger US commitment of $358 million toward stabilization since 2015. On a positive note, a $530 million project to stabilize Mosul Dam has apparently been successful. It ended in June when Italians and Iraqis announced the dam has stabilized.
This is part of a report that seems to paint a dismal picture across parts of Iraq. Protests have continued in Basra, and Iraqis fear more power outages due to infrastructure failures. NGOs can’t operate in some areas due to security forces restrictions, the report says. The report warns that high unemployment is a problem and that locals say it is expected to increase. “The lack of electricity could reignite tensions and prompt widespread demonstrations.”
Of the last several US inspector general reports of this kind, this one appears to continue a trend of portraying Iraq’s gains against ISIS in 2017 as having been squandered in the last year. This means ISIS is trying to make a comeback, and that many institutional problems in Iraq that stem from the period before 2014 continue. These include basic things like maintenance of vehicles and technology such as drones.