Iraq's borders fall out of government control

Iraq's borders fall out of government control
Analysis: Saudi Arabia is reinforcing its border with Iraq as it faces possible threats from infiltration by the IS after Iraq’s border guard has effectively collapsed.
3 min read
08 April, 2015
Saudi Arabia fears infiltration by elements of the IS [Fayez Noureddin/AFP]

The normally quiet 820km long Saudi border with Iraq has recently been an scene of unprecedented activity.

Thousands of Saudi border guards, backed by tank regiments and surveillance aircraft, have taken up positions across the mostly desert region to thwart any infiltration by the Islamic State group, and frustrate attempts by disaffected Saudi citizens to join it.

The situation is similar along the Iraqi-Jordanian border, which for many years during the post-1991 Gulf War sanctions regime was Iraq's only economic lifeline.

Large brightly-coloured signs have been put up saying "Warning do not approach forces are authorized to kill".

Herdsmen and bedouin in the Anbar desert see green Saudi Arabian flags on the other side of the border, along with watchtowers and surveillance cameras. The lights are constantly on in places where infiltrators might attempt to cross and large, brightly-coloured signs warn of a shoot to kill policy against infiltrators.

There is a security fence several metres high, which is concrete in some areas and electric fence in others.

Many areas are littered with the corpses of desert animals killed by Saudi soldiers on the possibility they could be booby trapped.

Border exercises

The Saudi Press Agency reported the military conducted weeks of exercises along the Iraqi border close to the Saudi city of Arar.

These preparations are in stark contrast to activity on the Iraqi side. Hamid al-Falahi, a brigadier general in the Iraqi border guard, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that Iraq's border security was not as he would wish. 

"There is a shortage of government troops because they have been redeployed to fight IS... a lack of monitoring equipment and poor training. The Saudis have in the end relied on themselves to protect their border, which is good for us, regardless of politics.

"You could say they have forgotten about us and think protecting the border is their job because of recent border breaches."

A commander in the Iraqi 7th Division, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, told al-Araby: "Iraq has lost control of the border and neighbouring countries have taken up the responsibility instead of us, with the consent of the US.

"Today, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are completely protecting the borders because we don't have enough troops. Many barracks and watchtowers are unmanned most of the time.

"Soldiers have left their stations because meals have not been delivered for two or three days at a time. They rely on the Bedouins for food and have been attacked.

"Most Iraqi troops have been taken inside Iraq to prevent other cities falling to the IS. The same is true on the Iraq borders with Iran, Turkey and Kuwait."

The Iraqi Border Guard, once 230,000 troops, is today just 24,000.

Iraqi security specialist, Sami Harith al-Massari, told al-Araby lax security on the Iraq side was "another source of stress on Iraq".

Borders in the hands of the IS

"About 700km on both sides of the border with Syria is in hands of the IS," he said. "Our other borders with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Iran and Kuwait are being managed by these countries in the absence of our forces."

He said the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, "knows the keys to his house are with his neighbours, not with him".

Iraqi military sources have said the Iraqi border guard, which the US helped create and train between 2006 and 2008, was composed of 230,000 troops, but today their number has fallen to just 24,000. More than 2,000 armoured vehicles and light and heavy weaponry have been redeployed to cities.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.