What a difference a year makes. Many American units arriving in Iraq now have as many as half their troops there for the second time. The differences these returning troops experience are startling. The towns and neighborhoods are a lot quieter, and friendlier. The big difference has been the arrival of police to drive gangs of terrorists and criminals out of neighborhoods. Before this, locals were terrified by the armed men living in their area. And the bad guys made no secret of what terrible things would happen to anyone who was seen, or even suspected of, talking to the Americans. But once enough police move into an area to maintain full time control of the streets, the bad guys have to clear out, or get hit with a raid. Once the gangsters go, they have a very difficult time operating in that area any more, because people will tell the cops. If the bad guys have too much muscle for the local cops, the Americans can be called in. The terrorists and gangsters cannot deal with this. Well, they try. More and more of the attacks are roadside bombs and suicide bombers. The roadside bombs are harder to plant, with more police patrolling the streets, and more civilians calling in tips on bombs, or people seen planting them.
Suicide bombers have largely been foreigners. As Iraqis are quick to point out, Iraqis are not into this sort of thing. Neither are the foreigners any more, many of them refusing to undertake missions that just kill Iraqi civilians. So more and more suicide bombers are not volunteers, but men kidnapped and told to carry out the mission, or see family members killed. The bodies of car bombers have been found handcuffed to the steering wheel. Many suicide car bombers have dual detonation systems, one under the control of the driver, another under the control of a distant "supervisor," ready to set the bomb off if the suicide bomber is seen to get confused, or tries to get away from his fate.
Another difference is the change in public opinions among Iraqis. It's no longer as fashionable to blame Americans for everything. A new Iraqi government has been in power for a year. Watching Iraqi democracy up close has been embarrassing, and educational. It's changed attitudes, and made more Iraqis realize that they have to take charge and make things work. This is not a normal attitude in Iraq, or the Middle East. For a long, long time, strong men ruled Iraq. You were told what to do, and talking back was often a fatal act. Now, talking back is necessary. You have to decide what to do, do it and, hardest of all, be responsible for what was done. All this has caused more Iraqis to look at themselves, their history and their reaction to the fall of Saddam. Americans are no longer the bad guys. Sunni Arabs and foreign terrorists, plus Iraqi gangsters, are the bad guys. The police are also becoming the bad guys, as the corruption so common with the cops in the past, is coming back. This is getting so bad, that there have been riots by people trying to get jobs as policemen. The money-making opportunities in being a bad cop are that great. Corruption, in general, is getting worse as the economy continues to grow. Dealing with democracy and terrorism has been a lot easier than coping with corrupt practices.
Meanwhile, it's getting harder for the terrorists to operate in Baghdad, which has long been the scene of most of the terrorist violence. The continuing American raids in western Iraq have disrupted terrorists operations, and much of the anti-government and terrorist operations have shifted north. Here, Kurds are fighting Sunni Arabs and Turkmen for control of oil rich cities like Mosul and Kirkuk. This is a dispute that would be going on even without Islamic radicalism and al Qaeda involvement. It's a problem that's been around for centuries, and won't be easy to settle.