August 11, 2011: While there are still lots (well, at least a few thousand) Iraqi Sunni Arabs supporting terrorism, but fewer and fewer choose to kill in the name of al Qaeda. The once leading terror organization has fallen on hard times. The recent death of founder Osama bin Laden has accelerated the decline. Recent Internet messages from the al Qaeda in Iraq leadership have urged members to spend more time carrying our criminal scams, because the organization was broke. Recruiting has been more and more difficult, and now there are public pleas for Sunni Arabs who joined government militias four years ago, to accept an al Qaeda amnesty and return to Islamic terrorism. Not many takers for that offer, partly because al Qaeda is seen as a bunch of losers, and partly because the government still pays the pro-government Sunni Arab militias. Follow the money if you want to find the truth.
Al Qaeda makes a point of directing many of its attacks at Sunni Arabs who have joined the security forces (either as a policeman or part of an anti-terrorist militia). This has caused many Iraqi Sunni Arabs to carry out a blood feud with al Qaeda, which makes it personal, potentially very deadly and not something you can just call off. The problem is that the current al Qaeda leadership in Iraq cannot decide what is more important; overthrowing the government or punishing Sunni Arabs who have joined the government. Meanwhile, a lot of the attacks on “legitimate targets” (Iraqi Christians or Shia, government facilities or security forces) are carried out by non-al Qaeda Sunni Arab groups who simply want Sunni Arabs running things once more.
Not all the terror attacks are carried out by al Qaeda or Shia militias. Both Sunni and Shia tribal and political groups are prone to use violence to get their way. The history of this part of the world is full of political leaders who regularly use assassination and terror to get their way. These bad habits have not gone away.
Pro-Iranian Shia leader Moqtada al Sadr is threatening violence against any American military and police trainers who remain in Iraq once U.S. combat troops withdraw by the end of the year. Sadr’s Mahdi Army was defeated by Iraqi forces in 2008 and he was forced to flee to Iran. Sadr has since returned, and pro-Iranian terror groups have become more active. But Sadr has been more bluff and bluster than real threat. Iran is still controlling Iraqi Shia terrorist groups, although Sadr can sometimes be difficult for everyone.
August 10, 2011: Iran has refused to extradite Iraqi Shia terrorist leader Ismail al Lami (also known as Abu Deraa). Al Lami was the head of the Mahdi Army, the largest and most violent Shia militia. During 2005-7, al Lami ordered increasingly gruesome attacks on Iraqi Sunni Arabs. This mainly included rounding up any Sunni Arab men Mahdi Army gunmen came across, then torturing and killing the Sunnis, and dumping the bodies someplace where they would be found. This was intended to terrorize the Sunni Arab population, and it worked. About half the Iraqi Sunni Arabs fled their homes, many of them fleeing the country. This brutal policy played a major role in breaking the power of the Sunni Arab terror campaign against the elected government and Shia civilians. While most Iraqis (the Kurds and Shia who comprise over 80 percent of the population) backed the attacks on the Sunnis, foreign governments, especially the Sunni Arab nations that dominate the region, were appalled and demanded that the Iraqi government halt these atrocities. This resulted in al Lami fleeing to Iran in 2008, and being outlawed in Iraq. Iran also hates the Iraqi Sunni Arabs (for starting the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and for oppressing their own Shia Arabs.) So al Lami is not being brought to justice any time soon.
In the north, Iranian troops continue to shell suspected PJAK (separatist Iranian Kurd) bases in Iraqi border villages. This has caused over a thousand Iraqi Kurds to flee their homes. Iranian troops still conduct raids into Kurdish Iraq, and the United States has convinced the Iraqi Kurds into cooperating with this, and not going to war with Iran. After nearly a month, there have been several hundred casualties, as the Iranians try to clear over a hundred PJAK men from the border area. PJAK had been using these bases (usually in villages) to launch terror attacks into Iran.
Over the last three weeks, attacks on American troops have dropped sharply. Most of the attacks had been carried out by Iran-backed Shia groups. But a month ago the U.S. told the Iraqi, and Iranian, government that if the attacks did not stop, the U.S. would respond. The exact nature of the response has been kept secret, but it was believed to include the phrase “in kind.” This got the attention of pro-Iranian Iraqi politicians, and the Iranian government.
August 7, 2011: The prime minister fired the Electricity Minister for signing $1.7 billion worth of phony contracts. Last year, previous Electricity Minister had been fired for corruption. The new one was just as bad, and may even keep his job if his political allies (who probably shared the stolen funds) can mobilize sufficient parliamentary opposition to the firing. Lack of electricity has been a major complaint for years, but all the money allocated to solving the problem is too tempting for most politicians assigned to deal with the issue.
August 5, 2011: In the northern city of Hila, a prison breakout left three prisoners and one guard dead. Five prisoners escaped, but four of them were quickly captured. An investigation of the breakout quickly led to the arrest of the head of the prison and his deputy. The two had apparently been bribed to make the breakout attempt possible. But not all the guards were in on it, and the breakout was not a complete success.
August 1, 2011: Terror-related deaths in July (259 Iraqis, including 159 civilians, 56 policemen and 44 soldiers) last month were down slightly from the 271 that died in June. Terror deaths have been high all this year, starting with the 259 who died in January. This is still more than 90 percent less than deaths suffered at the height of the violence in 2007, but still a lot for a country of 35 million people. Worse, more and more of the attacks are directed at senior government officials. These are meant to coerce the officials to go along with corrupt activities, or back off trying to catch the killers.
July 31, 2011: The U.S. has agreed to leave behind some of its intelligence capabilities. Most of the U.S. techniques and technology is unique and off-limits for any foreigners (except close NATO allies), but one item, the cell-phone wiretap system, which uses off-the-shelf hardware and software (usually sold to police), is being set up for the Iraqi intelligence forces. Despite widespread knowledge of the phones being tapped, much useful information can still be picked up with these advanced wiretapping and voice recognition systems (that automatically scan conversations for suspicious speech).
July 28, 2011: Iraq paid Kuwait another billion dollars in compensation for the 1990 invasion and plundering of Kuwait. So far, $33 billion has been paid, and another $19 billion is due. Many Iraqis oppose these payments, and consider them illegitimate. That’s because most Iraqis still agree with Saddam Hussein, who justified his 1990 invasion by claiming Kuwait as the “19th province” of Iraq. Iraq continues to accuse Kuwait of stealing Iraqi oil via “slant drilling” in oil fields that are on the border. Iraq also takes every opportunity to threaten Kuwait for real or imagined offences. This attitude continues to make Kuwaitis nervous, and pro-American.