April 17, 2012: The government openly proclaims itself neutral in the rebellion in neighboring Syria. But the largely Sunni Arab population along the Syrian border supports their fellow Sunnis in Syria (where Sunni Arabs are a minority) and weapons smuggling is increasing. The Iraqi Sunnis also accuse their own government of allowing Iranian weapons to get to the Syrian government but there is no evidence of that.
The Sunni-Shia conflict remains a major issue in Iraq, as does fear of Iranian aggression. Sunni Arab terrorists, without any Americans to attack, now declare Iran and pro-Iran Iraqis (a minority itself) to be the main target. The official line is that when the Americans were in Iraq they were allies of the hated Iranians. A lot of Iraqi Sunni Arabs believe this, and that's the kind of mentality that Westerners have to cope with.
Terrorism in Iraq left 613 civilians dead during the first three months of 2012, which was only slightly less than in 2011. The inability (or simply slowness) of the government in stamping out these largely Sunni Arab terror groups has made the government very unpopular (although corruption and mismanagement help the hatred along). Shia Arabs are over 60 percent of the population but they are the victims of this terrorist violence over 80 percent of the time. As a result, police and army counter-terror units are arresting more and more Islamic terrorists. But until the Iraqi Sunni Arab community accepts democracy and Shia rule there will always be new recruits, sustained by Sunni Arab criminal gangs.
The government says that some of the bodyguards of Sunni Arab vice president Tariq al Hashimi, who is accused of running a death squad and other terrorist activities, confessed that their group committed 150 assassinations and bomb attacks over the last three years. The national government has arrested dozens of bodyguards and other associates of Hashimi and charged them with being behind the many assassinations of Shia government officials. The government demands that Sunni Arab politicians halt support for terrorists in their communities. Hashimi fled to sanctuary in the Kurdish north and insists he is innocent. He has since moved to Qatar, then Saudi Arabia and now Turkey. Sunni politicians outside Iraq tend to support Hashimi but the evidence that he was involved in terrorism is pretty strong. Most Sunni Arab politicians in Iraq have been involved (as leaders or participants) in terrorism, sometimes for self-defense but mostly for political gain in the Sunni community.
Hashimi represents the many Sunni Arabs who believe Iraq will not work if Sunni Arabs are not in charge, as they had been for five hundred years. Despite being a minority, since the 16th century the Sunni Turks (until 1918) relied on the Baghdadi Sunni Arabs to help run things. For about a decade after 1918 the British occupied Iraq and also depended on the Sunni Arabs to keep the peace. Then the British left but had to re-occupy Iraq during World War II because the Sunni Arab government (not the king) tried to ally itself with the Nazis. At the time many Arabs admired Nazism. The Brits again conquered country, using three divisions and taking three weeks to do it. The Brits found another bunch of Sunni Arab notables and told them they could run things if they stayed away from the Nazis. That lasted for about a decade, until the Sunni Arab politicians and generals decided that this democracy stuff wasn’t working for them. The royal family was massacred and parliament purged of “disloyal” elements.
The Sunni Arabs were now firmly in charge, via a series of dictators, until Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003. Despite the subsequent elections too many groups in Iraq, not just the Sunni Arabs, believe a dictatorship (with them running it) would be the best solution for the nation's ills. As long as there is the possibility of some group seizing control, Iraq's democracy is in danger. After all, Iraqi had a democracy before (from 1932-58). That one was a constitutional monarchy. There were elections, political parties, and a parliament that passed laws. But it all ended half a century ago when Sunni Arab generals shut down the democracy (actually, they pretended the parliament still worked but the legislators merely followed orders). Saddam ran this military government for three decades and ran the country into the ground. Yet some Iraqis (mostly Sunni Arabs but even a few Shia Arabs) still admire Saddam and consider his blood-soaked reign a "golden age."
Al Qaeda came in after 2003 and added Islamic radical terrorists to all those that the Sunni Arab nationalists had recruited. This backfired, as al Qaeda represented a form of political action that the post–World War II Sunni Arabs had abandoned and even gone to war with. But now, in the name of restoring Sunni rule Islamic terrorists were allowed to do as they pleased. This led to Iraqi Christians becoming "legitimate targets" that should all be killed or driven out of the country. Such threats are nothing new and have been getting worse for over a century. Christians are only 2-3 percent of the population, while a century ago they were over ten percent. The Christians are at most risk from groups like the Islamic State of Iraq, a coalition of most of the Sunni Islamic terror groups operating in Iraq.
Another nasty side effect of Saddam's overthrow has been the emergence of more major criminal gangs. Some of these existed even in Saddam's police state. Once Saddam was overthrown these gangs largely sided with the Sunni terrorists trying to put Saddam (or some other Sunni dictator) back in charge. The more purely criminal branches of terrorist groups tend to survive, which is how the surviving mafia organizations can trace their lineage back to 19th century freedom fighters. But in the last two decades the mafia and IRA have been reduced to much smaller, and less effective, organizations.
The Iraqis are now using a police approach to terrorism that has worked numerous times in the past few decades. India crushed powerful Sikh separatists in the late 80s and early 90s by concentrating on what were basically police methods of developing informers and double agents and going after the key people and the criminal fund raising activities. At the same time, Egypt was crushing Islamic radicals, using similar techniques. Throughout the 1990s, Algeria fought a vicious Islamic terrorist group, finally reducing their numbers from over 10,000, to less than 500. Same thing with Israel's victory over Palestinian terrorists who were successful, for a few years after 2000, with suicide bomber attacks inside Israel. The U.S. adopted a lot of the Israeli techniques for intelligence collection and agent development.
American and Iraqi counter-terrorism efforts have managed to tear up the Islamic terrorist groups. Many Sunni Arab terrorists have accepted (with some trepidation) various amnesty deals. Al Qaeda, which is still largely a foreign outfit, has been crippled with the killing or capture of most of their senior leaders. Being foreigners, and favoring attacks on civilians, made al Qaeda the most hated group in the country. There were plenty of tips from concerned citizens because of that. Iraqi members of al Qaeda have switched to criminal gangs, relegating Islamic terrorism to the "what I do in my spare time" category. While the U.S. contributed lots of essentials (UAVs, intelligence collection, and analysis) support for the counter-terror battle, the Iraqis did most of the work on the ground. The Iraqi cops are taking advantage of the fact that most Iraqis want peace. Three decades of Saddam's misrule and nine years of post-Saddam terror have created a widespread desire for less unrest. While there are far fewer terror attacks (less than ten percent of those five years ago), they persist, and police believe there are enough diehard Islamic radicals and violent criminals to keep the bombs exploding for another five years or more.
April 16, 2012: In central Iraq (Diyala province) as police approached a house to arrest an al Qaeda suspect the building exploded, killing the suspect, his wife, and three children. This degree of fanaticism is very common among Iraqi Sunni Arabs, who are quite bitter about losing power.
April 13, 2012: Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a jail break last month that freed 19 prisoners. This was accomplished by bribing some guards to poison others.
April 9, 2012: Police claim to have destroyed a major al Qaeda operation in the south, with the arrest of eleven men (who confessed to carrying out attacks that killed 53 Shia).