American troops in Iraq have learned that you can't cut corners, when it comes to regaining control of a town or district, from Sunni Arab or al Qaeda terrorists. Two years ago, American troops would come in, clear out the bad guys, then turn over control to local leaders and hastily trained police. This would work in many areas where most of the population was mainly Kurd or Shia, but in any area with a substantial Sunni Arab presence, the terrorists would quickly regain control. The terrorists could do this because they had the active, or passive, support of the Sunni Arab population (who all wanted Sunni Arabs back in charge, if not someone of the caliber as Saddam Hussein). Terrorism is powerful if there is not a strong police presence to deal with it. Iraq never had much of a police force during the decades of Saddam's rule. Order was maintained via special "intelligence" units that were basically terrorist organizations whose main attributes were brutality and loyalty to Saddam. The thugs who used to staff those outfits now form the core of the Iraqi "resistance." What a coincidence.
Saddam's thugs had more than ruthlessness and brutality going for them. They also had a reputation among Iraqis. When the American and Iraqi troops departed, Saddam's former enforcers would make the local police an offer they couldn't refuse ("work with us or die.") Some cops did refuse, and most of those died, or ran for their lives. After seeing this happen again and again over several months in 2004, the emphasis was placed on increasing police training, and recruiting. Police pay was increased as well. Special (for SWAT and hunting terrorists) police battalions were organized. Plans were made to blitz towns controlled by the terrorists, and install powerful police forces.
The new police had another advantage; more months of intelligence work, to identify who the most important bad guys were. These often included local tribal chiefs. These fellows could be talked to. But the former Saddam heavies usually responded best to several bullets in the head. Many of Saddam's cronies, with a sense of self-preservation, had already fled the country. The ones who stayed behind were true believers in the restoration of Sunni Arab rule, or just out-of-it. These types also made the most effective terrorists, and the most formidable fighters when cornered. But once they were dead, they were not replaced. The Saddam era enforcers had years of experience at what they did, and no one was eager to follow them into the business. So during 2005, when American troops rolled into terrorist controlled towns, they brought Iraqi police commandos with them, the better to find and take down the key terrorists. Many of these police commandoes were Kurds or Shia Arabs. These fellows had kin who had been injured or killed by Saddam's enforcers. The police commandoes had to be constantly reminded how valuable it was to take some of the thugs alive, so more intel could be obtained.
Once the open resistance was broken, the new police force was installed. This included going from house-to-house to get to know everyone, and note who was still siding with the terrorists. An older cop could usually get a sense of where loyalties were in each family, after a short conversation with the men of the house. The remnants of the terrorist gangs would be in hiding, but ready to reform and return. The trick was to have enough police, intel and firepower to knock down the terrorists again, and again, until they were all dead, gone, or out of the terror business.
So far, the new methods are working. You can tell by the number of Sunni Arab religious and tribal leaders who are switching their allegiance from the terrorists to the government. This sort of thing is risky, and many of these Sunni Arab leaders are getting killed by the terrorists. But they can see which way the wind is blowing, and believe the government offers a better, or at least more survivable, future.