In the last month, the nature of the fighting in Iraq has changed in
some interesting ways. Sunni terrorists have become demoralized, and the number
of attacks they are launching is plummeting. American casualties are now less
than a third of what they were last month. American attention is turning from
the Sunnis, who now live in fear of Shia death squads, to Shia politics in
general. The Shia control most of the Iraqi government, and about half of
the Shia political parties are heavily influenced by Iran. Worse, the Iranian
influence comes from radical elements in the Iranian government, who are
basically Shia versions of al Qaeda. This is the "Death to America"
crowd, a group that wants a worldwide Islamic state run by Shia clerics.
Opposition to this is something most Moslems (only about ten percent are Shia)
and the U.S. can agree on. American forces are now spending more of their time
gathering evidence about the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq. To that end,
an Iranian consulate was raided, on January 11th, by U.S. troops,
six men arrested, and much evidence (documents, computers) seized. Iran
protested, as did the Iraqi government. The Iranians have their allies in the
Iraqi government, and sense that the U.S. is going to attempt a housecleaning.
Resisting this won't be easy, because most Iraqis back the idea of less Iranian
influence on Iraqi politics. The consulate raid, and other captures and
intelligence missions, have revealed many details of Iranian operations in
Iraq. It's now the Iranians, and their Iraqi allies, who are on the defensive.
The Americans are apparently serious about disarming the Shia militias. That
would still give pro-Iranian many police and army units (heavily infiltrated by
pro-Iranian Iraqis) to play with, but the Americans are going after those as
well. The "troops surge" the Americans are talking about, won't have
much immediate effect on all this. The "surge" will take place over
the next few few months, raising the American troops strength 16 percent.
Iranian problem is directly linked to another fundamental one in Iraq;
corruption. Many of Irans new allies in Iraq were bought, and theft of
government money and assets is still seen, by too many officials, as more of a
right, than an offense. The stealing, inefficiency, reluctance to make
difficult decisions and general lack of personal responsibility, is nothing
new. Actually, these bad habits can be considered traditions, having existed in
the region for centuries. Just having a democracy does not automatically
eliminate all existing problems. Saddam Hussein was the norm for this part of
the world, not an aberration. Saddam was a crook, but he was a strong and
efficient crook. Iraqis want a strong and efficient leader, but finding one who
doesn't want to rule as a dictator, is proving very difficult. Meanwhile, Iran
(run by a religious dictatorship) and Syria (run by a secular dictatorship,
whose services have been purchased by Iran) are trying to buy, or bully their
way to, as much influence as they can in Iraq. The other neighbors are Sunni
Arab states that don't want an Iran controlled Iraq, but don't see a good way
to stop it from happening. The United States is going to try and remove the
Shia militias, and see what happens. No one really knows. This is all new
territory, what with democracy and honest government being so rare in this part
of the world.