The sharp drop in violence (about 70 percent
nationwide versus a year ago) is being seen as the result of the Sunni Arab
terrorist organizations collapsing in defeat. Most of the Sunni Arab tribes
have turned against the terrorists, and the al Qaeda organization, which is
responsible for most of the suicide bomb attacks, has been torn apart. Most al
Qaeda leaders are dead, captured or spending most of their time trying to avoid
that fate. The system of safe houses and skilled technicians (bomb makers,
trainers, supervisors) has been disrupted or destroyed. At the same time some
U.S. commanders want to declare al Qaeda defeated in Iraq, Osama Bin Laden
comes out with another audio recording calling for Iraqis to rally behind al
Qaeda and restore the terrorist organization. Al Qaeda is desperate, and they
need a new strategy. The old one, of making terror attacks on Shia Arabs, with
the objective being a civil war the Sunni Arabs would win, has been a failure.
The Shia Arabs proved more formidable than expected, and Shia death squads
killed thousands of Sunni Arabs, often chosen at random. Al Qaeda showed that
it could infuriate the Shia Arabs, but not defend Sunni Arabs against Shia
retaliation. At first, growing Sunni Arab resistance to al Qaeda was met with
terrorism. Sunni Arab leaders were kidnapped or killed by al Qaeda. That
produced a growing number of Sunni Arabs that disliked al Qaeda, but was not
organized well enough to resist the terrorists. This went on for over a year,
until the U.S. Surge offensive began earlier this year. This put American
troops into Sunni Arab communities, preventing al Qaeda from terrorizing the
civilians. The Sunni Arabs then organized their own self-defense forces and
pointed out the al Qaeda among them. Over the Summer, the al Qaeda organization
was taken apart because of this cooperation.
Before the Summer ended,
it was possible to shift many American combat units to the battle against Shia
warlords. There are two of these, both backed by Iran; the Badr Brigades, and
the Mahdi Army. While Iranian backed, the two organizations are still Iraqi,
and keen to see a strong and independent Iraq (run by a religious dictatorship,
with one of the two warlords pulling strings behind the scenes.) The two
warlords (Abdul Aziz al Hakim, who commands the Badr Brigade, and Muqtada al
Sadr, who controls the Mahdi army) are competing to be the kingmaker, but first
have to get past the majority of Iraqis who don't want a religious dictatorship
(they can see how badly that works next store in Iran), and don't want another
warlord, like Saddam, taking over the government. Hakim and Sadr are seen as
Shia Saddam wannbes, and both men are frantically trying to shed that image.
Muqtada al Sadr has other
problems. His Mahdi Army is in disarray, with factions going off on their own.
Most of these freelancers are led by men out to make a buck, but some are
taking orders from Iran. And those orders involve making terrorist attacks on
U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces. The U.S. has come down hard on these
factions, and is shutting them down. This has led to a few battles, as American
raids meet with armed resistance. The militias lose, although their use of
civilians as human shields results in dead civilians, and accusations of
rampaging American soldiers, out to kill civilians. That doesn't save the
warlords, but press releases are becoming their most effective weapon.
The collapse of the Sunni
Arab terror campaign has also led to a sharp decline in American casualties.
When the Surge campaign began last February, U.S. losses sharply increased
(overall, about 25 percent so far this year, compared to the previous year).
But that casualty rate has been declining since last June, and is now at its
lowest rate (per 1,000 troops) in years.
The Sunni Arab terrorists have largely been responsible for the roadside
bomb attacks, and these have declined sharply as well, removing a major cause
of American casualties.
The defeat of the
terrorists still leaves plenty of troublesome political problems. The Shia Arab
majority, which dominates the government, is in no mood to share much power, or
oil money, with the Sunni Arabs. The corruption problem is as big as ever, and
prevents much of the oil profits from being used for useful efforts, like
rebuilding the country and the economy. Up north, the Kurds have stirred up a
possible invasion by the Turks, because the Iraqi Kurds refused to shut down
PKK (a Turkish Kurd separatist terror organization) camps in northern Iraq. The
Iraqi government has ordered the PKK camps shut, and the Kurdish government up
there has to make a decision. If they go after the PKK, many Iraqi Kurds will not
be happy. If the PKK camps are left alone and the Turks invade, all Iraqi Kurds
will not be happy. A third option is to pretend to do something against the
PKK, and hope the Turks fall for it. Even if the Turks don't go along with a
make-believe crackdown, it might buy time for a miracle to show up.