A year of heavy fighting has uncovered a lot of the inner workings of the
terrorist groups. Over the last three years, terrorist financing has shifted
from Saddam era cash, to proceeds from criminal activities (theft of oil and
antiquities, kidnapping and extortion.) Saddam's henchmen eventually lost
enthusiasm for emptying their Swiss bank accounts for the cause. Meanwhile,
most Sunni Arabs lost their government jobs. Saddam depended on the Sunni Arab
minority to run his police state, and when Saddam was overthrown, his several
hundred thousand henchmen went with him. Unemployment led to crime, which was
justified by the need to feed the family, and mess with the Shia Arab majority
that now presumed to run the country. But as Iraqi police and military forces
grew over the last five years, crime got more difficult and less lucrative.
rate did not go down, because Shia Arab criminals took over as Sunni Arab
crooks got killed, captured or driven away. In the last year, the number of
terror attacks has sharply declined, as the Shia Arab criminals and militias
are not interested in slaughtering civilians. They were interested in
maintaining control over neighborhoods, criminal enterprises, and augmenting
political control. Many of these militias were supported by Iran, a neighbor
that wanted to have more control over what went on inside Iraq. But Iran is run
by the Shia clergy, and the prospect of a religious dictatorship in Iraq turned
off many Iraqis. This was no secret to anyone, and the Iraqi government, run by
more independent minded Shia, finally agreed that the Iran backed militias could
not be tolerated. This has led to a recent campaign to take apart the more
troublesome factions. The worst of the lot are in Basra, where Shia militias make
a lot of money off the oil and port operations down there. These gangs were
getting greedy, and stealing more than the government was willing to tolerate.
Thus in the last week, thousands of Iraqi police and soldiers moved into Basra
and began arresting members of the Mahdi Army (run by Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr).
At the same time, police moved in on Mahdi Army groups in Baghdad. But Basra
was where the money was, and the fighting was expected to be long and
difficult. On March 26th, the government gave the Mahdi Army three
days to surrender, or face some real violence. For some Shia gangsters, this
seems to mean American smart bombs. That rumor is all over Basra, and the bad
guys are truly scared. Hiding out in a mosque won't help, because American ground
troops are not involved. Iraqi cops have no problem clearing out a mosque.
The Mahdi Army
apparently believed that firing mortar shells at the Green Zone (where the
senior Iraqi politicians live and work) would be a good way to strike back. But
the Green Zone is a big place, and a few mortar shells rarely hit anything important.
The police do know who lives where, and are raiding the homes of key Shia gangsters.
The gangs look to their Iranian advisors, and get no answers, other than "fight
hard." That may not be enough. While Iran believes that eventually the Americans
will go home, the Iraqi police are at home, and they want to send the Iranians
back across the border.