Police are intensifying their search for the remaining terrorist groups in the country. Most appear to be Sunnis, as the terrorist targets are either Shia or Sunni government or tribal leaders. The Sunni Arab terrorists are still trying to get the Shia majority to come after all Sunni Arabs (to force all Sunnis to support the Sunni terrorists). But the Shia Arabs know the attacks are the work of small groups of Sunni Arab terrorists. Most of the police, especially the counter-terror units, are manned by Shia. Thus the word gets passed on who the terrorists are. Thus the Sunni terrorists also go after Sunni Arab leaders, especially tribal ones, who used to support the Sunni radicals. There are still a few Shia terrorist cells operating, but most of them are inactive, especially those supported by Iran. The biggest police problem now is the criminal gangs. Extortion, kidnapping, prostitution, booze, black market fuel and illegal drugs (heroin from Afghanistan) have created a prosperous criminal economy. The government and commercial corruption endemic to the region makes it more difficult for the police to shut down the gangs. But the cops have an additional weapon; the need to eliminate gangs that also provide support for terrorists. This has caused many gangs to avoid the still lucrative, but now more dangerous, working arrangements with terrorists.
Iraq is not much more screwed up (corruption, ethnic and religious strife, lack of education) than any of its neighbors. Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party were worse (more brutal and less effective rulers) than the regional norm. Now it's up to a new batch of elected leaders to try and move forward. Democracy is not the normal form of government in the Middle East, but without it, the region will continue its history of political strife and economic backwardness. Many locals, and outsiders, believe democracy won't work in the Middle East (Israel and Turkey being exceptions no one wants to dwell on). Democracy has not worked in Lebanon, and is a sham in Egypt. But people in the region are now well aware of how well things work in the West, where democracy and economic success seem to go together. Many locals obviously back using Islam to solve the political and economic problems (even though that has failed in Afghanistan and Iran). The West was content to leave the Middle Easterners to work out their problems by themselves until the Islamic radicals insisted on including the West in their ring of terror.
January 2, 2009: Some 20 kilometers south of Baghdad, a meeting of Sunni Arab tribal leaders was hit by a Sunni suicide bomber, leaving 23 dead and twice as many wounded. The bomber was a known Sunni Arab terrorist. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, the first commercial passenger flight from Europe (a Swedish charter carrying mostly Iraqis) landed. Iraqi Airways, the national airline, has already resumed regular passenger service to all neighboring countries, plus Lebanon and throughout the Persian Gulf.
January 1, 2009: The Iraqi government took control of the Green Zone (six square miles of heavily guarded downtown Baghdad where senior Iraqi and American leaders live and work.) This means that Iraqis are now in charge of Green Zone security, which has been very tight and effective when the Americans ran it (2003-8.)
December 31, 2008: U.S. casualties in 2008 (314 dead) were only a third of what they were in 2007. U.S. casualties last month were the lowest for any month since 2003. Iraqi police and troops are now in charge of security in 13 of 18 provinces. Iraqis will take control of the other five provinces this year. In 2008, Iraqi deaths (about 6,800) dropped even more than the U.S. losses, because of the elimination of so many terrorists.
December 28, 2008: In the north, Turkish jets carried several bombing missions against PKK targets. To the south, in Mosul, a pro-Hamas demonstration by Sunni Arabs was hit by a suicide bomber, leaving one dead (the bomber on a bicycle) and sixteen wounded. No one took credit for this attack, but the Sunni Arabs have lots of enemies.
December 26, 2008: In the western town of Ramadi, al Qaeda prisoners fought police and enabled three of their leaders to escape. Six policemen and seven prisoners died during several hours of fighting. One of the three who escaped, "Imad the killer" had murdered over a hundred people, and planted over a hundred roadside bombs, during several years of terrorist operations. He is one of the diehard Islamic radicals determined to restore a Sunni dictatorship to Iraq, or die trying. Within 24 hours of his escape, Imad was cornered (after trying to use some women and children as human shields) and killed by a police sniper. His two accomplices were captured nearby.
December 25, 2008: In the north, fighting between Kurdish PKK rebels and Turkish troops left three Turks dead.