Iraq: January 13, 2005

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Understandably, American casualties in Iraq get most of the news coverage in the United States, but Iraqi police and troops have been taking 80 percent of the losses since the interim Iraqi government took over last June 28th. Many of the Iraqi dead have been due to car 183 bombs that have been used in the last six months. Not all those car bombs involved suicide bombers (only 38 percent did). But those bombs caused some 3,000 casualties, over 90 percent of them Iraqis and a third of them fatal. The peak month for car bombs was last November, when there were 48. Because many of the car bomb workshops were overrun in Fallujah that month, the number of car bombs fell to 27 in December, but is slowly increasing this month. 

The frequent use of car bombs has done little to thin out the chaotic traffic in Iraqi cities. Considering the way Iraqis drive, and that their accident rate is several times what it is in the United States, that's probably a reasonable decision. American soldiers have noted that driving without your seat belt is more dangerous than the threat of roadside bombs or car bombs. Iraqi gossip still likes to blame all the car bombs on Americans, but the chatter in the coffee shops and blogs tells a different tale. Iraqis know who is doing the bombings, and the debate is over how hard should the government lean on the Sunni community, and how soon. Iraqis feel that soon the Sunnis will no longer be a major threat to the government. Iraqis take pride in the growing number of Iraqi police and army units that can storm into a house or neighborhood and carry out a raids and arrest, with no shooting and no casualties. "Just like the Americans," is the phrase you hear muttered, half in resignation, half in pride.  Saddam had soldiers who could do raids like that, although they would often kill a few bystanders just for the terror effect. And the people they took away were usually never seen again. Now those efficient soldiers of Saddam are making car bombs, and slipping threatening notes under the doors of election officials. "Vote and Die" is the phrase the opposition is using. But most Iraqi election officials are standing their ground, and many Iraqis, especially those living near Sunni Arab neighborhoods or towns (nearly half the population), look forward to election day with dread. That's because voting could mean exposure to another car bomb, and not voting means giving Saddam's thugs another victory. It's a no-win situation. But it's also a no-lose situation. Over 14 million Iraqis are registered to vote, at over 3,000 voting locations. Over 100,000 Iraqi police and soldiers will be guarding the voting places, along with thousands of local men armed with the AK-47s each household is allowed to keep (but not take outside, a rule that is often flouted for emergencies like this.) If the anti-government forces make a major effort to attack many polling places, they will spread themselves thin and even up the odds. This will mean more failed attacks, and more dead Baath Party and al Qaeda members. "Vote and Die" has many meanings.

 

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