Iraq: January 18, 2005

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The death toll from anti-government Sunni Arab violence continues to rise. There are now 100-150 deaths a week. This may sound like a lot, especially the way each incident is breathlessly reported in the media. But for a country of 26 million, that comes to a rate of 14-20 dead per 100,000 population per year. Other countries are more violent, like Columbia and South Africa, but these are not considered news. Iraqs death rate is about the same as was suffered by Thailands rebellious Moslem provinces last year. The Japanese army suicide rate last year was 39 per 100,000. 

But for Iraqis, there has been a large increase. While the United States death rate from violence is 5-6 per 100,000, under Saddam, the death rate from crime and government terror was 10-20 dead per 100,000 per year. It was at that rate a year ago, but the death rate from this violence has nearly tripled since then. Moreover, the deaths fall disproportionately in Sunni Arab areas. That means the death rate among Sunni Arab civilians is much higher than it is among Kurds or Shia Arabs. While the anti-government groups try to make attacks in non-Sunni Arab areas, this is much more difficult. The Kurds and Shia Arabs are armed and alert to any strangers in their midst. The police are recruited locally, and Kurdish police in particular are not intimidated by Sunni Arab violence. A disproportionate number of the police on SWAT teams and in riot police units are Kurds. Many Shia Arabs join the police out of a desire to get back at the Sunni Arabs who killed a family member. Shia Arab police are much less likely to flee in the face of massive Sunni Arab violence. 

Another strange pattern is that, while 75 percent of the attacks are made on American troops, Iraqis suffer 80 percent of the deaths. This is because the American troops are much better at defending themselves. Most attacks on American troops fail, or result in a deadly counterattack. The anti-government forces know that the attacks on Iraqis are unpopular with Iraqis. And Iraqis dont like to make attacks on other Iraqis, nor do the foreign volunteers for al Qaeda. However, the damage is already done. The Baath Party was always hated by most Iraqis, including most Sunni Arabs. The violence of the last year has made Baath even more hated. Same with al Qaeda, which is behind most of the car bomb deaths, and some of the most prominent atrocities (like attacks that killed many school children.)

The anti-government forces are using naked terror to try and impose their will. Resisting this effort is indeed a war on terror. Europeans, and some Americans, insist that all this fighting is just training more terrorists, like in Afghanistan. But that is a myth. Very few Arabs saw combat in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Many more went to Afghanistan, hung out in Pakistani refugee camps and absorbed the atmosphere, then came home and have been telling tall tales ever since. The Afghans saw the Arab volunteers as a source of money, but totally inept as fighters. It was safer to leave the Arabs in the camps, drinking coffee among the women and children, who could protect these rich guests. Thousands of Arab volunteers returned from Afghanistan with imaginary skills, and fantasies of world conquest. Thats why theyve been more of a nuisance, than anything else, for the last two decades. 

Most of the enemy experts in Iraq are thugs who previously worked for Saddam, and they are being killed off. Same with the foreign volunteers, which their home countries were glad to be rid of. Al Qaeda takes these inexperienced, but excitable young men and gets them killed, either as a suicide bomber, or in a shoot out with American troops. Most Iraqis now understand that getting into a fight with American troops is not a good thing, and is generally fatal for the attacker. Thus most of the attacks are with remote controlled bombs, or hit and run ambushes. The Americans with their UAVs and thermal imagers, and Allah knows what else, will find you quickly if you are shooting at them, and kill you.

American intelligence has identified hundreds of individual gangs or terrorist cells in the Sunni Arab areas. Key individuals, usually those supplying large amounts of cash (most attacks are still paid for), are also identified, and constantly being sought. Saddam was not the only Baath Party leader caught, several are nailed each month. Same with the al Qaeda organization in Iraq, which is intertwined with Baath (which supplies technical assistance, money and sanctuaries). Most of these gangs are tied to a specific town or neighborhood. Put the gang out of business, and the neighborhood becomes a much safer place for everyone. But the intelligence does not age well, and if you cannot get Iraqi police into the neighborhood quickly after one gang is smashed, another will form. The gangster psychology is popular in Iraq. During Saddams time, the gangsters were seen as a cross between freedom fighters and Robin Hoods. Most were just thieves, but compared to Saddams thugs, common criminals looked good. Now the gangs make extra money by planting roadside bombs, kidnapping or attacking American troops. Kill an American soldier and the cash rewards sets you up for life. Saddam always knew how to motivate people, and his legacy continues.


 

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