Never underestimate symbols, because in this case they have saved lives. The January 30 elections were seen as a crucial struggle by both the government, and the terrorists who condemned democracy as un-Islamic or, in the case of the Sunni Arab Iraqis, unfair. While the terrorists were able to prevent most Sunni Arabs from voting, the majority of other Iraqis did enthusiastically participate. This was seen as a defeat by many Sunni Arabs who have, until now, supported, or tolerated, the terrorists. Thus many Sunni Arabs reconsidered their hostile attitude towards the government. As a result, attacks are down, as are casualties. The decline in terrorist activity began after Fallujah was shut down as a terrorist base last November. Attacks then rose, as expected, in January, as the terrorists made a maximum effort to derail the elections. It appears that there will be about half as many attacks, and casualties, in February, as there were in January. Arrests of terrorists, along with weapons, bomb making gear and documents, are up.
But it isn't all about demoralized terrorists, and their discouraged supporters. The government has not only put more, and better trained, security forces to work, but more tribes and localities have become active in organizing their own self-defense. Noting that most of the terrorist casualties have been Iraqis, people in central Iraq have more frequently passed on information to the police. There are more cases where local Iraqis have simply opened fire when they spotted terrorists moving through their area. American intelligence units have also built up an informer network. Although American troops only serve a year at a time in Iraq, the people being replaced pass on who, and what, they know, to the new crew. So the informer networks continue, and continue to grow. The terrorists, of course, target informers, or anyone else who works for the government or the coalition. This has not caused a manpower problem. There are still plenty of Iraqis willing to work for the government or the coalition. The information the informers provide makes it possible to make more arrests, and keep the terrorist groups off balance, and increasingly discouraged. Overall, the terrorism has made Iraqis more hostile to the terrorists, who loudly proclaim that they are doing all this mayhem for Iraqis.
Terrorist attacks on the police and infrastructure continue. But many of the attacks on the oil facilities fail. You don't hear much about the failed attacks. The terrorists don't want to publicize their failures, and the government doesn't want to discuss security arrangements. It is known that over 20,000 men are guarding the oil fields, pipelines and related facilities. Aircraft, UAVs and ground vehicles patrol around the clock, and lots of electronic sensors appear to have been installed. Many of the failed attackers have been captured, and interrogations of these men have led to more arrests and the demise of many terrorist cells. Despite persistent and energetic efforts by the terrorists, the oil still flows. That is a very positive symbol for most Iraqis, and a continual defeat for the terrorists.
In one area, however, the terrorists can still claim a symbolic victory. Several times a week, somewhere in Iraq, a suicide bomber, usually a foreigner, sets off a large bomb, and kills more Iraqis. To the terrorists, this means that their efforts are still producing results. Dead and terrorized Iraqis.