Iraq: April 1, 2005


Another major Shia religious festival, which lasted from 29-31 March, ended without incident. The government made a major effort to provide security for the large gatherings of Shia Arabs attending religious ceremonies and moving around in southern Iraq. Sunni Arab terrorists, especially al Qaeda, consider these ceremonies a major insult to Sunni religious beliefs. The government deployed a security effort on the same level as the one rolled out for the January elections. Coalition troops deployed mostly as back up and quick reaction forces. Al Qaeda tried to use suicide car bombers, but none of them got through to large assemblies of Shia Arabs. In one incident, a car bomb went off and killed five people, which was the most any of the attacks were able to do. 

Another reason the attacks were not successful was that, in the days before March 29th, police arrested hundreds of Sunni Arabs and foreigners suspected of being terrorists. Many were, and this is because an increasing number of Sunni Arab religious leaders have changed their minds about armed resistance to democracy, and coalition forces. This has made it easier for Sunni Arabs to pass on information to the police. The Sunni religious leaders have done the math and concluded that they were backing the losing side. Some have made deals with the government, to provide information, or pro-government sermons, in return for favorable treatment (money, access to jobs for their followers, reconstruction projects). But most have simply stopped preaching violence, or cut back on the intensity of their calls for violence against Kurds, Sunni Arabs and infidels (non-Moslems). Many Sunni Arab clerics have also noted that most of their followers are not in favor of terror attacks that kill Iraqis, no matter what their religion or ethnicity. The terrorists have largely given up attacking American troops. The level of such attacks is about half what it was a year ago. The reason is that the attackers are much more likely to fail, and get killed, when they attack American troops. It's much easier, and safer, to attack Iraqi civilians, or even Iraqi police and troops. But the Iraqi government forces are becoming more lethal as well, and Iraqi government forces usually have American troops backing them up. 

The impact of all this has been striking. The overall level of terrorist violence has fallen by about half in the last month. Terrorist attacks that target Iraqis has been very unpopular in Iraq, and caused even many Sunni Arabs to turn against al Qaeda and Sunni Arab terrorist organizations. But at the street level, most Iraqis are more concerned with criminal gangs (who commit far more violence against Iraqis than terrorists) and corruption (which is encountered daily, while you might go weeks without even hearing about a terror attack in your neighborhood.)


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