The most lethal terrorist weapon against Americans is still the IED (roadside bomb). But IEDs have become very frustrating to use. Some 90 percent of them are found and destroyed. Even if an IED get detonated in the presence of U.S. troops, theres always the risk that nearby Iraqi civilians will get hit as well. Since the Americans are wearing body armor, and usually riding in armored vehicles, the civilians are more likely to get hurt or killed. Uninjured Americans and dead Iraqi civilians are a double negative for the terrorists, and they are having a hard time getting around this problem.
Al Qaedas alliance with Sunni Arab nationalists appears to be coming apart. Some of the Sunni Arab gangs that once worked with al Qaeda cells, are now gunning for terrorists. Apparently, some of the Sunni Arabs had kin killed by al Qaeda attacks, and family obligation forced them to get some revenge, or become outcasts. In other cases, tribal elders declared the al Qaeda people unsuitable allies, which led to an armed dispute.
American intelligence sources have greatly expanded as cell phone and Internet service became more widespread, and more police are operating in Sunni Arab areas. The many bits of information collected are often not much use by themselves. But taken together, they show patterns which are pretty clear. These include more Baath Party big shots either trying to make deals with the government, or getting out of the country. There is no really safe place to seek exile. Syria was a favorite, but the Iraqi refugees know that the Syrians will give them up if the outside pressure is too great. The Iraqi government is making the most of this to get the least guilty Baath Party activists to turn in those with more blood on their hands. This is proving difficult, because there are several Baath Party groups out there and they tend to operate autonomously. Making a deal with one Baath Party faction doesnt get you a deal with any of the others. Negotiating with the opposition means talking with a lot of people, and having to kill some of them.
While the level of violence has declined a lot in the last three months, there are still thousands of hostile Sunni Arabs out there, armed and especially dangerous to foreigners and government employees. A trade show was recently held for foreign companies offering goods and services for rebuilding Iraq. The Rebuilding Iraq Expo 2005 had to be held in Jordan because of the high crime rate in Baghdad. A lot of that crime is terrorism by political and religious fanatics. Although assassinations of officials is still a problem, the number of attempts and the number of killings seems to have been falling, while the visibility of the victims has been declining as well. In recent weeks its been unusual for even middle-level government, police, or military officials to be killed by the anti-government thugs. Victims have mostly been at lower levels, village mayors, local judges, local police officers, and so forth. This may reflect increasing security for higher level officials, a decreasing pool of skilled assassins, a shift in priorities, or some combination of all three.
Not all of the religious fanatics are Sunnis, there are still some Shia fanatics running around. These unpleasant men recently attacked some students holding a picnic, beating people for un-Islamic activities. This attacks caused a big backlash from Shia Arab political and religious leaders. This made it clear that most Shia Arab Iraqis do not want the kind of religious Puritanism found in Iran. Part of this anti-Iran attitude comes from Iraqis fearing that Iran wants to dominate Iraq via religion. Iran has been dominating and bullying Iraq for thousands of years, and that long history has not been forgotten. Recently some Shia leaders have even been critical of Iran. This seems to have several roots. One is the lack of enthusiasm by Iranian leadership for the new government in Iraq. Another is seems to be resentment by the Iraqi Shia over the Iranian clergys view of itself as the final authority in religious matters, and, by implication, an assertion of Irans authority over Iraq.
More foreign terrorists are entering Iraq, as al Qaeda desperately tries to maintain its level of operations with less cooperation from Iraqis. Interrogations of captured terrorists and information from informants and electronic monitoring indicates that the al Qaeda effort is faltering. Al Qaeda is having an increasingly difficult time getting Iraqis to participate in attacks that might kill Iraqis. This is apparently behind two recent large scale attacks on American troops. One was an ambush, involving over 40 attackers. Most of the attackers were killed when the American MP escort got into action. One of the MP NCOs who led this counterattack is likely to get a medal for her bravery, and the way she drilled her troops beforehand to prepare them for such an attack. The second major attack, on the Abu Ghraib prison, also failed, and left several dozen attackers dead or wounded. In both cases, the American troops went into action quickly and effectively, even though there had been few attacks like this previously. There arent likely to be many more. The Iraqi government has been quick to get news, and pictures, of such failed attacks onto television. This works much faster than the rumor network in discouraging others from launching such suicidal attacks on American troops.
While Baghdad is not safe, especially for foreigners. Most of Iraq is. And in many Sunni Arab areas, each week more streets, and neighborhoods, become safe for Iraqis, and foreigners. This is how peace comes to Iraq. One street or neighborhood at a time.