Iraq: April 29, 2005

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Terrorists used 17 bombs to attack security forces and kill fifty people (including three Americans) and wound over 120. As spectacular as the attacks were, they had no impact on government control of the country. The attacks were concentrated in Sunni Arab areas where the terrorists can find hiding places from Iraqis who agree with their methods and goals. 

Iraq's neighbors are increasingly supporting the interim government and opposing the Sunni Arab and al Qaeda terrorists. Most of them are more or less are opposed to radical Islamist movements, so that is one thread linking them together. But there are also other issues affecting the stance taken by the various countries surrounding Iraq. Turkey seems in favor of a strong centralized Iraqi government so that the Iraqis can keep the Kurds under control. The Gulf Arabs want to see a strong Iraq as a counterbalance to Iran, though the Kuwaitis are somewhat concerned that a revived Iraqi military might threaten them. Jordan sees the potential need for a strong ally in the event of problems with Syria, while Syria seems inclined to support the new Iraqi regime if only as a way to improve ties with the U.S. Two countries are less committed to the new Iraqi government. Saudi Arabia is tentative about supporting Iraq, since it has to balance its brand of conservative Islam with the certainty that a successful democratic -- or at least representative -- government in Iraq will probably be strongly secular. The Iranians don't want Iraq to fall under the control of either the Sunni Arab dominated Baath Party, or the Sunni Islamists (represented now by al Qaeda), both their blood enemies, but has reservations about a secular, democratic Iraq and about American influence in the region. The Iranian situation is complicated by the fact that their country is a clandestine conduit for the movement of Islamist personnel and money among Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Although the Shia government of Iran seems to be willing to act against the use of their country in this manner -- being anti-Sunni, and worried about American reaction to this activity -- corruption can combine with extreme anti-Americanism to convince some officials not to notice.

With the next parliamentary elections scheduled for October, there are indications there will be a summer "lull" in the terrorism. There are indications that many of the terrorist groups want to stage a major "offensive" to disrupt the elections, strike a blow at Iraqi morale, and grab headlines. A lull in attacks would permit the terrorists to concentrate their resources, build up manpower, and, perhaps most importantly, hammer together a unified front among the numerous mutually hostile opposition groups. If this front were to come about, the anti-government forces would benefit enormously, but the chances of accomplishing it seem dim. And a lull might backfire. A marked decline in the tempo of fighting would permit Iraq to expand and improve its security forces, while undertaking, in cooperation with American and Coalition troops, a more coordinated stance against the terrorists, possibly stopping any October surprise in its tracks, with disastrous consequences for the opposition groups. In addition, a lull could convince moderately disposed or neutral Iraqis -- especially the Sunni Arabs-- that the terrorists have lost, an impression that the defeat of a renewed offensive would only deepen.

Although Germany has been publicly hostile to the US led effort to oust Saddam Hussein and establish a more representative government in Iraq, it has quietly been providing some support. A German military detachment in one of the Gulf States has been training and equipping Iraq's first army engineer battalion, which is expected to begin operations shortly, and Iraqi officers have been attending German military schools.

 

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