Iraq: May 6, 2005


The January 30 Parliament finally selected government ministers this week. Apparently in response, terrorist attacks have killed over 250 people, mostly civilians, in the week since then. The terrorist campaign is remarkable for its persistence, and ineffectiveness. Actually, the terror campaign is beyond ineffective. It is the major reason why popular opinion in Iraq, and the Arab world, has turned against al Qaeda. When the terrorist bombings began to kill large numbers of civilians back in late 2003, many Iraqis believed the Americans were behind the attacks. Iraqis didn't believe al Qaeda and the Baath Party terrorists could be so stupid. Now, Iraqis consider al Qaeda and the Baath Party terrorists to be depraved, and rather clueless, butchers. Even the Sunni Arab international media is having a hard time selling the terrorists as brave warriors fighting the foreign invaders. The terror campaign in Iraq is becoming a growing embarrassment in the Arab world.

The al Qaeda and Baath Party strategy of trying to trigger a civil war between the main factions in the country (Sunni Arab, Shia Arab and Kurds) has been a failure. While a few Shia leaders have called to retribution against the Sunni Arab areas where the terrorists are known to hang out, the Shia Arab leadership, particularly the religious leaders, have called for restraint, and been obeyed. There has been a Shia response to the attacks, although it is largely unreported (because most reporters, fearing injury or kidnapping,  report from inside U.S. bases or well guarded hotels). The Shia have increased security along roads and in Shia neighborhoods. Most of the new police and security troops raised in the last year have been to provide security for the Shia population. The Kurds have always been well protected, although a suicide bomber got past security last week (even though he was detected and was being chased), got into a crowd of men applying for police jobs, and killed some sixty people. The police applicants always come back after these attacks. Iraqis are hard to terrorize, but easy to piss off.

Iraqis can't help but notice that less than ten percent of the terrorist victims are Americans, and that the reason for this is that the Americans have better security. The continued terrorist attacks have provided an incentive for Iraqi police and troops to pay close attention when their American advisors and instructors explain to them how a high degree of security can be achieved. There's no magic or wondrous new technology involved. The main ingredient of effective security is people who are dedicated, persistent and disciplined. These qualities were never abundant in the Iraqi police and military, except for a few units that Saddam relied on to keep the country in line. Saddam's crack commandos and intelligence operatives are now the core of the terrorist organization. But the police and army has responded in kind, and have gotten results. It's been over six months since terrorists have been able to overrun a police station. The growing force of Iraqi SWAT teams and commandos have become such a threat that terrorists are targeting them, and their leaders.

For many Iraqis, especially those in central and western Iraq, where most of the violence takes place, security is the major concern. Sunni Arab leaders are caught between popular demands for security, and death threats from Sunni Arab terrorists. The terrorists fear that the Sunni Arab leadership will turn against them, making Iraq a hostile environment for Islamic terrorists. This has already happened in the Kurdish north, and the Shia Arab south. The drawn out debate over which Sunni Arab leaders will take cabinet positions has much to do with when, and how, the Sunni Arab tribal and religious leaders will turn on the terrorists. There are also arguments over which prominent Sunni Arabs are acceptable as cabinet ministers. Most senior Sunni Arabs either worked for Saddam, or received benefits from him in the past. Many of these Sunni Arab leaders have, as the saying goes, "blood on their hands." The Shia Arabs and Kurds will forgive, but they won't forget. And they know that many Sunni Arabs believe that eventually Sunni Arabs will be able to maneuver themselves back into control. The Sunni Arabs are better educated, and have more administrative experience. They do have self-confidence, ruthlessness, and the support of the Sunni Arab governments that dominate the region (and the Islamic world in general.) The Sunni Arabs have been responsible for many military coups over the last 70 years. Until 1958 there was a constitutional monarchy in Iraq. Sunni Arab generals killed the royal family and established a dictatorship that lasted until 2003. For the Sunni Arabs, those were the good old days, and they want them back. 


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