Iraq: May 15, 2005

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A week of American raids on villages along the Syrian border resulted in over 125 dead terrorists, as well as 39 captured, along with six car bombs and materials to make many more. Also seized were hundreds of weapons and lots of documents and computers and other equipment (especially radios and cell phones.) Most of the fighting was by a battalion of American marines, who suffered 49 casualties (nine dead, 40 wounded.) Most of the enemy losses (70 dead) occurred in the first 24 hours of the operation, when American troops fought their way into the town of Qaim (300 kilometers northwest of the capital). It was the terrorists openly controlling this town that caught the attention of American intelligence in the first place. Iraqi government attempts to assert authority in this area had been turned back by hundreds of heavily armed men, many of them foreigners (mostly from Saudi Arabia.) Most of the American deaths resulted from a marine armored vehicle being hit with a bomb and killing six marines. For most of the last week, the marines moved along the border, receiving a lot of useful tips from locals about where the terrorists were hiding themselves and their weapons and bomb workshops. Many of these terrorist operations had moved here after marines cleared out Fallujah last November. The border area had always been active with smuggling of weapons and foreign terrorists coming in from Syria.

While the government had not been able to get into this border area, local tribes had taken up arms against the terrorists, and each other. As the marines went after the terrorists, tribal factions fought each other, as well as the terrorists. The foreign terrorists are, to put it mildly, disliked even in this part of Iraq. Although the local smugglers have been making some money working for the terrorists, everyone knows that these wild eyed foreigners mean only death for Iraqis. Either from their suicide bombs, or the battles between them and American and Iraqi troops, the terrorists are considered bad news and best avoided. In fact, the marines received a friendly reception in many villages, the people relieved to see someone who could run off the terrorists and restore order. Iraqi police, troops and border guards have come in behind the marine operation, as the Iraqi government has not had any presence in this area since early 2003, and not much before that. 

One bright bit of news is the arrest of two former cabinet ministers for corruption. It remains to be seen if these two, and several others, will actually be prosecuted. In the past, corruption survived because, in the end, with enough money and influence, even the openly corrupt official could survive prosecution. But as Iraqis who have lived in the United States point out, the only way to deal with corrupt politicians is to put them in jail. That happens in the United States and Europe, and those places prosper. Do it in Iraq, and everyone will be better off. But it remains to be seen if Iraqis can do it. 

An increasing number of Sunni Arab leaders have distanced themselves from the terrorists. Nearly five hundred Iraqis have been killed by terrorist attacks so far this month, and few Iraqi Sunnis can put a positive spin on this any more. Many Sunni Arab factions still believe the Sunni Arabs should be in charge, or have not gotten a fair shake since the fall of Saddam. But the terror campaign has accomplished nothing. The terrorists have been unable to get at the Americans, who plant their well protected bases in Sunni Arab areas and resist the terrorist attacks. Iraqi police stations and army bases, learning from the Americans, have become similarly resistant to attack. This left the terrorists with civilians, which they have been killing in large numbers. While Sunni Arab propaganda, especially outside Iraq, blames all this on "the American occupation," inside Iraq the mayhem is blamed on foreign fanatics, particularly from Saudi Arabia. Iraq and Saudi Arabia have never had a cozy relationship, and that long standing tension has been pumped up because of all those terror attacks carried out by Saudi Arabian Islamic radicals. 

 

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