Although car bomb attacks during May occurred at slightly below the level in April, overall the number of violent attacks by anti-government forces averaged slightly higher, increasing from about 55 to 60 a day. Terrorist attacks against Iraqis increased in May, when the deaths from these attacks killed (at an annual rate) 31 per 100,000 Iraqis, compared to 14 per 100,000 in April.
In addition to the 434 dead civilians, the government reported that 297 terrorists and anti-government fighters were killed in April. The Iraqi army suffered 85 dead (compared to 87 for U.S. troops), while 151 policemen were killed. For the first time, the government released statistics on deaths from terrorist attacks. They say that in the past 18 months, 12,000 civilians have been killed by anti-government forces. That means, for the entire period, Iraqis have been dying at an annual rate of 31 per 100,000 people.
During Saddams rule, the annual death rate from his terrorism varied from 10-20 a year. In 2003, the rate was 15, and has been increasing since then. Even so, Iraq is not the most violent place on the planet. That dubious distinction still belongs to South Africa, where civilian deaths from criminal violence are still over 50 per 100,000 per year. In Colombia, where for years the death rate was over, it is declining and is now down to 22. In the United States, the current rate is between 5-6 per 100,000. In many European countries, it is half that. Most other Middle Eastern countries have a rate of 5-10.
The terrorists have followed the path of least resistance. Thus they avoid attacking American troops, and concentrate more on easier targets, like Iraqi police and civilians. Attacking mosques has become a favorite tactic, although this enrages the more religious Iraqis, who are the very people the al Qaeda terrorists are doing all this for. While the mosque is usually, but not always, a Shia one, that makes little difference to most Iraqis. The mosque attacks, more than anything else, have turned Iraqis against the terrorists.
The terrorists have further angered another group they depend on, the Sunni Arabs, by stepping up their terrorism against Sunni Arab leaders. Sunni Arab tribal chiefs have been under a lot of pressure from al Qaeda, especially since the chiefs have expressed a willingness to work with the government. Kidnapping and murdering Sunni Arab chiefs has intimidated some of the Sunni Arabs but, to the surprise of the al Qaeda foreigners, it has mobilized many Sunni Arab tribes to declare war on the terrorists. This was one reason why American marines returned to parts of northern Iraq last week, to help out some Sunni Arab tribesmen who were fighting groups of foreign terrorists.
Most Sunni Arabs still want Americans out of the country, not because the Americans are evil occupiers, but because U.S. troops are interfering with Sunni Arab efforts to regain control of the country, and the oil money. But more and more Sunni Arab leaders are now taking the longer view. Wait out the Americans, who they admit cannot be beaten, and are not going to be forced out. But eventually the Americans will leave, and then the Sunni Arabs will, well, they have a plan
Meanwhile, the governments week long Operation Lightning in and around Baghdad has led to the death of 28 terrorists and the arrest of over 700 people on suspicion of aiding or participating in terrorism. Interestingly, suicide bomb attacks are now largely happening outside of Baghdad, in Sunni Arab areas in northern Iraq. Most of the suicide bomb workshops are now in smaller towns central Iraqi towns, and they dont want to risk trying to get through the tighter security around the capital.