Old habits are hard to lose, but Iraqis are trying. The Sunni Arab towns and neighborhoods are being cleansed of Islamic radicals, sometimes more than once. No matter how long this takes, it has been grinding down the old school killers. Iraqi and American commanders see the end coming in a year or less.
At the same time, the government has been moving against Shia militias, especially in the south. The ones in central Iraq at least provide some security from Sunni Arab terrorists. But in the south, the Shia gangs are there mainly to benefit themselves. The militia chiefs often set themselves up as local satraps and spend an increasing amount of time getting rich. Others serve God, and try to impose conservative religious lifestyles on everyone. The militias are not particularly popular, but they have guns, and agenda, and determination.
There were 3,500 civilian deaths in July, compared to 62 Americans. An increasing proportion of the dead Iraqis are Sunni Arabs. Kurds and Shia Arabs have been killing Sunni Arabs ever since American troops entered the country in early 2003. But this killing has accelerated as Sunni Arab militias and terrorists have been weakened over the last three years. Keeping Iraq under Sunni Arab control is a very popular cause throughout the Arab world (which is 90 percent Sunni). This does not get a lot of publicity in the West, but it has caused thousands of Sunni Arab men to go to Iraq to fight for the cause. It's seen as a lost cause now. Most of those foreign Sunni volunteers were killed, or sent home disillusioned. Iraq, it turned out, was mostly a matter killing civilians, both Shia and Sunni Arabs (who backed the new government). Killing children was particularly distasteful, but the more extreme Islamic terrorists saw no problem with killing anyone.
As the number of Sunni Arab refuges (for terrorists) shrinks, the terrorists get more vicious. The Islamic terrorists (including al Qaeda and those determined to put Sunni Arabs back in control of Iraq) see their goal as victory, or nothing. So the diehards have to be reduced to nothing, one terrorist at a time.
Along those lines, the government announced that they had captured the number two man in al Qaeda-in-Iraq last week. It took a while to get a positive identification. Al Qaeda promptly denounced this, saying their leadership was fine, everything was great. But things are not so great for al Qaeda. The number of tips from citizens has been increasing over the Summer. More lower ranking terrorists have been rounded up. This doesn't get much publicity, because most of these guys are former Saddam thugs fighting to get their power back. Al Qaeda wants to establish an international Islamic dictatorship. The captured al Qaeda leader, Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, used to be a commander in Saddam's secret police.
September 3, 2006: Kurdish leaders have ordered the Iraqi flag replaced with the Kurdish one. This is because parliament has not changed the national flag from the one that was used by Saddam Hussein. The Kurds hate Saddam. While many Kurds would like to make northern, mostly Kurdish, Iraq a separate country, Kurdish leaders know this would be suicidal. The Turks have been quite blunt about what would happen if the Iraqi Kurds tried it. The Turkish army would come in, and there would be great violence. The Kurds have never been able to defeat the Turkish troops, despite a thousand years of trying. No one is willing to back the Kurds in a bid for independence.
The sharp increase in civilian deaths over the Summer is largely the result of towns and neighborhoods organizing their own self-defense forces. These local militias, often formed around criminal gangs, Mosque guards or tribal forces, will attack as well as defend. This is especially true if Shia and Sunni communities are adjacent to each other, as they often are in central Iraq, especially in Baghdad. The militias have not stopped the Islamic terrorists, who are still responsible for most of the deaths. The terrorists have come to rely less on suicide car bombs, and more on blowing up buildings. They do this by renting an apartment or shop in a large building, filling the space with explosives, and then detonating it by remote control. Sometimes the terrorists also arrange to have snipers or crews of gunmen to attack after the explosion, killing survivors and those rushing to help. This sort of thing exhibits a high degree of hatred and callousness, but that has been characteristic of Iraqi politics for a long time, especially since the royal family was rounded up and massacred in 1958. That sort of set the tone for the next half century. Saddam excelled at cruelty, and developing novel ways to kill people.