The first national elections since 2005 passed without incident, and elected 440 provincial legislators and 14 governors throughout the country. There were 14,400 candidates (28 percent of them women.) Four of the 18 provinces did not vote. Five candidates were killed in pre-election violence, and hundreds suffered some kind of threats or violence. But by Iraqi standards, the elections were seen as peacefully and orderly. The three Kurdish provinces have already held their elections (and have been doing so since the 1990s), while disputed (between Kurds and Arabs) Kirkuk province is embroiled in disputes over voting procedure. About half the registered voters participated.
The big losers in the vote were the religious parties, both in Sunni Arab areas (where there used to be a lot of support for al Qaeda) and Shia areas (where there used to be a lot of support for the kind of religious dictatorship found in Shia Iran.) This came as no surprise to those who knew Iraqi history. Fear of Indo-European Iran has always been greater than the fact that most Iraqis share their Shia faith with Iranians. Blood is thicker than religion. This is why more and more of the violence is concentrated along the ethnic border between Kurds (who are ethnically related to the Iranians) and Arabs, especially in oil rich Kirkuk.
Since January 1st, a new treaty governing how U.S. troops operate, came into effect. American forces can no longer operate independently, and must get court orders and coordinate raids and arrests with Iraqi police or troops. But because of the corruption in Iraq, U.S. troops have been carrying out key operations (usually to grab terrorist group leaders) with less coordination than the new law mandates. This puts the national government in a bind, as they want these terrorist groups shut down, and they know that, at the local level, a terrorist group can often bribe or intimidate their way out of getting arrested (either by getting a tip that the Americans are coming, or later allowed to "escape.")
February 3, 2009: Police arrested the woman, Samira Ahmed Jassim, responsible for recruiting most of the female suicide bombers used in the last year. Jassim freely confessed that she convinced widows, rape victims and orphans that their only choice (to maintain their honor) was to kill themselves in a suicide attack. Some of the rape victims were raped by terrorists in order to make it easier to recruit them.
February 1, 2009: There were 191 (including 51 Iraqi policemen and soldiers) violent deaths in Iraq last month, the lowest since U.S. troops entered in 2003. That's a murder rate of about 8.2 per 100,000 people a year. The murder rate in the Western hemisphere (about 8 per 100,000 people a year) is much higher than in Europe, where it is about 3-4. Middle Eastern nations have rates of between 5-10. The United States is often regarded, at least by Europeans, as a wild, gun happy place. But the national murder rate is about six per 100,000. There are other parts of the world that are more violent. Iraq had a murder rate ten times higher during 2005-7. Under Saddam, the rate was 10-20 a year. In Africa, especially Congo, Sudan and South Africa, you find even higher murder rates. Only South Africa has a sufficiently effective government to actually keep accurate track of the murder rate, mostly from crime, but it's over 50 per 100,000. It's worse in places like Congo and Sudan, but the numbers there are only estimates by peacekeepers and relief workers. In southern Thailand, a terror campaign by Islamic radicals has caused a death rate of over 80 per 100,000.
In addition, there were four American troops killed last month. In the last few months, more U.S. troops have been dying in automobile, and other types of accidents, than in combat. One British commander noted that the overall crime rate in Basra is now lower than in Manchester, England. Street crime has been on the rise in Britain over the last decade. Basra was a wide open place for crooks and radicals until a year ago, when the government sent in thousands of troops and police to shut down the gangs and militias. To everyone's surprise, this operation succeeded, and law and order returned.
January 30, 2009: To provide security for the national elections, automobiles were banned from many areas, particularly polling stations, for the next two days. Nearly all soldiers and police are on duty as well, to prevent terrorist or partisan violence during the voting.