Iraq: Peace and Disquiet


March 18, 2009: A public health survey indicated that 30 percent of Iraqis had experienced a shooting or bombing incident. Ten percent had been kidnapped, or arrested, or had a family member suffer such a fate. The large number of people exposed to terrorist violence has generated a lot of the tips about the remaining radical organizations. There are still groups of Baath party terrorists, seeking to use terror to return Baath to power. While that appears absurd, the Baath members involved are deadly serious. The same with other, mostly Sunni Arab, radical groups (political and religious). The government has cracked down on radical clerics, because the government subsidizes mosques and refuses to pay any cleric who backs terrorism or overthrowing the government. But the terrorists must be hunted down, and often killed on the spot. The terrorists are frequently suicidal, and willing to fight to the death.

Violence in Iraq is down 70 percent from the same time last year, which was a time where violence had already made similar drops from peak levels in 2007. In the first two months of the year, only fifteen American military personnel were killed in combat in Iraq. It's never been that low before. The roadside bombs, that at one point accounted for half of U.S. casualties, are still going off in Iraq. But most of the dozen or so IEDs that are used each day, are directed at Iraqi police and soldiers. A year ago, U.S. troops were fired on 8-10 times a day in Baghdad, now it's 1-2 times a day. There have been days with no attacks at all. For some combat troops, particularly those who have never been in combat, this lack of action is a disappointment. New troops have trained hard for over a year, getting ready to deal with combat. Then you get to the sandbox, and no one wants to shoot at you. But for troops who have been shot at before, particularly the support troops (who comprise most of the troops in Iraq), the reduced violence levels are a big plus. This is especially true for the navy and air force troops who still volunteer to help out the army with support jobs. It's been over a year since a sailor has been killed in action (they often run convoys through dangerous areas). No marines have been killed this year so far, and only three in the last six months. The marines want to be completely out of Iraq, and shift all their efforts to Afghanistan, which is where the action is. So far this year, more than twice as many foreign troops have been killed in Afghanistan, compared to Iraq.

The U.S. and Britain are reducing their forces by simply not replacing those that are leaving when their 6-12 month tours are over. In the normal course of things, all foreign troops  leave Iraq each year, to be replaced by similar units (in terms of numbers and capability). This year, 12,000 American and 4,000 British replacements simply won't come to Iraq. The empty bases of the foreign troops are being turned over to Iraq, along with much, but not all, of the equipment and weapons.

Last week, a suicide bomber attacked a reconciliation meeting of Sunni and Shia leaders at Abu Ghraib, outside Baghdad, leaving 33 dead. Attacks like this are blamed on Sunni Arab terrorists, who still believe they can murder and intimidate their way back into control of the country. This is a minority view, but it is advocated by people willing to keep on killing, and using suicide bombers. Another suicide bomber attacked a police station, leaving 30 police and civilians dead. This attack, and the murders of individual police and army commanders, is meant to intimidate the security forces into backing away from their pursuit of terrorist groups. This does not appear to work, although in some cases it does cause considerable demoralization among police and soldiers. For this reason, the government recently announced that it believed U.S. forces would remain active in areas where terrorist groups are still operating, and fighting the security forces vigorously, and with some success. What the Iraqis want is American forces to be available in case local Iraqi police and army units are demoralized by terrorist attacks, and are unwilling to go after the terrorists. This has happened before during the last six years, and if not opposed, can lead to the terrorists gaining effective control over a village, neighbor, or entire city, and turning it into a base area for even more attacks.

The government is trying to concentrate on two things voters hold most dear; "law and order" and basic services (water, electricity, sanitation, transportation.) The police are paying particular attention to leaders of terrorist groups and criminal gangs. Without their leaders, these groups are much less effective. And the way the culture works in this part of the world, there is not always a replacement ready to take over when the boss gets killed or arrested. In another attempt to calm the public, the courts are sentencing more people to death. Over 150 have been executed (usually by hanging) since the death penalty was reinstated in 2004 (after having been briefly outlawed after 2003). Over 300 are awaiting execution, and these are now taking place, about twenty at a time. Many of the condemned are reviled terrorists and killers. Prison guards are afraid of some of these guys, and prefer them dead, to organizing prison rebellions.

Getting the lights and water turned back on has proved more difficult. The corruption makes it difficult to get power plants and water treatment facilities built. Too much of the cash disappears before the job gets done. Iraqi politicians love to denounce this sort of thing, almost as much as they love to partake in the plunder. While the GDP continues to grow, so does the looting of the public treasury. Other Arab nations in the region are trying to advice Iraqi officials on how to control the corruption (some have been fairly successful at it), but the Iraqi leadership have a sense of entitlement, a need to live large after decades of Saddam's terror and privation.

Troops and police have surrounded a camp holding 3,500 Iranian leftist terrorists. The People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMI) have been in the camp since the 1980s, when they were driven out of Iran and given sanctuary by Saddam. The Iranians want them back, or at least their leaders, so they can be prosecuted for terrorist acts inside Iran. The Iraqi government has promised Iran that it would send the "guilty" PMI back to Iran. But the United States has promised the PMI that they could leave for a third country. Unfortunately, all the nations in the region still consider the PMI a bunch of terrorists, and want nothing to do with them. Some European nations, however, appear willing to accept the MPI members.

March 16, 2009:  The U.S. confirmed that it had shot down, last month, an Iranian UAV that had entered Iraq and was headed in the direction of  Mosul. A U.S. fighter brought down the UAV.

March 12, 2009: Turkish aircraft bombed PKK (Kurdish separatist) camps in northern Iraq. Turkey has several thousand troops stationed just inside the Iraqi side of the border, where they patrol, looking for PKK fighters who have been attacking Turkish border guards.

March 9, 2009:  For the first time in three months, someone fired rockets into one of the British bases in Basra. One civilian worker was killed and some property was damaged.

March 7, 2009: A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle detonated his explosives outside a police station, killing two people.

March 5, 2009: A car bomb went off in a meat market south of Baghdad, killing ten people.




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