To no one's surprise, as responsibility for the 84,000 Sunni Arab militiamen (the anti-terrorist "Sons of Iraq" or "Awakening Councils") was shifted from the U.S. military to the Iraqi government, the Sunni Arab gunmen lost their benefits. These goodies included regular pay (about $300 a month) and immunity from arrest by the Shia dominated security forces (for past atrocities). The Iraqi government promised the Sunni Arab gunmen that they would get jobs, either in the security forces or civilian ones. That did not happen for 80 percent of the Sunni gunmen. The government is dominated by the Kurdish and Shia Arab majority (about 85 percent of the population), which hates the Sunni Arabs and would rather kill than coddle them. Most foreigners don't appreciate the depth of this hatred. Worse, the Kurds and Shia Arabs would welcome another violent showdown with the Sunni Arabs, because the next time, it's generally believed that the Sunni Arabs would lose, and be driven from the country.
The dispute (over who controls 20-30 percent of Iraq's oil production) between the government and the Kurds up around Kirkuk is unresolved and keeps moving towards an attempt to use violence to resolve it. The Kurds are better fighters (better trained, led and disciplined), but are outnumbered by the government (Shia Arab) forces. In this area, the local Sunni Arab gangs and militias will work with the Shia Arabs against a common foe (the Kurds, who are not Arabs, but ethnically related to Iranians and Europeans.) A likely outcome of a fight would be a bloody stalemate, although the Kurds have a shot at short term success.
Syria, which has been a police state, with carefully controlled borders, for decades, and has finally agreed to control the movement of Islamic terrorists and anti-Iraqi groups from Syria into Iraq. Since 2003, at the behest of Iran, and generous Iraqi Baath Party members (who fled when the Americans arrived), Syria has allowed itself to be used as a base for Islamic terrorists operating in Iraq. But now Iraqi security forces have become powerful enough to guard the border, and make it possible for Iraq to host groups trying to overthrow the Syrian government. The booming economy in Iraq also provides Syria with lucrative business opportunities. And then there is the threat from the United States, to control their border, or else. So Syria decided to do what a police state does best, control who or what crosses its borders.
The terrorist violence in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level since 2003. Actually, if you go by body count, it's lower than it has been in decades. During Saddam's rule, the Sunni Arab security forces and (government controlled) street thugs, killed people individually, rather than with bombs. There have only been six bombings this month, whereas during Saddam's time, there would be hundreds of murders by the security forces in a month, none of them reported in the local or international press. But the families of these dead remember.
March 28, 2009: Adil al Mashhadani, the head of a Sunni Arab Awakening Council militia in Baghdad was arrested by Iraqi and U.S. forces. Mashhadani and his gunmen were accused of supporting, and carrying out, terrorist attacks. As more Sunni Arabs found out about the arrest, gunfire broke out in this Sunni Arab Baghdad neighborhood. Kurds and Shia Arabs do not trust Sunni Arabs, and believe this group (15 percent of the population) was the basis of Saddam's support and dominated the national leadership for centuries. The Sunni Arabs make no secret of their expectation that they will eventually regain control of the country. But this time, the street violence did not get out of control, and Iraqi police and troops arrested or killed most of the gunmen, and began searching for, and seizing, weapons. However, the Sunni Arabs did kidnap five soldiers, and will probably demand concessions for their release. This is a traditional Iraqi tactic.
March 25, 2009: For the first time in 33 years, the Turkish head-of-state visited Iraq. The two nations are cooperating more than they have for decades, and reached an understanding on how Turkish troops may operate against Kurdish separatist terrorists in northern Iraq.
March 19, 2009: The first Western tourists since 2003 have taken a two week tour of Iraq. There have been over a million Islamic tourists since 2003, mostly Iranians visiting Shia holy places in the south. The eight Western tourists visited all sections of the country. The Westerners noted the lack of alcohol and coffee (at least for tourists) and women being forced to cover up (at least compared to when Saddam was running the place.)