The war in Afghanistan is having a growing impact on Iraq. This is in the form of a growing quantity of heroin and opium from Afghanistan. Despite the prevalence of Islamic conservatives in the Persian Gulf, there is also a lot of oil money, and young men without jobs. These men have money from their families, are bored, and eager customers for drugs from Afghanistan, and synthetic drugs (prescription and non-prescription) from the West. Vice, in general, has returned to Baghdad. No more religious vigilantes attacking liquor stores or video shops. The night clubs are open again, and prostitution flourishes along with gambling and all manner of depravity. This is Baghdad as it usually is, no matter who is in charge.
The traditional Arab fear of Iran is surfacing in the form of worsening diplomatic relations between Iraq and Iran. Iranian attempts to bribe or intimidate Iraqi officials, and exercise control over the Iraqi government, has angered most Iraqis. Some Shia groups still favor closer relations with Iran, but this is diminishing. Iraqi officials are openly criticizing Iranian interference, and demanding that the Iranians back off. Radical groups in the Iranian government continue to support pro-Iranian terrorists and militias in Iraq, despite Iranian efforts to rein in this behavior.
The counter-terror effort is increasingly turning into gangbusters. Although most of the 40,000 prisoners held by the government and U.S. forces are terrorism suspects, more and more are common criminals and gangsters. An increasing portion of the violent deaths are gangster related. Over the last six years, about a sixth of the deaths were the result of bomb attacks. The rest were caused by death squads and terrorism in general. The common criminals who are thriving, because of the reduced terrorism, avoid using bombs, and prefer guns, or just threats, to get their way. The bombs were always mainly for their propaganda effort. A shot in the dark is easily ignored, but a bomb gets everyone's attention.
There are over 2.5 million Iraqi refugees, mostly in neighboring countries, and most are Sunni Arabs. The Kurdish and Shia majority in Iraq don't want these Sunni Arabs back. Officially, the government welcomes these refugees, and has programs to make it easier for the exiles to return. But the official policy is a lie, and the programs are all a sham. The Sunni Arabs are not wanted, and this has upset Syria and Jordan, where most of the refugees are living. Arab states, in general, are not into absorbing refugees. Instead, the refugees remain refugees for generations, eternal outsiders. This even applies to the many Sunni Arabs who fled to all-Sunni Arab areas inside Iraq during the heaviest fighting (2005-7). The Sunni Arabs are quieting down, mainly because they recognize how much the Kurd and Shia majority hate them and want them out of the country.
April 18, 2009: For the first time in three months, an attack was made (two mortar shells) in the Green Zone. Yesterday, mortar shells (probably from the same mortar) hit a Shia neighborhood in Baghdad. Elsewhere in the city, two roadside bombs went off in Baghdad. These attacks are believed the work of one of the few Sunni Arab terrorist cells still active. These groups are being hunted down, and their numbers are dwindling. For example, today police arrested a Saudi Arabian al Qaeda member who had long led terrorism operations in southern Iraq. The Saudi was caught with three Iraqis he had recruited.
April 16, 2009: A suicide bomber, disguised in an army officers uniform, got onto an Iraqi base and set off his explosives belt in a cafeteria, killing and wounding over fifty people. Security is not as tight on Iraqi bases, as it is on American ones, making the Iraqi bases more frequently hit targets for terrorist attacks.
April 11, 2009: In Mosul, a suicide truck bomb killed five U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi policemen. The truck was halted 50 meters short of the checkpoint, but the ton of explosives on board created a huge explosion. Mosul is where the remaining Sunni Arab terrorists are making their last stand. Meanwhile, south of Baghdad, a suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt got onto an army base and killed none Sunni Arab militiamen collecting their pay. Unlike the past, these days, U.S. forces have a good idea of who carries out each of these attacks. There are only a few Sunni Arab terror crews operating, and they are being actively sought. Intelligence is often picked up on what kinds of attacks these groups are planning, which helps to thwart many attacks. But the Americans are still much better at it, from handling intelligence, to making the raids and interrogating suspects. Moreover, if the terrorists have enough cash on hand, they can often bribe their way out. Not so with the Americans. For this reason, the Iraqi government keeps talking about keeping U.S. troops in Mosul, and maybe other urban areas, after June 30th, when Americans are supposed to be out of the cities. Iraqis see this as another old tradition (using foreigners for security tasks locals can't handle) being revived. Even Saddam brought in Soviet security experts to help him build a better police state. And before Saddam, the rulers of Baghdad tended to rely on more trustworthy and efficient foreigners for critical security tasks.