Iraq: Unprecedented


May 25, 2009:  Disputes over how many Sunni Arab terrorists to grant amnesty to is causing an increase in violence. Shia leaders believe too many of the Sunni Arabs released from prison, or no longer subject to arrest, are still participating in terrorist activities. Many Sunni Arabs still believe that eventually, via coup, terrorism or revolution, the Sunni Arabs will again rule Iraq. Many Kurds and Shia want to kill or expel all the Sunni Arabs, and be done with the threat.

Meanwhile, Syria has backed off on restricting weapons and personnel smuggling for terror groups. This is partly because of greed (the terrorists pay bribes), politics (seeking more goodies from the United States as a reward for good behavior) and self defense (when the terrorists are allowed to smuggle, they assist in preventing terrorist attacks inside Syria.) Syria is a largely Sunni nation, run by a Shia minority. There is always the risk that the police state tactics will fail to keep the Sunni majority under control. For that reason, Syria has been an ally of Shia Iran for decades. You'd think the Shia Arab politicians that run Iraq and Syria would have a lot in common. They don't. There is nationalism (both consider themselves superior to the other) and obligations (the Syrian Shia are obligated to long term ally Iran, while the Iraqi Shia depend on the Americans.)

Six years of collecting and analyzing intelligence here has provided the Americans with detailed knowledge of who is involved with the remaining Sunni Arab terrorists, on both sides of the Syrian border. This intel capability has also aided the fight against Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan. U.S. intel often picks up on al Qaeda terrorists who have fled Iraq, and headed for Pakistan and Afghanistan. American and NATO intel gets names, and much more, about these experienced terrorists headed their way. Al Qaeda apparently believe it's too dangerous in Iraq, especially with so many capable Iraqi security personnel, and so many Iraqis who are hostile to Islamic terrorists.

Another capability built up over the last six years is the Iraqi commandos (ISOF, or Iraqi Special Operations Forces). With over 10,000 well trained and combat experienced operators, ISOF has taken the lead in fighting the remaining terrorists in Mosul and northern Iraq. But the government is also finding that about a quarter of the 253,000 soldiers in the army, should not have been recruited. These are men who are too old, illiterate, physically or mentally disabled, and thus disqualified. Many of these troops will be allowed to remain in uniform, because they have performed well despite their problems. Auditors are also looking for "ghost soldiers" (troops who do not exist, and whose pay is stolen by an officer or government officials). Many of the improperly recruited soldiers were the result of corruption, or the need to placate some local tribe leader or politician, by providing jobs for his people.

The heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad suffered two deaths so far this month. One was from the first rocket attack this year, something that is increasingly rare. The other fatality was even more unique, an American businessman was found tired up and stabbed to death. If it's a terrorist attacks, it's only third inside the Green Zone in six years. But it may simply be a murder, not a terrorist attack.

Despite the occasional terrorist bomb making the headlines, terrorist violence is down 56 percent versus a year ago, and 50 compared to last month (which there was a spike in attacks.) The U.S. is depending on continued declines in violence, because the current plan is to have all American combat units out of the country within 15 months, and the remaining 50,000 advisors and support troops gone by the end of 2011.  There are currently some 139,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. U.S. troops are supposed to be out of bases in Iraqi cities by the end of June. Iraqis want the Americans to stay in Mosul for a while longer. Many Iraqis fear that the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops will lead to anarchy. But the commanders of the Iraqi police and army believe their troops can maintain order. In the last six years, the Iraqi security forces have become more capable than they ever were under Saddam, and at least as good as in other Middle Eastern nations.

May 16, 2009: In an unprecedented event, the parliament held a public interrogation of  Commerce Minister Abdel Falah al Sudani, who is accused of corruption. Al Sudani not only stole hundreds of millions of dollars, but also withheld food from hungry Iraqis. The Commerce Ministry is in charge of food distribution. This is the first time in Iraqi history that such a senior official was publically prosecuted. At the very least, al Sudani will lose his job. But, as with previous corrupt officials, he has an opportunity to use much of the money he has stolen, to try and  bribe other officials and avoid prison. Many Iraqis believe the public interrogation is mainly for show, and that Al Sudani will eventually walk free.

As things have calmed down in the last two years, there has been more opportunity to audit financial transactions, and find more cases of corruption. Some of those caught have been U.S. military personnel, who did not resist the constant offers to make a quick buck. Corruption is pervasive in the region, and any Americans doing business there are warned to avoid giving into the many illicit offers they are likely to receive.




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