In the last two weeks, counter-terrorism forces have arrested more than three dozen terrorist suspects. Terror attacks have been increasing, as the March 7th elections approach. Most of the violence is carried out by Sunni Arab groups (al Qaeda and Baath Party) seeking to create a Sunni Arab dictatorship (religious for al Qaeda, secular for Baath.) This is generally considered impossible, as the Sunni Arab minority (15 percent of the population) is hated, and closely watched by the police, as well as Shia vigilante groups. But many Sunni Arabs believe that, somehow, they will regain power, and this provides enough popular support for terrorist groups to survive and carry on their attacks. Most of the terrorist violence is in the north, with attacks directed at Iraqi Christians and Kurds, as well as the security forces. The attacks are nowhere severe enough threaten government control, but they do make headlines on a slow news day.
In the last few weeks, the government has gone back and forth on its ban of former Baath Party members running for political office. For most former Baathists, the ban is now in place. Saddam and his Baath Party henchmen are still much hated in Iraq. The situation is made worse by the many Sunni Arabs who openly boast of eventually regaining power in Iraq, one way or another. So it's not just the past crimes of the Sunni Arabs that makes them hated, and suspect, but their continuing arrogance and disdain for Kurds and Shia Arabs. To top it all off, the Sunni Arabs still support terrorist attacks by al Qaeda and Baath Party activists. But this is considered a diversion for most Iraqis, because the violence is rare, while the corruption and incompetence of their government is an everyday reality. Iraqis despair of changing this aspect of their lives. Of particular concern is the prospect of post-election fighting. Many politicians are out to get elected mainly for the opportunity to loot the government. Those who lose at the polls may resort to violence (and claim that the winners cheated.) This is what some politicians are already telling their followers, and some will lose and follow through. Another potential problem is with the many candidates financed and backed by Iran (which hopes to buy the allegiance of many members of the new parliament.) The corruption and foreign influence is common in the region, and very resistant to change.
February 18, 2010: Based on a tip, police arrested two wanted al Qaeda leaders in the north, 135 kilometers north of Kut. Meanwhile, in the west, a car bomb went off outside the entrance to the main government compounds in Ramadi, killing 13 (including four policemen).
February 17, 2010: For the first time since 2003, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq dipped below 100,000. By August, there will be only about 50,000 left.
February 12, 2010: Iraqi and U.S. troops raided a village on the Iranian border, in the south, to break up an arms smuggling gang.
February 2, 2010: Last month, only one American soldier died in Iraq, and that was due to non-combat causes. So far this year, six American troops have died in Iraq, most due to accidents, not combat.