Iraq: This Is The Easy Part


February28, 2007: "Witness protection" has become a major tactic in the effort to clear terrorists out of Baghdad. While cell phones make it easy to call in the location of bomb factories, terrorist safe houses, and car bombs on the move, the terrorists make a point of trying to locate and kill the snitches. The Iraqi police are still pretty corrupt. With enough cash, you can get information on phoned in tips. Tipsters getting murdered may not make the headlines, but the word gets around. The only way to protect the witnesses is to take down entire gangs, and that requires capturing the gang bosses, and shutting down most of the gang operations in a short space of time. This puts pressure on U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces to take down the gangs operations all at once. So far, this blitz tactic has uncovered more bomb factories, weapons caches and gang leaders. Tips are up as well, largely because of growing disgust with the bombings of civilians. Many tipsters seem to have a "the hell with it" attitude when the call in.

After three weeks of "the surge", arrests are way up, and the murder rate in Baghdad is down by more than half. One of the bomb factories captured appeared to be the one that was including chlorine gas tanks in their truck bombs. About 900 terrorists have been killed or captured so far. Many others were able to drop their weapons and get away into the civilian population. But some of these guys are getting fed up, and heading back to a Sunni village in western Iraq, or trying to get out of the country. Life is becoming harder and harder for Sunni Arabs.

One downside of the security operation is that the Shia terrorist groups often provided protection from car bombs. That's because the Shia terrorists, like many factions of the Mahdi Army, had their black uniformed members manning checkpoints around Shia neighborhoods. The Mahdi guys checked every vehicle, while the police, who have replaced the Mahdi men (who are in hiding until the surge operations are over) do not. The cops know that, if they find a car that has a bomb, the bomber may be able to detonate it before the cops can kill him. The Mahdi guards were protecting their own neighborhoods, the police usually are not. Thus Sunni car bombs are getting through to Shia targets that have been unreachable for the last few years.

The surge operations, which are only using about 10,000 additional American and Iraqi troops, are concentrating on the Sunni terrorists inside Baghdad. These guys are not a mystery to American intelligence, which has been collecting names, dates and events for over three years. The organizational structure of the various gangs is known, along the approximate location of safe houses and hangouts. With enough troops and police, dozens of raids on one neighborhood will uncover most of the gangsters, and their assets. The terrorists crews tend to be combined gangster/terrorist organizations. There are many money-making opportunities for the lawless, and some of the terrorist operations are bought and paid for as well. The al Qaeda crowd are still mostly volunteers, but they depend on the more mercenary terrorists for some services, and, in a crunch, support.

American keeps their "Gangs of Baghdad" files secret. Especially when dealing with the Iraqi police (many of whom are now on gangster payrolls), you can't let on what you know. The Iraqis complain that the intel information on terrorists goes one way (from police to the Americans), but will privately admit that corrupt cops are a much larger problem that corrupt American soldiers, especially those working in intelligence. Someday there will be some fascinating books written about the inner workings of the Iraqi criminal/terrorist underworld, and of the American intelligence operatives who kept tabs on it. But for now, all we know is that recent arrests of terrorist leaders, and take downs of bomb factories, were not the result of luck, but of good information.

The Sunni terrorists, faced with getting shut down, have shifted their aim to targets more likely to get noticed by foreign journalists. The terrorists know that the journalists are pretty dumb when it comes to terrorism. The journalists don't do much counting or analysis, but simply rush from one large explosion to another and try and make it sound like the sky is falling and the end of the world-as-we-know-it is neigh. That's not dumb as much as it recognizes how the news business works. It's all about events, the "news", not trends and analysis. The historians can come along in a decade or so and do that boring stuff. But for right now, the reporters want hot headlines, and the terrorists are glad to oblige.

A few months of stomping on Sunni terrorists will be followed, for most of the Summer, by an even more difficult battle with the Shia terrorist organizations. The problem with the Shia gangs is that they have more support (60 percent of the population is Shia), and the worst ones have the backing of Iran (in the form of cash, weapons and technical advice). Most of the Shia terrorist gangs also have connections to Shia political parties. Shia politicians are nervous about taking down the Shia gangs because of the risk of a civil war between Shia factions. But either you take that risk, or you leave the Shia terrorists to go on driving the Sunni Arabs out of Iraq. That would get ugly, and widely condemned. For example, a European war crimes court recently condemned Serbia, and all Serbians, for their support of Bosnian Serbs in the ethnic cleansing massacres of the 1990s. Same thing is shaping up in Iraq, and the Shia terrorists are very encouraged. Over half the Sunni Arabs have already been driven from the homes, and most of them have fled the country. Kurds and Shia in Iraq don't care what European war crimes commissions think, they can only remember their dead, and an urge to prevent it from happening again. That means the Sunni Arabs have to go.


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