Iraq: History Repeats Itself


August 4, 2008: The religious and tribal violence in Iraq is not unique to Iraq, but is present throughout the region. For example, there is widespread anger among the Shia minorities of the Arab Gulf states. In the last week, there were large, and violent, Shia demonstrations in Bahrain. Sunni Arab terror groups are also widespread, and are kept in check with energetic police work and internal diplomacy (with tribal and religious leaders). Tensions are at their worst in nations where a minority rules. This is the case in Syria (where Shias rule), and was long the case in Iraq (where Saddam and his Sunnis ruled). In both countries, the minority used secret police, violence and adroit diplomacy with factions to survive. Lacking a democratic tradition, attempts to change relationships are usually accompanied by much violence. Several attempts to overthrow the Shia minority in Syria have been put down with thousands of deaths. The Bedouin minority that rules in Jordan recently had an armed uprising that required some dead protesters and quick diplomacy to settle. In Lebanon, the Shia minority is trying, with Iranian and Syrian support, to take control.

In that context, Iraq is a model worth emulating. While many Iraqis are not sure that this democracy thing will work for them (and many in the West agree with this), the majority of Iraqis are united in fighting the violent Sunni Arab minority groups trying to regain control of the country, and for negotiating new arrangements to rule in a democratic fashion. Currently, the Iraqis are deadlocked over the issue of Kurdish control of the city of Kirkuk, and nearby oil fields. Saddam had driven the Kurds out of Kirkuk over the last two decades, and the Kurds want their city back. But both Shia Sunni Arabs are reluctant to see the Kurds get Kirkuk, and the oil. Historically, at least before the Turks showed up centuries ago, the Kurds were feared for their military prowess and aggression. The great medieval Moslem military hero, Saladin, was a Kurd. The Arabs don't want the Kurds to have all that oil revenue, and the Kurds will settle for nothing less.

Military casualties are down over 80 percent versus a year ago, while civilian losses have fallen nearly as much. There are fewer terrorist groups operating, and those that are still murdering people are doing it with less money and less competent people. The foreign cash that used to come from "Islamic charities" and Saddam henchmen who got out with some of their loot, is much diminished. Iraq is seen as a lost cause by most Sunni Islamic radicals. Without the cash, the terrorists cannot hire the many mercenary terrorists, who will kill for cash, but otherwise will seek honest employment, or some criminal scam. The remaining terrorists are making themselves even more hated by resorting to kidnapping and extortion to pay for operations.

The U.S. has built a large prison system, to hold the many terror suspects picked up in raids and patrols. This system currently holds 21,000 inmates. But so far this year, over 10,000 have been released (versus nearly 9,000 for all of last year). The more numerous sweeps and raids by Iraqi troops has led to more arrests, but also to more prisoners who belong to tribal or religious groups that have made peace with the government. Experience has shown that this allows followers to be safely released, as few will return to terrorist activities. The U.S. wants to turn its prison system over to the Iraqis, but first must help the Iraqis train thousands of new prison guards.

August 3, 2008: Four senior al Qaeda officials were arrested during continuing sweeps in the north. Here, the Iraqi army has several divisions crisscrossing the region with patrols and raids, chasing down the remaining Sunni Arab terrorist cells.

August 1, 2008: The Ministry of Defense has given the U.S. a shopping list of nearly $10 billion worth of weapons and equipment they want to buy. This includes hundreds of armored vehicles, plus radios and sensors, and 25 AH-6 armed recon helicopters. The Iraqis have watched how the U.S. military operates and wants to build an Arab version. This would be quite a transformation, because for generations the Iraqis were considered the most inept soldiers in the Arab world.

July 29, 2008: It's the annual Shia pilgrimage season, when major holy days attract larger crowds to the Shia shrines of southern Iraq. For many years, Saddam simply forbade many of these gatherings. But now that the celebrations are again legal, Sunni Arab terrorists strive to attack them. What's different this year is the extensive use of female suicide bombers. Today, three of these homicidal women detonated their explosive vests in crowds of pilgrims, killing themselves and more than fifty pilgrims. Over a hundred were wounded. Police know there is at least one Sunni Arab terror cell that is recruiting and using female suicide bombers. There is still much hatred in the Sunni Arab community, hatred against the Americans for deposing Saddam, and taking away all the money and power the Sunni Arabs had long enjoyed. But there is also hatred against the Shia Arabs and Kurds, who were long despised subjects of the Sunni Arabs, but now rule the country. In a part of the world where pride and honor are worth killing and dying for, many Sunni Arabs still see terrorism as a solution for their inner turmoil, if not for any greater good. These things can go on for a while. The Lebanese civil war went from 1975-90. Civil wars and insurgencies in Arabia (Yemen and Oman) went on for nearly as long in the same period. It's a violent neighborhood, and teaching the locals to play nice isn't going to be easy.

In the north, Turkish jets bombed PKK bases. One of these was a large cave, whose entrance was blown shut. The Iraqi Kurdish troops that control the north have unofficially agreed to stay out of the way of these Turkish operations against PKK Kurdish separatists.

July 27, 2008: The network of safe-houses, and neighborhoods controlled by Islamic terrorists, has disappeared, forcing the terrorists to keep together for protection. These larger groups, flushed out of their hiding places by constant army raids and police patrols, eventually either break and scatter, destroying their usefulness, or stay together and get cornered. The latter happened to nearly a hundred al Qaeda members in the northwest. A large force of Iraqi troops surrounded the terrorists, and in a brief battle, four terrorists and four soldiers were killed. But 58 terrorists were captured, while several dozen scattered and fled before the army sealed off the escape routes. The prisoners will provide valuable information on the current state of al Qaeda and Sunni terrorists.




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