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Iraq: The Letter
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October 27, 2008: The war is over. Most of the noise these days is from politicians arguing, not bombs going off. There are still bombs, but now they tend to be assassination attempts, as some political parties play dirty (not unknown in this part of the world). Up north, the Turkish Air Force air raids are taking place farther (the latest was 100 kilometers) from the border. The PKK separatists have been driven out of their bases close to the Turkish border. But the PKK continues to recruit in northern Iraq, despite the hostility of the Kurdish government. Many Iraqi Kurds back the PKK, and its violence inside Turkey. So no matter what the Iraqi Kurdish government says against the PKK, the Kurdish population is another matter.

Iraq has revived its diplomatic relations with Kuwait, including reopening the Kuwaiti embassy and making an earnest attempt to settle issues (mainly reparations and missing persons) still remaining from the Iraqi occupation of 1990-91.  Relations with Iran are rather more complex, with the Iranians boldly interfering in Iraqi politics. This includes bribes and threats to Iraqi politicians, and backing pro-Iranian militias and terrorist groups. Iran shows no signs of backing off, and this threatening attitude is why so many Iraqis, including Shia, want American troops to remain. Iran wants them gone, so that Iraq will be more responsive to Iranian threats. The Sunni Arabs, in Iraq and to the south in Arabia, want the U.S. to stay as well, and for the same reason. Keeping the Iranians out is nothing new, it's a local tradition that is thousands of years old.

Iraqis now concentrate on more mundane things, like a serious drought, and the difficulties in attracting doctors, and other professionals, back to Iraq (after they fled the violence of the past few years.) The drought has been regional, and serious. Crop yields are down nearly 30 percent, and some food imports (like grain) are up 40 percent. Growing prosperity is sharply increasing the demand. While the economy is booming, the government is having a hard time carrying out needed infrastructure projects (like the irrigation system farmers depend on.) Most of Iraq's infrastructure dates from the 1970s. Construction basically ceased in 1980, when Iraq went to war with Iran. That war ended in 1988, quickly followed by the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. There followed a decade of UN sanctions, then five years of terrorism. Now people want the country rebuilt, but the democratic form of government makes it difficult to agree on where to start. The Kurds, who have been free of Saddam and terrorists since the early 1990s, and gone ahead and rebuilt their infrastructure. Northern Iraq ("Kurdistan") serves as an example to the rest of the country of what could be, if only decisions were made.  The Kurds have told their Arab brethren that the most important thing is law and order, and that has unleashed a growing campaign against the hundreds of criminal gangs that have grown prosperous with the years of violence. But the doctors, dentists and other professionals have made it clear that they will not return until it is safe. Really safe.

Iraqi Sunni Arab politicians still have friends and family members engaged in terrorist or criminal operations, and continue to try and pressure the U.S. military, and Iraqi police, to back off attacking Iraqis who are "connected." It often works with the Iraqis, but rarely with the Americans, which is causing problems with the Sunni Arab community. What's the point if you can't use your influence to get your way?

October 26, 2008: In attempt to get Iraqi politicians to get their act together, the commander of U.S. forces sent a three page letter to the Iraqi government pointing out that if the Iraqis did not approve an extension of agreements authorizing U.S. forces in Iraq, by the time the current ones expire at the end of the year, the U.S. would suspend, on January 1st, all services America provides for Iraq. That took up most of the three pages, and Iraqi officials were surprised at the extent of economic and administrative services that the U.S. delivers, day in and day out. There has been a tendency by Iraqis to take for granted what the Americans do for them. The letter sought to do a little attitude adjustment. Some Iraqi politicians called this blackmail, but it's just the downside of living under the rule of law. No contract, no work.

October 25, 2008: U.S. Army Special Forces raided a farm eight kilometers inside Syria, killing at least eight people. The attack was on smugglers who moved terrorists, weapons and money into Iraq. The U.S. had asked Syria to shut down operations like this, but this particular location was apparently protected by some very generous bribes. U.S. and Iraqi forces have shut down most of the smuggling gangs inside Iraq, at least those that specialize in supporting terrorists. In the last six months, these operations have shut down about half the terrorist related smuggling. Only about twenty terrorist recruits are getting into Iraq each month, down from over a hundred two years ago. Although al Qaeda urges new recruits to go to Afghanistan, many prefer Iraq because it is closer and not such an unfamiliar culture. Already the word has filtered back that Afghanistan is an alien and hostile place, even for suicide bombers.

October 24, 2008: The Iraqi branch of al Qaeda announced today (via an audiotape) that is has shifted its efforts to battles outside of Iraq. This fits with the indications over the past six months that al Qaeda was shifting its resources to Afghanistan (where the Taliban has been turning on the al Qaeda foreigners, much as they eventually did in Iraq.) The remaining Iraqi Sunni terrorists are making a last stand in and around the northern city of Mosul.

October 23, 2008: In Baghdad, a large car bomb was used to try and assassinate the Minister for Labor and Social Affairs. The minister survived, but three bodyguards and ten civilians died, with several dozen civilians wounded. Those Iraqis with bomb making skills are apparently working for gangsters now, trying to intimidate politicians rather than foreign troops.

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