January 5, 2011: Ten months after the elections, some key ministries, like Defense and Interior (which controls the national police), still do not have leaders. Haggling continues over who will get these key ministries, each a prime source of income (bribes and such) for whoever runs them, not to mention power to settle political disputes. But the delay in staffing the Defense and Interior Ministries has meant that efforts to improve the military, and counter-terror efforts, have been put on hold.
Deaths due to terrorist attacks continue to decline. There were 3,975 Iraqi civilians killed by terror attacks in 2010, which is a 15 percent decline from 2009. There was a 50 percent decline in 2009, and a 63 percent decrease in 2008. Sixty American troops were killed in Iraq last year, down 60 percent from 2009. In 2009, American deaths in Iraq were down 53 percent from the previous year.
Most of the terrorist related deaths are caused by Sunni Arab groups that have nowhere else to go. No neighboring nations will provide sanctuary or support for Sunni Arab terrorists, leaving only the remaining Sunni Arab populations in Iraq, that will at least look the other way (as long as no attacks are made against Sunni Arabs). The terrorists sustain themselves with stealing and other criminal activities to obtain cash for their terrorist attacks. But there are fewer and fewer of those.
The Arab dominated government has capitulated to the Kurdish minority up north, and allowed the Kurds to make deals with foreign oil companies to develop oil fields in Kurdish territory. Still unresolved are the disputes over whether the northern city Kirkuk (and the oilfields underneath it) is Kurdish. The Kurds are 22 percent of the national population, and are largely concentrated in the far north, where they have ruled themselves for the last fifteen years. The Kurdish army is better trained and led than the Arab forces to the south, and the Iraqi Arabs know it. They also know that the Americans trust the Kurds more than the Arabs, and would likely take the side of the Kurds in a civil war. So the Arabs move carefully when dealing with the Kurds.
December 29, 2010: In Mosul, three al Qaeda suicide bombers killed Lt. Col. Shamil al Jabouri. This was the sixth al Qaeda attempt to get Jabouri, who was the most effective anti-terrorist commander in northern Iraq. Al Qaeda and criminal gangs have been concentrating on killing or intimidating (into cooperating) key police and military commanders. This often cripples the security forces, by simply making the leaders afraid to act against the bad guys.
December 23, 2010: After weeks of intelligence gathering, security forces in western Iraq arrested 93 suspected terrorists, most of them wanted men. Several al Qaeda cells were destroyed, and large quantities of weapons, documents and bomb making gear was captured. Anbar province, which is Western Iraq, is a stronghold for Sunni Arab tribes, and has long hosted my Sunni Arab terror groups. But many of the locals are not such big fans of the terrorists anymore. This enables the police to gather enough intelligence to identify the terrorists, and often locate their hideouts.
December 22, 2010: Bowing to threats from al Qaeda, Christians in the northern city of Kirkuk cancelled Christmas celebrations. Throughout the Moslem world, al Qaeda has called for efforts to attack Christmas celebrations this year. Al Qaeda needs more high-profile attacks to increase their media exposure. This is essential for fund raising and recruiting. Both of these efforts have been very weak during the last year. In Iraq, al Qaeda has been reduced to obtaining cash through kidnapping, theft and extortion. Recruiting suicide bombers has been very difficult, so more women and children are being used. This is embarrassing, since al Qaeda justifies its terrorism by claiming it is necessary to protect Moslem women and children. No matter, when you are on a Mission From God, you must be flexible.
December 21, 2010: The new cabinet was announced, but only 29 ministers were named, leaving several key posts still vacant. The pro-Iran Sadr party got eight of the ministries. Their leader, Moqtada al Sadr continues to hide out in Iran, partly to complete his religious studies (so he can be named an ayatollah, a senior religious rank) and partly to avoid assassination by Sunni Arab terrorists who see Sadr as a minion of the devil (in the form of Shia clergy who run Iran.) Coming home an ayatollah forces the Iraqi government to make more of an effort to protect Sadr. At the moment, many Iraqi Shia would like to see Sadr dead. Sadr is faces retribution from powerful groups in the Shia community for men Sadr had murdered. Memories are long and knives are sharp in Iraq.