July 24, 2011: U.S. troops are being withdrawn from the north, where they helped man checkpoints in areas where Arab and Kurdish troops faced each other in disputed territory. The Kurds are still an autonomous area, which participates in the national government, but restricts who can enter Kurdish territory. This has kept terrorism out of the north, but the Iraqi Arabs want the national government, which Arabs dominate, to be the ultimate power in the Kurdish north. The Kurds refuse to comply, and get away with it because, although outnumbered, the Kurds are better fighters and the Americans support Kurdish autonomy. But withdrawing U.S. troops from the north is telling the Arabs and Kurds that they will have to sort out their differences themselves. That might get messy.
Many Shia gangsters insist they are actually part of the Mehdi Army, formed by pro-Iran, Islamic conservative Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr in 2003. But these deserters guys are gangsters, and are trying to hide behind the fact that Sadr has lots of popular support (controlling 12 percent of the 325 member parliament). These dozens of criminal gangs (with over a thousand members) are costing Sadr support. Sadr is reluctant to turn on his renegade Mehdi Army members, but he may have no choice. In part, this is due to Iraqi government pressure to disarm many of the militias in the Shia south. The Iraqi Army has proved, several times in the last few years, that the Shia militias cannot stand up to the troops. This time, the government is seeking to get the heavy weapons (mortars and rockets). Most militias are complying. The militiamen who have turned to a life of crime, rarely have any heavy weapons.
There is another bunch of Mehdi Army deserters being sought, and these have gone to work for Iran, to murder and terrorize those who oppose expanding Iranian influence in Iraq. Most Iraqis, including most Shia, do not trust the Iranians, and resist Iranian influence. Iran will kill to change that.
But the police and army are after the Shia gangs as well, mainly to interfere with the smuggling to and from Iran. In particular, the flow of weapons and bomb making materials is being targeted. The Sunni Arab terrorists are bad enough, the Shia controlled government does not want Iran ordering its Iraqi Shia followers to start a major terror campaign. U.S. troops have become more active against some Shia militias, because these groups, apparently under orders from Iranian sponsors, are attacking U.S. soldiers and bases.
The militias are not going to disappear, not least because Sunni Arab terrorists continue to attack Shia civilians, soldiers, policemen and politicians. The main weapon here is the suicide bomb (often involving a vehicle) and roadside bombs. There are over 300 casualties from these terror attacks each week, most of them caused by Sunni terrorists.
The growing violence in Syria (where the largely Sunni Arab population seeks to overthrow a decades old Shia dictatorship) has caused an increasing number of Iraqi refugees to flee back to Iraq. Some 1.5 million Iraqis (mostly Sunni) fled to Syria after 2003. The Syrian government tolerated, and taxed, them, but now believes many of these refugees have joined the Syrian rebels (which is probably true.) So far, no more than 10,000 of these Iraqis have returned from Syria.
July 22, 2011: PJAK (Kurds fighting for independence of Iranian Kurds from Iran) ambushed Iranian troops inside Iraq and killed six of them, including an Iranian general.
July 19, 2011: Iranian troops have advanced into the Kurdish controlled north and seized three villages used by PJAK rebels as bases. Iraq has protested to Iran and asked for the withdrawal of Iranian troops. It was common knowledge that about a hundred PJAK members were living in these villages (for years, in some cases). Apparently the PJAK men fled before the Iranian troops arrived in the villages, but there were several dozen casualties on both sides.
July 16, 2011: Iranian troops entered the north, in the Kurdish controlled area. The Kurdish government up there usually looks the other way as Turkish and Iranian forces cross the border in pursuit of Kurdish radicals (Turkish PKK and Iranian PJAK) using northern Iraq for bases. This is politically more acceptable than trying to drive these groups out of Kurdish controlled Iraq. But this time there were more Iranian troops involved, and there was no warning. The Iranians went at least ten kilometers (6.2 miles) into Iraq.
July 5, 2011: In an exceptionally bloody terror attack, two bombs were used north of Baghdad, killing 40 and wounding over a hundred. One was a car bomb, the other a suicide bomber on foot.