Iraqis have a sorry reputation for combat competence, but there are several thousand officers and troops who performed exceptionally well in the 1980s war with Iran, and a smaller number who showed promise in 1991 and 2003. Many of these men are still around, most are Sunni Arabs and some have joined the gangs as advisers and combat leaders. That much is known from fighters who have been captured, and analysis of changes in tactics over the past 18 months. For example, the initial attacks on coalition convoys were pretty amateurish. A couple of guys firing AK-47s and RPGs. Coalition troops had already been taught to just speed up and get out of there when that happened, and to shoot back as they did so. The attackers were lucky if they hit the vehicles they were aiming at, and often killed or injured Iraqi civilians in the area, instead of Americans. The return fire, especially from American troops, sometimes killed a few of the attackers, and a reaction force often shows up quickly and kills or captures some of the attackers. Over the last year, the gunmen have been getting some professional advice, and the ambushes have become more effective. The gunmen are using their weapons more effectively. For example, ambushers now often use a light machine-gun, which is positioned to get the most effective shots against any oncoming vehicles. RPG gunners are also positioned more carefully, and American troops have noted that their attackers often have a more effective exit plan, to escape the coalition reaction force.
Intelligence work has also gotten a lot better in the last year. This makes sense, as many of Saddams numerous intelligence experts disappeared (went underground) in the Summer of 2003. Saddam Hussein relied on a large intelligence and secret police establishment to keep him in power. Many of these senior intel types appear to be leading the anti-government forces, and the junior members have been caught directing operations. Saddams old intel crew also knows how to use terror, and who to use it against. The intel professionals are good at planning, and coming up with new tactics. Coalition intelligence officers, even before they got to interrogate a lot of captured anti-government fighters, had the impression that they were up against experienced intel people.
Attackers have also made much greater use of planning. Some of their intel scouts have been captured, and interrogated, revealing details of the organization. Captured gunmen have also given up descriptions of some of the military experts, which has led to the compilation of a list. Iraqi police will be looking for these guys eventually, as well as family members. While the coalition does not favor taking family members hostage to force wanted men to surrender, this is an ancient, popular, and effective, technique in this part of the world. As the Israelis discovered in their battles with Palestinian terrorists, capturing or killing the technical experts greatly diminishes the effectiveness of the terrorists. So a similar campaign against the military and technical experts working for the anti-government groups would likewise diminish the effectiveness of their terror campaign. Ending gang control of some Sunni towns and cities is the first step towards running down the brains behind the Sunni Arab effort to regain power.
The Sunni Iraqi gunmen who are fighting the Iraqi government are a mixed lot in terms of training and capabilities. Most of the gunmen that coalition troops encounter are either young Sunni Arab men volunteering to strike a blow against the hated foreign occupiers, and help bring back the good-old-days of Sunni Arab dominance and dictatorship, or similarly enthusiastic foreign volunteers fighting for the same goal. The Sunni dominated Baath party still has lots of cash, and this is spread around to encourage volunteers. There arent too many jobs in the Sunni areas, as the violence has discouraged reconstruction, by Iraqis or foreigners. Decades of Saddam's propaganda has made it fashionable for Sunnis to kill Americans. There are also non-Iraqi Arabs, and non-Arab Moslems, who have come to Iraqi to fight the foreign occupiers. While most Iraqi men have some military experience, many of the foreign volunteers have none. This makes the foreigners a liability in combat, as they are more prone to freeze up, flee or just screw up. The foreign amateurs get killed off quickly in combat, but what really bothers the Iraqis is that the ineptness of the foreign volunteers can get the more experienced Iraqis with them killed as well.