Counter-Terrorism: Cash, Cell Phones and Iraq


September 18, 2005: Sunni Arab terrorists have long used financial incentives to encourage their men to kill, or even capture, American troops. Now they are offering bounties, of $30,000-$100,000, for anyone who kills senior Iraqi government officials.

U.S. military intelligence tries to monitor these prices, as a way to gauge how well the terrorists are doing. Over the last two years, its been noted that the terrorists have been offering more money for planting bombs, or firing at U.S. convoys, when the terrorists want to make a splash in the media, or when heavy casualties among terrorists has made it difficult to get reliable people. The Sunni Arab terrorists are the most mercenary, although many of these lads can be persuaded to help out for free (out of tribal loyalty, or revenge for a relative killed by U.S. troops.)

Al Qaeda offers eternal paradise instead of cash bonuses, and thus attracts a generally less capable bunch of fighters. Al Qaeda tends to put people on the payroll, especially technical experts and senior leaders. Still, compared to the Iraq Sunni Arabs, and all the billions that Saddam stole while he was in power, the al Qaeda crowd seems poverty stricken. That's why the al Qaeda terrorists go for a small number of spectacular suicide bomb attacks, while the Sunni Arabs carry out a much larger number of ambushes, assassinations and roadside bombings.

The major weakness in all this is the inability to get enough people for work that is considered too dangerous. American troops have made terrorism more and more dangerous, generally keeping ahead of the terrorists, and slowly gaining a greater edge on them. In addition, more Iraqi police and soldiers are entering service each month.

The terrorists have made it somewhat easier for the counter-terror forces, by restricting most of their operations to a small area of Iraq. About a third of all attacks are made in Baghdad, and about sixty percent take place in the rest of central Iraq (where most of the Sunni Arab population has always lived.) The Kurdish north is so quiet that it's become a vacation resort for the rest of Iraq. The largely Shia south has more to worry about from gangsters, and feuding religious and political militias.

Most Iraqis have stopped blaming the United States for all the violence. It's obvious, even to the most obdurate Iraqi, that local talent is committing most of the mayhem, and the rest is perpetrated by Arabs from neighboring countries. The Americans can still kill you, especially if you speed towards an American checkpoint, or try to pass an American convoy. But the biggest killer of Iraqis are Arab terrorists, either diehard Saddam thugs, or the al Qaeda fanatics. As a result, the 15 percent of Iraqis with cell phones, are increasingly finding a local police station, and calling in tips. Increasingly, the cops respond pretty quickly, and efficiently. It's becoming too dangerous to be a terrorist in Iraq, and most Iraqis like it that way.


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