In Iraq, the rapid change in direction of the
fighting, with the sharp drop in terror attacks, and U.S. casualties, was
largely the result of several trends combining. First, there was the surge
offensive itself. With five additional American brigades, and a growing number
of Iraqi police and troops, terrorist organizations (both al Qaeda and Iraqi Sunni and Shia
Arabs) were raided with unprecedented vigor. That was possible because of
another trend; the amount of information the U.S. had on the terrorists. In one
of the unheralded accomplishments of the war, U.S. intel organizations had
compiled a huge, computerized, database of Iraqi terrorists. Troops could
access a lot of this data in the field, but mostly it was used to build a web
of information that made it more difficult for the terrorists to hide, or even
The third trend was the growing (for
several years) anti-terrorism sentiment in the Iraqi Sunni Arab community. These
Sunni Arabs provided cover for the terrorists. Without people willing to keep
their mouths shut, while terrorists built bombs or housed dozens of gunmen next
door, there would be no terrorist attacks. In about half of the country, where
there are no such "cooperative" Sunni Arabs (or simply no Sunni Arabs at all)
there has been no terrorism. This has been the case in the far north, where the
Kurds run their own autonomous state. In the far south, many areas are either
completely devoid of Sunni Arabs, or the ones that live there have been hostile
to terrorists, and tolerated by their Shia Arab neighbors.
As the surge forces proceeded to clear
entire towns and neighborhoods of terrorist groups, the Sunni Arab civilians
were offered a deal. If they would establish a local security force, and stop future
terrorist operations, the U.S. would provide weapons, training and cash. If the
local guard force could not do the job, the U.S. and Iraqi troops would be
back, and that could be very bad for the neighborhoods. This had been tried
before in Sunni Arab areas, but not with complete success. This time around,
there was a widespread attitude change among the Sunni Arabs. The feeling was
that the whole terror campaign had been a failure, and the only way out now was
to turn on the terrorists. It was always obvious that the Americans could go
anywhere and kill terrorists. But now the Iraqi army and police, made up
largely of Kurds and Shia Arabs, was also able to fight. This was something
new, and the Sunni Arabs didn't want to be on the receiving end of more counter-terrorist
operations carried out by Kurdish and Shia Arab troops.
So far, the Sunni Arabs have 60,000
paid local guards, and another 12,000 volunteers. Many of these guys had
previously worked for terrorist organizations. That's where the cash payments
came in. U.S. intel knew that a lot of terrorism was carried out by men doing
it for the cash, as much as because they wanted get the Americans out, and
Sunni Arabs get back into power.
The surge attacks began last April. By
August, the Sunni Arab and al Qaeda terrorist organizations were broken and on
the run. Their situation only got worse going into the Fall. The number of
attacks plummeted, as did U.S. and Iraqi (military and civilian) casualties.
Earlier in the year, 3,000 Iraqis (uniformed and civilian) were dying a month.
Now it's about 500 a month.
Another important, but less reported,
aspect of the surge campaign, was the attention paid to Shia Arab militias.
Several of these were supported by Iranian Shia radicals, who were encouraging,
and sometimes paying, Iraqi Shia to kill Americans and Iraqi security forces.
By late Summer, these Shia militias were getting a lot of attention. Leaders
were being arrested, and terrorism supplies (bombs, weapons in general) were
being confiscated. Names and biometric data was collected on members of the
militias. These guys knew what they meant. They were no longer anonymous. Now
the Americans knew who they were, and where they lived. That made many Shia
Arab militiamen less enthusiastic about attacking anyone.
The new Sunni Arab self-defense
organizations often see attacking neighbors as part of a good defense. There
are a lot of unresolved disputes in Iraq, and the Shia Arabs fear that the new
Sunni Arab militias will come after them. In a few cases this has happened, and
vice versa. Will it escalate into large scale violence? No one knows.