Iraq: The Battle for Baghdad Begins


February15, 2007: How are the bad guys doing in Iraq? The Iraqi media is full of information on what the various Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions are up to. Lots of the reporting is speculation, but a lot of it is not. If you've been following the action long enough, you can pick out the accurate stories. And the talk on the street and in the shops is also pretty dependable. That said, most people believe al Qaeda in Iraq is finished. After boasting last Fall that they would establish a safe zone in western Iraq, and failing to do anything close to that, the Islamic terrorists lost whatever credibility they had left. Most of the terrorist bombings these days are the work of Iraqi Sunni Arab organizations, who still believe that if you make the Iraqi Shia Arabs mad enough, they will get so nasty that neighboring Sunni Arab nations will feel compelled to invade. This plan has split the Sunni Arab nationalists, mainly because the invasion shows no sign of happening, and the brighter terrorists point out that the Saudi army is unlikely to win against the Americans. In a trend that began two years ago, Sunni Arab factions are continuing to battle each other. U.S. troops stand aside when they encounter "Red-on-Red" fighting, then deal with the winner.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Shia Arab militias, especially the Sadr forces (the Mahdi Army), have lost whatever unity and discipline they once had. Factionalism has taken over as several of Sadr's lieutenants compete for popularity and territory by driving Sunni Arabs out of Baghdad neighborhoods. Most of Iraq's Sunni Arabs have been chased from their homes since 2003, and that process has accelerated in the last year. The Iraqi Sunni Arabs are quite wealthy compared to Iraqi Shia, and the Shia gangs have been fighting each other over the loot, and the power. Gang war, literally, because many of the militiamen moonlight as gangsters (or vice versa).

While the number of terror bombings has been declining in the past year, the crime rate has not, and most people in central Iraq are looking forward to the "Battle for Baghdad." Brigades of troops are arriving from the Kurdish north and Shia south, and more American troops can be seen on the streets. There are more raids in Baghdad. But all the average Iraqi wants is safer streets, fewer kidnappings and a little peace and quiet. Realizing that that kind of paradise is not likely to be found in the Middle East, Baghdad has been suffering a major brain drain in the past year, with the most educated fleeing for foreign countries. Europe and North America are preferred destinations, but any place with a lower crime rate will do.

Many exiles carry a sense of shame with them. What they flee is not the violence of "foreign occupiers," but of lawless Iraqis and foreign terrorists. Iraqis are running away from Arab criminals and fanatics. And none of those fanatics offer anything better, even if they win. The secular ones promise another Saddam, while the religious one offer a dictatorship run by clerics. It's still popular to blame the Americans for everything, while still hustling to get a job with the Americans or, best of all, a visa to enter the United States. Those who cannot, or do not, want to leave, are trying to figure out how to make the place work. This is generating a lot of debate in the Iraqi press, which has not been free to publish freely for over four decades. The one thing most factions agree on is the need for peace, and that attitude should make the Battle for Baghdad, which has already begun, very interesting.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close