February 6, 2008:
Al Qaeda went to war
over Iraq, and lost. While the terrorists are trying to put a brave face on it,
the defeat has hurt recruiting and fund raising. The number of foreign
volunteers entering via Syria or Saudi Arabia are way down. Not just because borders
are harder to cross, but because fewer young men are willing to cross
them to die in Iraq. Less cash is coming in from wealthy Islamic conservatives.
These fellows are very much put off by the widespread slaughter of civilians.
Al Qaeda and its pro-Saddam Iraqi Sunni Arab allies never seem to learn. A
recent suicide bombing of a pet market, used two mentally retarded women to
wear the bombs, which were then detonated remotely. Apparently the two women
did not understand what they were taking part in. This proved to be a PR
disaster for al Qaeda. Using women for such attacks is considered, well,
unmanly. Using the mentally ill is not seen as proper behavior for a Holy
Al Qaeda has largely been pushed out of
the cities. This means it's harder to hide, and harder to raise money. Al Qaeda
has financed itself partly via criminal activities (kidnapping, extortion,
black market, theft, whatever). There are fewer such opportunities out in the
countryside, and the bad guys are easier to find. Strangers stand out more easily.
That brings smart bombs, which have been used more frequently, with devastating
effect, since the terrorists fled to the countryside.
Many of the Iraqi al Qaeda operatives
have been showing up in Pakistan. This has always been a refuge for Islamic
terrorists. The Taliban in Afghanistan got all the attention in the 1990s
because the Islamic radicals ran the entire country. But these fanatics never
lost their control of the Pushtun tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan
border. With Iraq lost, the war on terror is moving to the Pakistani side of
this Pushtun terrorist sanctuary.
Meanwhile, Iraq faces continued unrest
because of religious, political and ethnic disputes. The government has agreed
to let former members of Saddam's Baath party take government jobs again. These
people are mostly Sunni Arabs with administrative or technical skills. The
country needs them, but getting these jobs back makes the Sunni Arabs believe
that they are back on the road to eventually staging another coup and establishing
themselves as the rightful rulers of the country. This is not lost on the Kurds
and Shia Arabs who comprise over 80 percent of the population.
One thing the more skilled Sunni Arab
administrators won't solve is the pervasive corruption. U.S. troops who deal
with Iraqis a lot, complain about this culture of lying and stealing. The
Iraqis take it for granted, but Americans never get used to it, and get
frustrated trying to convince the Iraqis that the corruption is a major reason
why nothing seems to work in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraqis still believe the Americans have some
magical powers that will make everything better (especially keeping the
electricity on, and the getting the garbage picked up.) Saddam fostered a
culture of dependence, which is a standard tool for dictators. It's proving
difficult to get many Iraqis to step up and take care of themselves.
The major problem in Iraq continues to
be the corruption and lack of civic spirit, rather than terrorism. Even the
Iraqis recognize the need to crack down on the terrorists and criminals. But
this eagerness for counter-terrorism ignores the fact that the corruption is
one of the main reasons for the terrorism in the first place. Al Qaeda was
founded to replace the corrupt leaders of the Middle East with honest rulers.
That has not worked, as one can see in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two places
where "Islamic Republics" were established. While many smart, knowledgeable
(about how things work in the West) Iraqi leaders admit that reducing
corruption would be a good thing, there is little enthusiasm for taking the
lead in setting a good example. Thus the other bad guys, the corrupt
politicians, clerics, businessmen and academics, continue to threaten Iraq,
even as al Qaeda gets pounded into the dust.