Iraq: Going For The Head

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October 6,2008:  In the past two months, Iraqi and U.S. forces have captured at least 30 members of Iranian group Kataib Hezbollah. This gang specializes in smuggling weapons and military equipment from Iran into Iraq, and then distributing it to pro-Iranian Shia groups. As police and army personnel take control of Shia towns and neighborhoods formerly dominated by Shia militias, it's possible to get information from locals who oppose violent groups. That has led to more arrests of political and criminal terrorists and those who provide support (weapons, safe houses, other equipment).

In many parts of Iraq, the emphasis has turned from hunting terrorists, to going after purely criminal (non-political) gangs. But elite U.S. and Iraqi units are still hunting down  key terrorist leaders and technicians. There's enough intel now to track these guys. One of the recent catches was Mahir al Zubaydi, who was cornered and killed on the 4th. Zubaydi was in charge of al Qaeda operations for eastern Baghdad, and was responsible for dozens of attacks in Shia neighborhoods, and deaths of hundreds of civilians. Zubaydi was originally a Sunni Islamic radical, but joined al Qaeda four years ago. He was long a technician and tacticians, helping plan and carry out suicide bomb attacks. He also carried out kidnappings, and executions (including four Russian embassy officials). Last year he was promoted (because of leadership casualties) to the top position in eastern Baghdad. Police will now seek to find out who Zubaydi's successor is, and  take him down. This will continue until there are no more people willing to step forward and take these jobs. With terrorist attacks down 80 percent versus last year, you can see how this works. Kill or capture a guy like Zubaydi, and there are fewer attacks.

October 4, 2008: Over the last ten days, there were also frequent artillery attacks on suspected PKK locations just across the border in Iraq. Turkey claims that all these air and artillery attacks have killed at least 150 PKK personnel, in addition to much material damage. Including operations on the ground (by Turkish infantry that crossed the border to ambush PKK gunmen or examine bombed targets), the week saw nearly 300 PKK and about 40 Turkish troops killed. One PKK attack, just across the border in Turkey, killed 15 Turkish soldiers, and caused a call for increased attacks on the PKK. The Kurdish government in northern has stood back and let the Turks go after the PKK, even though most Kurds back the PKK idea of an independent nation for all 30 million Kurds in the region (parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.) None of those countries are willing to allow this new nation, especially since they will have to give up people, land and, especially in the case of Iraq, oil, for this to happen. But in northern Iraq, the Kurds, and the more confident (and more militarily powerful) Iraqi government are coming closer to a violent resolution of the dispute over whether Kurds or Arabs will control some of the northern Iraqi towns, and nearby oil fields. For the first time, it's Shia Arabs who are the threat. For centuries, it was only the Sunni Arabs who beat on the Kurds. Thus the Iraqi Kurds are preoccupied with the Iraqi Arabs, and not willing to help the Turks clear out the PKK. The Iraqi Kurds believe that the Americans will bail them out if the Turks get too frisky in northern Iraq.

October 3, 2008: Turkish warplanes were again seen over northern Iraq, and several targets were bombed.

October 1, 2008: In September, Iraqi security forces lost about a third more people 159, than they did a year ago. U.S. losses, were down 40 percent from last year (and only 8 of those 25 deaths were from combat causes). Iraqi police and soldiers are in charge of most of the country now, including some provinces, like Anbar, that were terrorist base areas for several years. There are also more Iraqi security forces on duty. All this means fewer dangerous areas for U.S. troops to patrol. There are also far fewer terrorists operating, and their attacks are down about 80 percent compared to the same time last year. Militias, even those that supported the government, are off the streets. There are still anti-government and anti-U.S. rallies, and they are guarded by police and soldiers, not armed militiamen.

September 28, 2008: Several bombing attacks in Baghdad killed about three dozen people. These were largely attacks aimed at Shia preparing for the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. This is typical anti-Shia violence by Sunni radicals. This happens in many parts of the world where many Shia and Sunni live close to each other.

September 26, 2008: About a dozen Turkish warplanes bombed about sixteen targets in northern Iraq. These attacks were against Kurdish separatist rebels of the PKK organization. The rebels use bases in northern Iraq for attacks in eastern Turkey (a region that has many majority Kurdish areas).

 

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