Iraq: Tradition


November 7,2008:  The war is moving to the borders, where support for radical groups enters the country from Iran (for Shia radicals), Syria (for Sunni radicals) and Turkey (for Kurdish radicals). Sealing each of these borders requires a different approach. The Iranians can be talked to, in addition to the growing number of border troops watching the frontier. The main problem is radical factions in the Iranian government, who are allowed to run their own terrorist operations in foreign countries. The Iranian Al Quds Force (an intelligence and commando operation that supports Islamic terrorism overseas) always attracted very bright and able people, but also got personnel with a wide range of views on just what constituted an "Islamic Republic" or the proper role for the Quds Force itself. One of the few things Quds officers could agree on was the need to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Many Quds officers actually warmed to the United States for doing the deed for them. Quds operatives were sent to Iraq in 2003 to see if they could establish another Islamic republic there. But they quickly found that Iraqi Shias were very divided on that subject. This got many Quds officers disagreeing with their commanders back home. The feeling was that the officials back in Iran were living in a dream world. This was reinforced by the debate over al Qaeda. Even though this Sunni terrorist organization was violently anti-Shia, and had killed many Shia in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, some Quds officials backed supporting al Qaeda, because of a common enemy, the United States in particular, and the West in general. The sort of thing can happen because the Iranian leadership is more a federation than a dictatorship. So Quds can keep being nice to al Qaeda as long as not too many other Iranian factions get mad at Quds. So the Iraqi government negotiates with more moderate members of the Iranian government, on how they can cooperate to control Quds, and other Iranian radicals trying to stir up trouble inside Iraq.

The situations on the Syrian and Turkish borders are more straightforward. The Syrians, while allies of Iran, are largely Sunni, and the country has become a base for Sunni terrorist groups like al Qaeda. So Iran tolerates Syrian support for Sunni terrorists who go to Iraq, via Syria, to kill fellow Shia. Politics is a rough game in this part of the world. But that tolerance is wearing off, and the Syrians have been told by Iran, Iraq and the United States that support for Sunni terrorists must stop, or else. Syria is being told to behave like Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which have successfully sealed their borders to terrorists. Now it's time for Syria to join the "good neighbors" club.

The Turkish border is a little different, in that the terrorists (PKK, the Kurdish separatist group) hide out in Iraq, and launch attacks across the border in Turkey. The Kurds run their own affairs in northern Iraq, but are not willing to take out the PKK (who represent ideas, like an independent Kurdish state, that are popular with all Kurds). So the Kurdish provincial, and Iraqi national governments sort of look the other way while Turkish warplanes bomb PKK camps, and Turkish troops dash in to grab live PKK as prisoners, or examine dead ones for more intel on what the terrorist group is up to.  Turkish military pressure has been pretty intense for the last few months, and the PKK is hurt. Not just by members killed or injured by the attacks, but by others who are demoralized and quit the organization. Recruitment is down and desertion is up. This is never a good sign. In the past month alone, at least a hundred PKK members have come out of the mountains near the border, and said they were quitting. The Turks believe they may have destroyed a third of the PKK fighting power so far this year.

Most Iraqi security forces are now focusing on protecting the voting centers that will be used in a few months for national elections. These places will be, as usual, targets for the Sunni and Shia terrorists. Democracy is anathema to the religious terrorists (al Qaeda and their Iranian Shia counterparts), as the religious activists want a clerical dictatorship, not some alien Western import like democracy. The religious terrorists are basically traditionalists, and the traditional government in this part of the world has always been a tyranny of one form or another. Thus support for tradition translates into support for some kind of dictator, hopefully a benevolent one.

November 6, 2008: The decline in violence has been so sharp, and sustained, that the United States is reducing its combat force from 16 to 14 brigades, with one brigade going home several weeks early (before Christmas).

November 4, 2008: The violence in Mosul has been complicated. It's not just Sunni Arabs out to fight the Shia government, but also ethnic and religious violence directed at Iraqi Turks, Kurds and Christians. Over 20,000 thousand civilians (mostly Christians) have fled the city because of these bias attacks, although some are starting to return as the situation calms down.

November 2, 2008: Iraqi and American combat deaths hit historic lows in October. In that month, only seven U.S. troops died in combat (another six died in accidents). Total violent deaths for Iraqis was 364, and about half of these were terrorists. It's Iraqi soldiers and police who are doing most of the dangerous work now. U.S. troops provide backup, intelligence, and security patrols through some areas. But the terrorists now prefer to attack Iraqis, who are seen as easier (more vulnerable and less dangerous) targets.  In another first, there were no U.S. troops killed in Baghdad during October. Most of the action has moved north to Mosul, where al Qaeda remnants are trying to put of a fight, or flee to a less hostile area.

November 1, 2008: Iraqi soldiers and police arrested 220 al Qaeda suspects in a remote corner of Anbar province (western Iraq). Sunni terrorists have been desperately seeking sanctuaries where they can recuperate and reorganize. But Iraqi police captured some of the terrorists headed for the new Anbar "sanctuary," and interrogation revealed enough details to make the raid possible. When terrorist attacks dropped 90 percent over the last year, that did not mean 90 percent of the terrorists were gone, just that the terrorist organizations had been disrupted to the extent that most attacks could no longer be organized and carried out. A lot of terrorists have been killed, captured or defected in the last year, and fewer replacements are arriving from Syria and Iran. But thousands of Sunni terrorists are still out there, looking for some structure and organization that will enable them to kill again. The Iraqi government is trying to get to these guys before that happens.


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