Iraq: Reading The Street


November 29,2008: Iraqis are still nervous about moving about outside, but the crowds and wanted posters are signs that it's sort of safe. The crowds indicate that the locals feel it's safe enough to be out and about. The wanted posters have become increasingly popular, and visible, this year. In the past, anti-government neighborhoods would see the posters torn down as quickly as they were put up, and those putting them up would be killed or threatened. That rarely happens anymore. There are still a few hard core Sunni or Shia neighborhoods, and they identify themselves by removing wanted posters (for local terrorists) as quickly as they go up. Another reassuring thing to look for is women's faces and figures. In religiously strict Sunni and Shia neighborhoods, the women are terrorized into covering up, and staying off the streets. Where you don't see that, there are not many religious fanatics on the prowl.

The hostile atmosphere, for terrorists, has destroyed the network of Sunni Arab terrorists throughout central Iraq. Several times a month, another major terrorist leader gets arrested. It's also become clear that most of these big shots are not getting replaced. The Syrian and Iranian borders are, month by month, more difficult for smugglers to get through. That means Sunni terrorists receive less support from Syria, and their Shia counterparts are getting less aid from Iran. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey have always made an effort to control their Iraq border, which is why most of the terrorist traffic went through Syria and Iran.

Despite the years of terrorist violence, there are still many Iraqis (10-20 percent, most of them Shia) who support radical groups, and their radical solutions. Several Sunni terror cells are still operating, and followers of exiled (in Iran) Shia radical Moqtada al Sadr still demonstrate a lot, and kill a lot less. The terrorists who remain active, mainly Sunni groups still hoping to trigger a "civil war" with the Shia majority, and thus an opportunity for the Sunnis to somehow regain control of the country, are concentrating on attacks that will get media attention. They do that, but the overall impact of the attacks is much diminished. U.S. casualties this year will be about a third of what they were last year. Same with Iraqi casualties, despite the best efforts of the terrorists. Greater emphasis has been placed on the use of female suicide bombers, as Iraqi security has improved to the point where it's very difficult to get male bombers to targets the media will notice (markets, government buildings). A suicide bombers risks getting ignored if the explosion takes place where there are few victims or points of interest.

Terrorists have also been using gunmen dressed as Iraqi police or soldiers, to attack, usually with gunfire, American troops. This has happened several times, especially in quiet areas where the U.S. troops are helping with relief or reconstruction projects. Despite that, U.S. casualties remain at their lowest point ever in Iraqi.

November 27, 2008:  The Iraqi parliament approved a Status of Forces agreement for U.S. troops. These agreements are standard for nations where foreign troops are stationed, and the United States has them with dozens of countries where substantial numbers of U.S. troops are stationed (including several in the Persian Gulf). The agreement with Iraq provides the option for most U.S. troops to be withdrawn by the end of 2011, and removes immunity from local prosecution for civilian contractor personnel working for the United States. About a quarter of the legislators present voted against the agreement.  These represent Sunni and Shia extremist groups who want U.S. troops out more quickly, so the Sunni and Shia extremists can make a grab for power without American interference. Many Iraqis still see the country as thriving only under the iron rule of a dictator.

November 26, 2008: Eighteen female suicide bombers surrendered to the government, taking advantage of an amnesty program. The women were persuaded, by religious leaders and family,  to quit the terrorism group they had joined, as suicide bomber trainees. This is another indication of the continuing battle within the Sunni Arab community, as the remaining Islamic terrorists struggle to maintain some power.

November 23, 2008: Separatist PKK rebels claimed responsibility for bombing one of the pipelines going from the Kirkuk oil fields, through Turkey to a Mediterranean tanker port. The PKK was long tolerated by the Kurdish government of northern Iraq. But military and political pressure have changed that, so now the PKK is going after targets that hurt Kurdish interests in Iraq.


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