Terrorist attacks continue in the north (between Kurds and Arabs) and outside Baghdad (between Sunni and Shia Arabs.) But casualties from terror attacks are way down this month, after a spike in August. That's not just a fluke, it turns out to be all about gangsters and the cash that motivates them.
In response to the terrorist violence, a lot more police (and political) pressure was put on the towns and neighborhoods that tend to harbor terrorist gangs. That's part of the reason for the sharp reduction in terror attacks this month. Another reason is a drop in money, weapons and terrorists crossing the border from Syria. The government has put more diplomatic pressure on the Syrians, and more police on the border. One area where Americans are still involved is in the air, and more UAVs and aircraft over the Syrian border means more smugglers are detected, and arrested by the larger police presence on the frontier.
The money, in particular, is key, because there are many expert terrorists in Iraq, most of whom will only work if they are paid. In the last two years, much of the money has disappeared, largely because so many Sunni Arabs have turned against the terrorists, and made it much more difficult to operate undetected (by the army or police). Larger and more capable security forces have been able to follow up on citizen complaints and tips.
Many of the former terrorists have turned to crime, using their skill at clandestine operations to steal, kidnap and extort. The security forces still concentrate on terrorism, but public outrage at the upsurge in street crime, and kidnapping (and often murdering) of children, is forcing the government to pay more attention to the gangsters. These outfits have flourished since 2003, and often made money off terrorism by supplying materials and services to the terrorist cells. There are also Shia gangs, but these are not as vicious as the Sunni ones, some of whom operated when Saddam was in power, as long as they cut Saddam in on their profits, and did some of the dirty work (terrorizing, beatings, torture and murder of dissidents). Police are finding that, when they break up (via arrests and killings) a large terrorist group, that crime in the area also declines sharply. Thus the criminal gangs are increasingly seen as the crucial ingredient for surges in terrorism. If some religious or political fanatic gets a chunk of cash, the criminals provide the skills to produce a spurt of terror bombings. With fewer gangs, there are few places for the murder money to be applied.
The Kurdish north continues to be a taunting example of what Iraqi could be. The Kurdish north was freed from Saddam's control in the early 1990s, and thus has been free for ten years longer than the Arab south. Thus the Arabs see what the Kurd have done as a potential future for all of Iraq. The Kurds keep the terrorists out, and the crime rate down. They do this with a well trained militia, and more efficient government. Politicians and officials in the north are corrupt, but not as bad as those in the Arab south. The difference is startling. More so because the Kurds do not allow religious zealots to go around attacking women for not wearing a burqa, or for anyone drinking alcohol in public. The Kurds have turned the north into a tourist resort for the rest of Iraq, and that has grown for the last five years. This year, there were TV ads, selling resort and hotel packages to Arab families seeking a holiday (the three days that end Ramadan) in a pleasant place. In addition to the safety, the north is also the cooler, and quite beautiful, mountains. Finally, this year the roads are the safest they've been since 2003, and back then, far fewer Iraqis had cars. So many went north, and crowded the resorts, hotels and homes of relatives up there. Many Arabs, at least those with skills (doctors, engineers, college teachers) are moving into the Kurdish north. The Kurds are careful who they let in, either for a vacation, or permanently. The border controls are the tightest in the region , and not everyone gets through. But that's seen as a plus, because it means very few terrorists get in.
China is increasingly active in the Iraqi economy, making investments and bringing technical experts in to make these deals work. China also provides assistance in clearing mines and unexploded munitions, as well as training for Iraqi military personnel.
September 15, 2009: The U.S. has closed the largest prison in Iraq, and the world, Camp Bucca. Costing over $50 million to build, the prison has been emptying all year, with 5,600 prisoners released, and 1,400 (who have arrest warrants) transferred to Iraq. The U.S. kept 180 of the prisoners, all "high risk" individuals wanted for major terrorist acts. Bucca, near the Kuwait border, is now run by Iraq, and still full of prisoners. The U.S. still holds over 8,000 prisoners in other facilities, but this is down from 15,500 at the beginning of the year, and over 20,000 two years ago.