Iraq: December 8, 2003

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American combat divisions have developed new tactics for dealing with the pro-Saddam fighters and al Qaeda terrorists. The new methods involve some police techniques, as well as some things cops cannot do. For example, information from interrogations and other investigative work is entered into computer databases and analyzed for patterns. This allows searches for patterns and connections and often identifies particular neighborhoods, villages,  individuals or families and clans that are involved with the violence. The troops can then concentrate their raids and patrols on areas where the bad actors are known to hang out. In some cases, heavily pro-Saddam villages are surrounded with barbed wire and access carefully controlled. Such villages and neighborhoods are subject to a lot more searches, and a lot more weapons, documents and suspects are being found as a result. There is considerable overlap between criminal gangs and pro-Saddam groups. This is not unexpected, as Saddam's secret police developed working relationships with some criminal groups. This was either to get a cut of some criminal operation (smuggling and the black market were favorites), or information on Iraqis who were anti-Saddam. This working relationship has continued, even though Saddam's government is gone.

Attacks against coalition troops are down to about 20 a day, from a peak of 50 a day last month. Criminal activity in general is also down. The latter is largely the result of more Iraqi police and security forces (now over 140,000) entering service. With more Iraqis taking care of police work, American troops have more time for raids on suspected pro-Saddam targets. Leads continue to come in on the location of Saddam and those senior aids of his who are still at large. The information obtained from interrogations, tips, message intercepts and captured documents indicates that American efforts have come close to grabbing senior pro-Saddam people, and possible Saddam himself. But none of this really counts until you actually grab these people. Many Iraqis still live in fear of Saddam, and fear that he could make a comeback. A large segment of the Sunni Arab population is still openly pro-Saddam, and this is one reason why American forces got tough with this group after the attacks on coalition troops went up last month. While the increasing number of raids and restrictions on Sunni Arabs will make that group more anti-American, it's also true that in the next year it will be Iraqi police and troops that will be dealing with the pro-Saddam Sunni Arabs. So for now, the main idea is to reduce the violence against foreigners and those who oppose Saddam.

European police report that they have uncovered much al Qaeda recruiting activity, to obtain young men willing to go and fight coalition troops in Iraq. Syria appears to be the most commonly used transit point. Al Qaeda is also directing more money to Iraq operations, and less to supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The pro-Saddam forces have not yet taken much public credit for their attacks. The reason for this is simple; most Iraqis hate Saddam and want to hold war crimes trials for Saddam and his supporters. While the pro-Saddam groups like to portray themselves as Iraqi nationalists, no one is fooled (except for some foreign journalists who have ignored Iraqi history.) The al Qaeda attacks are different, but al Qaeda is both admired and loathed in this part of the world. The al Qaeda attacks have killed more Iraqis than foreigners, just as have the al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda has had to do most of its recruiting outside of Iraq.

Some Iraq Shia religious leaders are calling for democratic elections right away. Most Iraqis are not so sure. The next governing council, that will take over control of the country next Summer, will be selected by a series of caucuses. The problem with elections is that there are few visible candidates, since Saddam killed or exiled anyone who posed even potential competition to his rule. The coalition forces are also haunted by what happened in the Balkans in the 1990s, where elections were quickly held in Bosnia. The result was that the most corrupt and ruthless men got elected, and nearly ten years later, the corruption and mismanagement that unleashed is still being slowly repaired. In Iraq, the plan is to let the next interim government give some Iraqis a chance to show what they can do. Then, after a census and establishment of a voting organization to run the election, you could have honest elections of candidates with a visible track record.

 

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