Iraq: April 18, 2004

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The violence by Sunni and Shia gangs has declined, mainly because so many of the gunmen have been killed (which discourages those still alive.) Attacks on coalition road traffic have increased, mainly because convoys tend to run right through ambushes, returning fire as they go. If the ambushers are careful where they position themselves, they can get off a magazine (30 round) of AK-47 fire with little risk. There are only so many UAVs and gunships out there, so the attackers are less likely to be spotted and pursued because of the larger number of attacks.  There are more roadside bombings, and just a lot of gunfire in general. 

The request for more troops is not for battling the Shia and Sunni gunmen, because there aren't many of these left willing to come out and fight. The additional 30,000 (20,000 held over and 10,000 additional) is to provide more back up for the Iraqi police and security forces. Without the assurance of coalition troops available to back them up, the Iraqis tend to flee. Although many fought the Sunni and Shia gangs over the last two weeks, there were often not enough coalition troops to come to their aid when they were being overwhelmed by local gunmen. Although there are 130,000 American troops in Iraq, only about 20,000 of them are combat troops, and rarely are more than half (usually a third) of those in action at any one time. There are ten times as many Iraqi police and security troops. But in those few areas where the Sunni and Shia gangs attacked, there were some 10,000 gunmen involved, versus perhaps a third of local Iraqi security troops. Having enough coalition troops to provide backup for the Iraqi security forces would do a lot to lower the crime rate and make life difficult for the many powerful criminal gangs (some just crooks, some religious, political or tribal fighters) still operating throughout the country.

Most Iraqis are rather perplexed at how the foreign Arab media reports events inside Iraq. The Arab media tend towards sensationalism, exaggeration and lots of pure invention. Radical Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr has taken advantage of the fact that many Shia are not only poor, but illiterate, and susceptible to radical preaching promising quick riches if everyone joins in on a short period of violence. All al Sadr has left is his illusions. Trapped in a mosque in Najaf, constantly badgered by more senior clerics (technically, al Sadr is still a student of religious studies, or, a seminarian). Al Sadr is trying to negotiate a deal that will keep him from being arrested for murder. But since the two killings were of Shia clerics, the Iraqi clerics are not eager to let al Sadr get away with murder. 

 

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