Iraq: May 17, 2004


The al Sadr gunmen in southern Iraq continue to be killed or arrested. Coalition troops are under orders to minimize structural damage and civilian casualties, which means using tactics which take longer. There is little problem getting Iraqis to help out with the fighting, but the Iraqi police and security troops are not as well equipped or trained for this kind of urban warfare, so are not used much for actual combat. Patrolling, and evacuating civilians from neighborhoods where the al Sadr gun men are operating, are what the Iraqi police are useful for. Muqtada al Sadr still refuses to surrender or flee to Iran, but those who know him doubt he is seeking martyrdom by fighting to the death. But day by day, the number of armed followers declines. Eventually, al Sadr will be down to too small a number to protect him. At that point, hell probably head for Iran. The coalition will have to decide if they should try and stop that, and risk killing al Sadr, or let him leave, and continue to be a threat from his Iranian exile.

The major security threat in Iraq right now is the terror campaign against Iraqis by the Baath Party and al Qaeda. The only thing these two groups have in common is an obsession with wanting to prevent the establishment of a democracy in Iraq. Baath wants a return to Sunni Arab domination, while al Qaeda wants the establishment of an Islamic dictatorship. Baath is the bigger threat, because most of Saddams old secret police and enforcers are still out there. While not able to operate openly, cutting out the tongues of those who speak against Baath, or taking away people in the middle of the night, they have been increasingly active with threats against government officials and those working for the coalition, including over a dozens murders each week. While the Iraqi police and security forces have established themselves throughout most of the country, the Baath hit men were increasingly operating out of Fallujah, a city that had become very hostile to government and coalition forces. Time and again, a murder or bombing would take place, and the culprits would be traced back to Fallujah (which lies astride the main, and heavily traveled, highway from Baghdad to Jordan.)

For example, today, a car bomb killed the head of the Iraqi Governing Council. Baath and al Qaeda both target Iraqi government officials at all levels. 

In Fallujah, there is still a standoff between the various criminal and Baath gangs in the city, and U.S. Marines which still guard the roads going in and out of the city. Several hundred former Iraq army soldiers are going on patrols with marines in the city, and the gangs are generally leaving the patrols alone. For now. The traditional leaders (tribal, religious) are willing to back the government if they had some assurance that they would be protected from the gangs. But this is difficult to do. Remember, in Saddams Iraq, the police force was there for traffic control and petty crime. The major police organizations were Saddams secret police, intelligence agencies and street gangs organized by as enforcers (of pro-Saddam sentiment). These organizations regularly practiced outright terror on the population. They still are, and the Iraqi police are fighting an uphill battle dealing with this horror from the past. 

These gangs are strongest in Fallujah and other Sunni Arab areas. There is very little of this sort of thing in the northern Kurdish areas (where American troops view the war in Iraq as if it were on a different planet.) In Shia areas, there is some of the Baath terror, because there is much intermixture of Shia and Sunni Arab neighborhoods in the south. It is possible for the Baath Party terrorists to get around, and do their work. But it is less effective, and it is feared there will eventually be much ethnic cleansing of Sunni Arabs from majority Shia areas because of the ongoing terrorist operations. 


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