Iraq: June 7, 2004


Terrorist attacks over the weekend killed twenty people and wounded nearly a hundred. One of the attacks blew up a police station in a Baghdad Shia neighborhood. The attacks are mostly killing and wounding Iraqis. This has done two things. First, it has made Iraqis put security at the top of their list of priorities. But equally important, it has steadily eroded any support for the Iraqi resistance among Iraqis.  The attacks come mainly from those who want to restore a Sunni dictatorship (the Baath Party), or establish a religious dictatorship (al Qaeda.) The coalition is preaching democracy, but to most Iraqis, the last time Iraq tried democracy (a constitutional monarchy with a parliament, from the early 1930s to the late 1950s), the eventual result was a bloody coup by the Sunni Arab dominated army. Most people care less about political freedom and more about physical and financial security. 

While the car bombs are a danger, they are not the major threat. One car bomb a day kills or injures the same number of people as a few more bad auto accidents, and Iraq has plenty of those already. What most people have to confront every day are the cars full of gunmen they  encounter all  the time. These are the gangsters who are out to use theft, extortion and kidnapping to get what they can. On top of this there are the Baath Party gunmen and al Qaeda suicide bombers, who  attack those who are, or appear to be, supporting the new government or coalition. In addition to the organized gunmen, there is the problem with most every family having a gun, and too often using it to settle real or imaginary problems. People live in fear.

For about a third of the population, belonging to a well organized tribal or clan organization gives them some protection. If you have a security problem (one of you children kidnapped, gunmen trying to extort cash from you), the tribal council may be able to help (by negotiating with the gangsters, terrorists or Baath Party crew) or scaring them off with the threat of greater violence. 

Most Americans take for granted that the police and courts are always there to keep the gangsters and terrorists at bay. But there are parts of the United States (inner city neighborhoods, or even rural counties), where the police are outgunned or intimidated by local thugs. In these situations, people live in fear. This situation effects large parts of Iraq, perhaps a third of the country. This terrorism is particularly common in Baghdad and the Sunni Arab areas to the west. The gangs tried to take over portions of the country in Fallujah and in some Shia cities of the south. These attempts failed when coalition troops came after the gangs. So the killers stay hidden, and until there are enough Iraqi police to track more of them down, the terror will continue. 

In most of the country, the gangs cannot easily operate. The police, or tribal security apparatus (a sort of well armed vigilante operation) in these areas make it too dangerous for the gangs, so the gunmen go where they can more safely do their dirty work. While the media doesnt track this sort of thing, the gangsters are losing. Day by day, more areas that were gang friendly become less so. Border security gets tighter every month, and this hurts the gangs that depend on smuggling. The declining power of the outlaw gangs is what defines winning or losing the war. Alas, this cannot be shown with a front line and a line on a map. Its more a matter of crime statistics and how many parts of Iraq have declining crime rates. 

The increase in security, despite the well reported car bomb attacks in Baghdad, is what has encouraged Iraqis to form a new government and plan for elections in seven months. A government that cannot control the local gangsters will not be in power long. So the battle for Iraq comes down to local police commanders being able to hold their own against the local gangsters. Not very glamorous, but thats what it comes down to.


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