Two al Qaeda leaders (Saleh Arugayan Kahlil and Bassim Mohammad Hazeem) were captured by marines in Anbar province (which contains Fallujah) in late December. These two men led groups that have been killing off duty Iraqi soldiers and smuggling weapons and foreign terrorists across the border from Syria. Their boss, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian Islamic radical who had been hiding out in Baghdad, as a guest of Saddam Hussein, when Iraq was invaded in early 2003, is still at large. With the defeat of Saddam, al Zarqawi suddenly found Iraqi Sunni Arabs were eager to join al Qaeda. The Baath Party, which had run the country for four decades, was now willing to do more than offer sanctuary for al Qaeda members. Baath had money and manpower they made available. Al Qaeda and Baath had one thing in common; they wanted the foreigners out of Iraq. Beyond that, they had quite different goals.
Al Qaeda wanted the world converted to Islam, and ruled as an Islamic state, according to al Qaedas strict interpretation of Islamic law. Al Qaeda and the Taliban came close to this in Afghanistan. There was another Islamic Republic in Iran, but that was run by Shia Moslems. Shia are considered heretics by the conservative Sunni Moslems that lead al Qaeda. This had not prevented Iran from offering sanctuary to for a small group of Kurdish Islamic radicals, Ansar al Islam. This group operated on the border of northern Iraq and Iran until dispersed by Kurdish troops and American Special Forces in 2003. Survivors of Ansar fled to Iran, then snuck back into Iraq this year and set up shop in mixed Arab-Kurd areas like Mosul. The Baath Party and al Qaeda leaders have put aside the issue of who will rule Iraq once the Americans are driven out. And well they should, because taking control of Iraq appears to be an impossible goal. But al Qaeda has provided a force of young men who are fanatical, and undaunted by American firepower and the Iraqi populations desire for democracy.
Baath was impressed by the ability of al Qaeda to get young men to fight for free, and to carry out suicide attacks. Baath's Iraqi manpower was either former secret police and Republican Guard members, who were out of a job and fearful of retribution from the kin of their victims. If Baath provided some of that lost salary, these fellows were willing to carry on as before. Other Iraqis were willing to carry out tasks like planting roadside bombs and collecting information, for a fee. But the Baath Party plan for taking back power depended on uniting the Sunni Arab population behind them, and then somehow regaining control of the Kurdish and Shia Arab population. Baath quickly discovered that many Sunni Arabs wanted no part of the Baath Party, and were joining the new government police force and army. But Baath knew how to deal with this. Over decades, Baath, and especially their former leader, Saddam Hussein developed terror tactics that were very effective in controlling the population of Iraq. The Baath was largely a Sunni Arab party, and using these hard core members, threats were made to Sunni Arabs who were working for the new government. If threats didn't work, kidnapping and murder were used. Kidnap one member of a family, and you get the cooperation of the entire family, and often a ransom as well. Despite these efforts, the Sunni Arab police and army units continued to form. Many of these Sunni Arab police and troops fled when confronted by Baath and al Qaeda gunmen. The al Qaeda suicide bombing attacks on police stations and army bases were particularly terrifying. But still Sunni Arabs continued to resist backing Baath.
The government responded by bringing in Kurdish and Shia Arab police, as well as having police and army units operate more closely with American troops. When the soldiers and police could be assured that their families were safe from the Baath and al Qaeda terrorists, they would fight, and not just pick up a paycheck. Providing that safety meant driving out the Baath party thugs town by town, and neighborhood by neighborhood. This had been done in Kurdish areas ten years ago. There was no Baath party terror in Kurdish areas, although occasionally an al Qaeda suicide bomber got in. This didn't terrorize as much as increase Kurdish resolve to crush Baath and al Qaeda. In Shia Arab areas, nearly all the Baath party members fled in early 2003. Those that were slow to leave, were killed by vengeful Shias.
But many areas in central Iraq have mixed Shia/Sunni and Kurdish/Sunni populations. Here the Baath Party enforcers can establish bases among the Sunni population, and carry out terror operations against the Kurds and Shia Arabs. This has not been working. The media reports the attacks, but not the reaction of the Kurdish and Shia Arab population. More Kurds and Shia Arabs are joining the police and army in order to get at the terrorists.
The government understands that they will prevail, but are uncertain about how many more people will die from terrorist attacks before Baath and al Qaeda are crushed. The terrorists have allies in the foreign media, who label the terrorists as nationalistic insurgents. The media portrays the terrorists as having some kind of chance of taking over. But with 80 percent of the population (the Kurds and Shia Arabs) dead set against Baath and al Qaeda (for many reasons), and the Sunni Arabs resisting the terror as well, it's difficult to see how anyone with a sense of history, or a knowledge of basic math, can fall for that.
The U.S, military planners, from the beginning, saw the situation as a classic counter-terrorist operation. The American military has been winning these kinds of wars for over a century, and the methods used then still work. The U.S. Marines, who did a lot of this in the early part of the 20th century, wrote a book about it in 1940; "The Small Wars Manual." This is still be used successfully. Vietnam was one of the few times American counter-terrorism tactics failed. Or did they? Actually, they didn't. By the early 1970s, the communist rebels in South Vietnam were crushed. What people forget was that South Vietnam fell to a conventional invasion from the north in 1975. The Baath Party and al Qaeda have no neighbor with an army ready to come in and rescue them.
This time around, American troops have better tools to collect information, identify the terrorists and quickly carry out raids. The terrorists had big advantages, in that they were Iraqi and the Iraqi population knew very well what the Baath thugs were capable of. A further complication was the attempt by the newly formed Iraqi government to negotiate deals with traditional Iraqi tribal and religious leaders. It was thought that these leaders could rally their followers to resist the terrorists. This had worked among the Kurds and Shia Arabs. There was some resistance from Shia Arab groups that wanted to establish an Islamic Republic, but these were defeated by the Summer of 2004. But many of the Sunni Arab leaders have proved unable, or unwilling, to resist the terrorism.
The battle against the Iraqi terror is not being reported accurately. One reason is that the American military cannot release information then have about the enemy, as that would let the terrorists know what is known about them. This is a war of information. The terrorists depend on secrecy for protection. They must remain invisible to survive. But bit by bit, the Baath Party and al Qaeda organization has been revealed. And as it is, raids go in and take it apart. Towns and neighborhoods are cleared of terrorists and staffed with police and army bases.
Al Qaeda is a crucial factor in this war, because many of them are foreigners, and all are fanatical fighters who will go anywhere to die for the cause. Baath Party fighters are more likely to remain in their own neighborhoods. So al Qaeda is the mobile reserve of the terrorist force. But al Qaeda is still an organization, and organizations can be identified, located and taken apart.
There is a war going on in Iraq, it's just not the one you read about in the mass media.