The tragedy of Iraq is that it is a nation that has been run by terrorists for over three decades. And these Iraqi terrorists are not yet defeated. No one knows how long it will take to eliminate the terrorism, because in the past, conquerors of Iraq always made deals with the dominant group to help run things. But in 2003, the dominant group, the Sunni Arabs, were not offered control of Iraq by the invading coalition. Worse, the coalition has, in effect, offered control of Iraq to the people who were ruled, and terrorized, by the Sunni Arabs for many generations. And the Sunni Arabs are expressing their displeasure with a terror campaign.
The Sunni Arabs, at least the ones who were active in running Saddam's police state organization, know that the Kurds and Shia Arabs will hunt them down and punish them eventually. This despite the fact that large areas of central Iraq are populated by Sunni Arabs who will not inform on the Sunni Arab terrorists, either because they fear them, or feel they are part of the terrorist organization. The Sunni Arab terror movement is not entirely born out of fear of retribution. There is also greed. The Sunni Arab terrorists know that there are few places they can flee to with the money they stole while they worked for Saddam. For the moment, Syria is a sanctuary. But that won't last, as Syria is under enormous pressure from America and Iraq to give up these thugs. Syria is apparently shaking down these fugitives, not wanting to give them up while there is still loot to be looted. As a result, many of Saddam's bully boys have decided to stay in Iraq and fight it out. This is according to a plan developed by Baath Party leaders before the April, 2003 invasion. The Baath Party leadership was not stupid. But Saddam had gotten them into an awful mess.
The UN embargo was preventing the sale of Iraqi oil, and Saddam would not allow the UN weapons inspectors to go wherever they wanted, lest they gather too much evidence of Saddam's war crimes. Saddam was alarmed at what was happening in the Balkans, and elsewhere, as it became increasingly fashionable to identify and prosecute war criminals. Saddam kept extensive records of his atrocities, and UN weapons inspectors loved to seize records. Saddam could not proclaim that he had no weapons of mass destruction, as he felt the possible possession of those weapons were the only thing stopping Iran from invading. Ever since the 1980s war with Iran, triggered by an Iraqi invasion in 1980, Iran vowed revenge against Saddam. Through the 1990s, Iraq was militarily weak. So Saddam sought to protect himself with a bodyguard of lies. Saddam was also exceptionally good at surrounding himself with good personal security, and clever propaganda that made him a hero to many Sunni Arabs. So the Baath Party was stuck with Saddam, and Saddam's stupid decisions.
That all changed in early 2003, when Saddam's army was smashed, and his government overthrown. The Baath Party was now free of Saddam, who had been replaced by an American dominated military coalition. No problem.
Taking out Saddam's army cost the Americans fewer than 700 casualties (dead and wounded.) That was the easy part. However, the Baath Party was not defeated in that campaign. It was still there. Oh, sure, the Baath Party officials fled Kurdish and Shia Arab areas and were in disarray for a while. May, 2003, was the month of the lowest number of American casualties (91.) As the Baath Party got its terror campaign going, the American casualty count began to rise. In November, 2003, the Baath terrorists began a major campaign of roadside bombs and ambushes. That month, American troops suffered 457 casualties. But the Americans struck back. One of the less publicized aspects of the Abu Ghraib torture incident, was that the torture did produce results. Lots of Baath Party leaders were picked up, and the terrorist operation was hurt badly. American casualties kept going down, until, in February 2004, they dipped to 166. Meanwhile, the Baath Party, and their new al Qaeda allies, had centralized a lot of their operations in Fallujah. American troops saw this as an opportunity to wipe out a major element of the Baath terror machine, so Fallujah was attacked. But in the middle of the battle, a truce was called. Sunni Arab leaders had convinced other Iraqi leaders that it was possible to work out a deal with the terrorists, or most of them. This proved untrue, and the Baath Party violence did not decline. Nor did American casualties, which were 1,344 in April, 2004, during the first battle for Fallujah. For the rest of the year, American casualties fluctuated between 600 and 900 a month. Both the terrorists and American troops were on the offensive. This culminated in the second battle of Fallujah during November, 2004. This time, the Baath Party was not able to talk their way out of it. But American casualties that month were a record 1,504. However, the success in Fallujah worked, as U.S. casualties dropped to 603 in December, and 549 in January. While some 4,000 terrorists were killed or captured in Fallujah, an equal number fled before the battle began, and set up shop in Mosul and Samara.
The Baath Party has a new problem. Their terror campaign is not working. The original plan was to either hurt the Americans so much that they would withdraw, or to trigger a civil war between Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs. As the best organized and most ruthless organization in Iraq, Baath believed that either of these situations would enable them to regain power. But the Americans proved good at dealing with Baath and al Qaeda terror attacks. Most of the roadside bombs were found and destroyed. Ambushes usually ended up with the ambushers on the defensive because of better trained and equipped American troops. Worse, there were more and more effective Iraqi army and police units showing up every month. While Baath has gotten a lot of aid from the Sunni Arab media, especially al Jazeera, and is portrayed in the Moslem world, and elsewhere, as "insurgents" rather than "terrorists," this is not helping Baath inside Iraq. They are getting hammered by the American and Iraqi troops, and it's getting worse.
So Baath is going to "Plan C." If Baath can work out some kind of amnesty deal with the Iraqi government, many of them can escape with their lives. Not all, because many of their victims families have vowed revenge. There have already been hundreds of Baath Party thugs killed by these vengeance operations. No amnesty deal will stop all the Kurdish and Shia Arab vengeance operations. But more and more of the Baath Party hard core are doing the math. Moreover, the re-election of George Bush, and large turn out in the January 30 Iraqi elections, means that Baath won't be rescued by a more accommodating American president, or proof that Iraqis are intimidated.
Al Qaeda still wants to fight on. They are on a mission from God. But Baath is not. For these guys, power is a business. And business has changed with the new government, and an American military effort that Baath has not been able to beat. It's the end of the road for the Iraqi Baath party, although some of the diehards will do just that.