Theres an elaborate chess game going on in central Iraq, and along the Syrian border. Actually, its more of a chase game, as the al Qaeda and Sunni Arab terrorist groups attempt to maintain control of the shrinking number of areas where they can establish their safe houses and bomb making workshops. This process began last Fall, with the battle for Fallujah. While this action left several thousand terrorists killed or captured, at least two thousand, including most of the terrorist leaders, fled Fallujah before the city fell. Over the next few months, the terrorists tried to take over another town, or portion of a city, like Mosul. This didnt work, although it generated some great headlines about a terrorist "comeback". If the terrorists tried to hold ground, American troops came in and killed or captured them. Increasingly, the Americans arrived with Iraqi police or soldiers along, who were able to quickly canvass the liberated area to find out who might be pro-government, and arrest those who are not (and enthusiastic about it). There were always a few. Names were taken and phone numbers given out. Sometimes, cell phones were given out as well.
The enemy became like nomads, with their caravans of cars, SUVs and pickup trucks moving at night from one sort-of-safe area to another. Increasingly, the caravans of gunmen rolls into areas containing a higher proportion of people hostile to them. The Sunni Arabs have become anti-terrorist for very pragmatic reasons; money. When the caravan of gunmen shows up, they bring with them bullies, religious fanatics and, eventually, American smart bombs. But the terrorists, and their attacks on reconstruction efforts, have also brought over two years of poverty. The Sunni Arabs used to get most of the oil revenue, now they get practically nothing, because the terrorists wont let any goodies in. Sunnis Arabs note that when the Americans come, they bring goodies. If the Americans stay, they bring in Iraqi cops and money for jobs and building things. This is another case of money as a weapon.
The terrorists fight back by making raids of their own. They will drive into a town or neighborhood in strength, usually a few dozen gunmen. They will stay for hours, days, or even a week if their presence is not reported (which quickly brings American or Iraqi troops, and damn smart bombs.) The terrorists will try to intimidate people, to encourage them not to call the government and report where the terrorists are. More and more Sunni Arabs know the Americans will pay for information, and what the phone numbers are to call. For this reason, the terrorists are very hostile to the spreading cell phone service. Cell phones too often mean death for terrorists, as they are used by angry Iraqis to report where the terrorists are hiding. Terrorists have long used cell phones in Baghdad to set off bombs, but in the towns outside of Baghdad, and along the Syrian border, where the terrorists like to hide out, cell phones are viewed with great suspicion.
The tips have led to more reports of smart bombs hitting safe houses in towns where there are not American troops or Iraqi troops. These 500 pound bombs often often arrive unexpectedly at night (to limit civilian casualties), and set off secondary explosions, as terrorist munitions explode. Another recent tip, from an arrested suspect, led to a hiding place for two kidnap victims, including an American contractor who had been held for ten months. Most of the kidnap victims freed are Iraqis, and these rarely get reported in the American media. But kidnapping rescues are big news in Iraq, because most of the victims are Iraqis.
Terrorists are spending more of their time running, and less time planting roadside bombs or attacking Iraqi police and government officials. In the last two weeks, attacks are down by about half. Some believe that the terrorists are massing their strength to try and disrupt next months voting. But on the ground, there are more and more towns are patrolled by Iraqi police, or pro-government tribal militia, and not al Qaeda or Sunni Arab terrorists. It's becoming more and more difficult for the terrorists to hold ground, much less build and use roadside or car bombs. The objective here is to turn central Iraq into an area where the terrorists are constantly on the run, and eventually run right into the ground and out of business.