Iraq: Ramadan and Referendum Rumbles

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September 14, 2005: Two developments are likely to lead to a marked increase in the number of terrorist attacks over the next few weeks.

  • Ramadan: the Moslem "Lent" begins around October 4th and ends about November 2nd In the past two years terrorist attacks increased greatly, by about 25-percent in 2003 and nearly double that rate in 2004. The targets were most often Shia mosques and holy places, crowded with worshipers, leading to a high casualty rate.
  • Constitutional Referendum: On October 15th Iraqis will go to the polls to ratify the new draft Constitution. Results are expected to be announced about two weeks later. In the past, elections for the provisional government and delegates to the Constitutional convention led to significant increases in the number of terrorist attacks.

Coalition and Iraqi forces are being beefed up for the referendum, in an effort to insure greater security. Nevertheless, the level of violence is likely to rise sharply over the next few weeks.

The referendum has already led to some interesting political developments. Sunni clergy are urging their followers to turn out in great numbers, in order to deliver a resounding "No" vote on the new charter. In contrast, most Shia clergy are urging their followers to vote "Yes," though dissident cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has instructed his followers to be prepared to vote, while reserving a decision on whether they should support or oppose the constitution until the last minute, apparently in an attempt to gain some political leverage.

Over the past year, Sadr has "reformed" himself somewhat, trying to project a more moderate image, which includes reaching out to some Sunni leaders, urging less violent resistance to the "occupation," and even changing his mode of dress somewhat. However, Sadr is also suspected of being in contact with anti-government Sunni Arab groups. Twice, Sadr has ordered his gunmen to attack Americans, and twice his gunmen have been crushed. But the last time, it was found that Sunni Arab terrorist groups had come to the assistance of Sadr's men. For this reason, Sadr is seen as a man more concerned with personal ambition, than what is best for his Shia Arab followers.

In the town of Tal Afar, after five days of fighting, terrorists were pursued through the streets by Iraqi police commandoes. Several terrorist gangs were trapped in Tal Afar, which is on the Syrian border. The terrorists stood and fought, but that led to some 500 of them getting killed or captured by American troops. Now, Iraqi police are going house-to-house to find those who have tried to escape by pretending to be unarmed civilians.

Despite all the fighting along the Syrian border, American casualties in the last two weeks have been half of what they've been the last few months. The number of terrorist attacks is way down, and more of the combat operations are being conducted by Iraqi troops.

 

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