The latest offensive against terrorist bases along the Syrian border has gotten results. After four days of operations, 3,500 American and Iraqi troops have killed at least 36 terrorists and arrested 200 suspects. So far, one American marine was killed, and several U.S. and Iraqi troops have been wounded. The raids were based on intelligence information (informers and electronic eavesdropping.) Much of the action currently revolves around the border town of Husaybah, where al Qaeda has been quite active. The town was surrounded pretty effectively, forcing the terrorists to fight. The battle has been street to street, with the poorly trained enemy gunmen being taken down one by one. Many of the 30,000 civilians in the town have fled, with some terrorists getting caught as they tried to pass as civilians. The terrorists were easy to identify, at least for Iraqi soldiers doing the screening, because most of the al Qaeda fighters are foreigners. The different dialects of Arabic are quite distinctive.
Husaybah has long been a major transit point for terrorists coming in from Syria. For the last month, American smart bombs have acted on intelligence information to destroy safe houses and bomb workshops. The current offensive is to clean out the remaining terrorists, and turn the town over to the Iraqi police and civil authorities. Previously, there had been enough al Qaeda terrorists in the town to dominate the local government. The Sunni Arab population has been, over the last year, moving from pro-terrorist to pro-government. The foreign terrorists were cruel and arbitrary, insisting that civilians adhere to a strict version of Islam. The terrorists also became increasingly paranoid as they became aware of growing pro-government attitudes. This led to some violence against some local civilians. All this was a replay of the rise and fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. There, the al Qaeda arrogance, and cruelty towards who were not Islamic enough, made the terrorists unpopular with civilians, and contributed to the rapid collapse of the Taliban government in October, 2001.
Al Qaeda has responded by issuing a vague threat of more terror attacks if the offensive in Husaybah was not halted. Some Sunni Arab leaders have asked that the military operations stop, and negotiations be used as well. These demands are mainly to keep the terrorists happy, and less inclined to assassinate the Sunni Arab politicians involved. Everyone knows that the negotiation tactic is a loser. If a Sunni Arab tribe wants to avoid a war in their backyard, they have to gather their own militiamen together and toss the local terrorists out. American and Iraqi troops can be made available to assist in these operations, and often do. But if the terrorists dominate a town or neighborhood, and the locals will not, or cannot, deal with the situation, then the troops come in. The al Qaeda groups have not got many places left to run, at least in Iraq. What makes the Syrians nervous is the possibility that al Qaeda will be driven out of Iraq, and will then try to operate from Syria. This could lead to American and Iraqi raids against these bases.