Anbar and the Wild West. The recent pact between the government and local leaders that established "Anbar Tribal Sheiks Council" (ATSC) is beginning to pay off. A number of tribal leaders have agreed to initiate routine patrols of roads in the province, to supplement government military and police patrols. The patrols will help reduce insurgent attacks on road traffic, which will lead to an improved economic situation in the province. In addition, by increasing the number of security personnel, and the number of check points, the tribal patrols will impede terrorist movements. Since the terrorism activity in Anbar is not almost completely dominated by Al Qaeda (viewed as "foreigners" by the locals), this will have a serious impact on the security situation there. Naturally, al Qaeda action against the ATSC is expected. It will probably come in the form of assassination attempts against prominent sheiks or members of their families. This may turn out to be counter-productive, since vengeance is an ancient tribal tradition. In the past, al Qaeda has been driven from many areas in central Iraq, when the terrorists sought to terrorize tribes with the assassination of tribal leaders. There are over a hundred functioning tribal organizations in Iraq, and al Qaeda now has the support of less than a dozen.
Why is there peace and prosperity in the north, and why doesn't anyone talk about it? Actually, the economy is booming in the Shia Arab south as well, but there is also some violence down there. But nearly all the violence you hear about in Iraq is in Sunni Arab areas of central Iraq. Meanwhile, the north is so peaceful that Western journalists, and just about anyone else, can move about freely, without fear of attack. How can this be? Well, for one thing, the Kurds have tight controls on their borders, and any Arabs entering are checked carefully. Arab Iraqis are welcome to visit, and many do, for vacations from the violence in the south. When asked, Kurds attribute their peaceful neighborhood to the fact that Kurds are not Arabs. But this is not the main reason, for the Kurds have, in the past, been as factious and violent as the Iraqi Arabs are now. But during the 1990s, when the U.S. and Britain agreed to keep Saddam's forces out of the north (to prevent another large scale massacre of Kurds), the Kurds sorted out their differences and learned the benefits of cooperation and law and order. In effect, the Kurds had a ten year head start on the rest of Iraq, in the "how to create peace and democracy" department. The Iraqi Arabs, Sunni and Shia, who come north on business, or for a vacation, note this. The Arabs believe they are superior to the Kurds ("a bunch of hillbillies," to most Arabs), and find it irritating that the Kurds have made things work, while down south, especially in central Iraq, things are still a mess. Given another seven years, the Iraqi Arabs will probably catch up. But this is not a popular solution to the "Iraq problem," and no career-conscious journalist is going to talk about it.
While the new Iraqi Army has been developing nicely, the national police remain mired in corruption, brutality, and sectarianism. These are traditional ills in Iraq, and most of the Middle East for that matter. But they are also major obstacles to suppressing the terrorist organizations, since effective police work is at least as important as capable military operations. Efforts are underway to improve training, pay, and leadership. Some police units are being disbanded, when the leadership of the unit has been found totally inadequate. This is all a result of the Sunni Arab monopoly on military and police commands when Saddam was in power. Saddam only trusted Sunni Arabs, and few Kurds or Shia Arabs got senior police posts. Because of this, the new government had to start from scratch in building new leadership for the new army and police. This effort was more successful with the army. Many of the new police commanders were more loyal to their tribes, or their own financial success, than to their police responsibilities.