During the 1990s, Saddam drained 90 percent of the marshes in southern Iraq, in order to drive away the rebellious "Marsh Arabs." Since 2003, 40 percent of the marshes have been re-flooded, and wildlife, especially birds, have returned. You don't hear much about southern Iraq, or the north, for that matter. That's because these regions, and most of Iraq, are at peace. Not so central Iraq, where most of the Sunni Arab minority lives. The American and government crackdown on Shia militias has caused the militias to lie low. The black clad Mahdi militia gunmen are no longer seen on the street, and many of the militia leaders, believing their names are in American databases, have fled to the south, or north into Kurdistan. A little vacation, a little time to recharge. Let the Americans kill Sunnis for a while.
Actually, everyone got a chance to kill Sunnis over the weekend. Aradical religious movement had gathered several hundred armed men near Najaf, in order to attack a Shia religious festival this week. It was difficult to hide that many armed men, fighting ensued, and nearly 300 of the radical "Soldiers of Heaven" (as their headbands proclaimed) were killed. Shia police and troops did most of the fighting, with American helicopters and smart bombs providing support.
The gloves are off on Iranians. The Shia majority government had provided diplomatic, and other cover, for Iranian military advisers operating in Iraq. The Iraqi government would regularly come to the aid of Iranians captured by U.S. forces. But American troops have now been ordered to ignore any Iraqi interference, and capture or kill any Iranians they could find. The U.S. and the Iraqi government have been arguing about this Iranian influence for over two years. But in the past year, the U.S. has built up quite a collection of documents and interrogation videos, making it pretty obvious that Iran was running its own war in Iraq, attacking Sunni Arabs, Kurds and foreigners (including Arab diplomats.) The government feels betrayed by the Iranian Islamic conservatives who have, they believe, crossed the line with their support of Shia terrorists.
Meanwhile, the battle for Anbar province, and the Sunni Arab suburbs of Baghdad continues. The big new thing this year is "screening." In the past, when U.S. or Iraqi troops drove the terrorists out of a Sunni town, there was a call for volunteers to man the police department and various government positions. Much was made of the difficulty in getting volunteers, for the terrorists were gone, but still out there. Turned out that these volunteers would often fold when the Sunni terrorists returned. The police would flee any violence, and the local officials would cooperate with the bad guys. So now the volunteers are being screened. Exactly how that came about is a story in itself, because in Iraqi society, screening traditionally consists of checking family connections, or the size of a bribe. Now the candidates are checked for their potential honesty and loyalty to their jobs. A radical concept in this part of the world. Remains to be seen how well it will work.
The Sunni Arabs, even in wholly Sunni towns in Anbar, are getting nervous. The news of what's happening in Baghdad, where entire Sunni neighborhoods have been cleaned out, is pretty scary. Fighting the Americans is a losing proposition, and the Iraqi army units usually have some Americans with them, who can call in the damn smart bombs. It's not fair.