Iraq: Never Forget, Never Forgive

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April 5, 2007: With things quieting down in Baghdad, more forces are following the terrorist groups to their new bases in the suburbs. A major breakthrough in counter-terrorist operations is the ability to actually track down the people behind the specific terrorist bombings. People are more willing to talk, especially in the Sunni Arab community. There, the attitude is that the terror campaign has failed, the Shia and Kurds have an unassailable military edge, and that if the violence does not stop, the Sunni Arab community will be destroyed. Even Sunni Arabs in neighboring countries are telling the Iraqi Sunnis that resistance is futile. This has created an even more intense backlash against al Qaeda, for whom surrender is unthinkable. Al Qaeda has made a major commitment to success in Iraq. Failure here will be a major defeat. But failure is what is happening. Iraqi Sunni Arab tribes are actively going after al Qaeda groups, and now these Sunni Arab tribal militias are cooperating with the American and government security forces in tracking down the al Qaeda bomb factories, bomb builder and bomb delivery teams. But al Qaeda has a deep bench in Iraq, courtesy of Saddam's many henchmen. These guys are on death lists for the crimes they committed for Saddam. If vengeful kin don't get them, there's the prospect of prosecution for crimes against humanity. The world may have forgotten about these fellows, but many Iraqis have not. The only way out for Saddam's killers is to get back into power, or get amnesty. The government has been unable to promise a wide enough amnesty because, as a democracy, the majority of the population is against it. So it's a fight to the death, and the bad guys are losing.

The number of terrorist bombings is down, because of the losses the terrorists are suffering. So they have changed their strategy and gone for the kind of attacks that elicit the most public outrage (mass killings of civilians), In Tal Afar, one such bombing in a market place did trigger revenge killings. About a hundred people were killed in the bombing on March 29th. The media reported 152 dead, but these media reports are almost always exaggerations. The revenge attacks by Shia police and death squads left about 70 Sunni Arabs dead. Police and death squad members were arrested, but will probably not be prosecuted. However, in Iraqi terms, that is a major change in attitude. The death squads are no longer tolerated, even if some squad members are cops. A large local terrorist atrocity will generate a local spasm of revenge violence, but it no longer spreads and reverberates for weeks. This has been a major blow to the radical Shia political parties backed by Iran. These groups, and their Iranian backers, had hoped to exploit the desire for revenge to gather more popular support. But most Iraqis are tired of the violence. Saddam's victims still want revenge, but are more willing to wait for it. Saddams henchmen know this, that their crimes will never be forgotten, or forgiven.

Iraqi security forces have taken control of Maysan province, in the south. Iraq has 18 provinces, and one by one, control of security is being transferred from Coalition troops to Iraqi forces. Security, however, isn't the biggest problem in Iraq, corruption is. The concept of freely stealing public money is an ancient one in this part of the world. It took the West centuries of effort to get corruption under control, but in places like Iraq, the problem is still a major obstacle to effective government. A large minority of Iraqis accept that the corruption must stop if Iraq is to realize its full potential. But the anti-corruption groups are faced with death threats, and a constitution that protects the corrupt. By law, government ministers can block corruption investigations, and hundreds have been halted because the thief had a powerful friend (who was probably being paid for the favor). We're talking big money here. The anti-corruption organization (the Public Integrity Commission) estimates that $8 billion has been stolen in the past three years. Most of it does not go to foreign bank accounts and luxuries, but to support tribal, political and religious factions. Patronage, in effect. In Iraq, like anywhere else, power is calculated by the number, and devotion, of your followers. If you are a tribal leader, you have the respect, and some loyalty, from members of the tribe. But if you also have a large number of tribal members on your payroll, the loyalty is more intense. Saddam understood that, which was why, when he was in charge, the 20 percent of the population that supported him (mainly the Sunni Arab minority) got access to about 80 percent of the oil revenue. That stopped in early 2003, and that's a primary reason why the Sunni Arabs have continued to fight. As with most problems in the world, if you want to find the cause, follow the money.

 

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