Iraq: The Second Liberation of Baghdad

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November 9, 2007: American military commanders believe al Qaeda has been driven from Baghdad, and the only areas still controlled by terrorists are those occupied by Shia militias. These amount to about 13 percent of the city area, and pacifying them will be a political, more than a military, problem. The Shia militias, or rather their leaders, also control several government ministries. The militias are also heavily involved in several criminal activities, especially black market gasoline. There are still Sunni Arab criminal gangs, but they are out of political terrorism now, and keeping their heads down. The Sunni Arab community in Baghdad is ready to accept any political deal they can get from the government. Outside Baghdad, Sunni Arab groups are more feisty, although at the moment, few of them support al Qaeda. Many Sunni Arabs outside Baghdad still back terrorism against foreign troops. Very few Sunni Arabs still believe they can regain control of the government, and most are not sure they will be able to remain in the country. At this point, U.S. troops are mostly concerned with controlling the Shia militias. These groups still have it in for Sunni Arabs. While political murders are down 80 percent (of their peak last year, when over 3,000 civilians were being killed a month), most Shia would still like to see all the Sunni Arabs gone.

Foreign terrorists are still getting into the country, and al Qaeda is still operating in the Baghdad suburbs and near the border of the northern Iraq Kurdish region. The most dangerous terrorists are still the Sunni Arab ones, although Shia militias are attacking U.S. troops as well. But roadside bomb use is down 70 percent, and the people building and deploying these weapons are on the defensive.

Peace won't arrive until the police are able to assert themselves throughout the country. That's not impossible. The Kurdish areas have been at peace for years, and many areas in the Shia south have seen little or no terrorism. However, many rural Sunni Arab areas have been without police since 2003. Recruiting and training will take years. Meanwhile, tribal militias or other informal security units are all that's available. These are subject to corruption, or control by a local warlord or big shot.

Corruption, and organized crime, remain a nationwide problem, even in the Kurdish north. Solving these problems is a long term effort. In particular, corruption is so ingrained that it may take generations to get under control. Where there is a lot of corruption, there is always potential for unrest.

 

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