Iraq: Taking Down The Gangs of Iraq

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March 17,2008: The collapse of the Sunni Arab terror movement has not halted Sunni Arab efforts to hurt the country. Sunni Arabs are still heavily involved in corruption and criminal gangs. Having dominated the economy and government for centuries, the corrupt practices of the Sunni Arabs have become the model for other groups that attain power. But the blame should not entirely be on the Sunni Arabs. Over two thousand years ago, Greek, and then Roman, conquers of the Middle East complained of the corruption endemic in the region, and how it even turned upright Greek or Roman officials into crooks and slackers. Much written discussion of these travails has survived. There's definitely something in the local culture that works against most attempts to establish efficient government. One form of government, tyranny, works. That's another local tradition that goes way back, a thousand years before the Greeks and Romans showed up. What Iraq suffers from now is not a lack of leadership, but a surplus of "strong men" who have their own private armies, aversion to compromise and strong sense of entitlement. Too many guys think they should be in charge, and see it normal to buy off, or kill off, anyone who disagrees.

Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party cronies practiced these nasty habits with intimidating enthusiasm. Iraq became the "Republic of Fear." Now Iraq is the Republic of Thieves. There's a billion dollars a week of oil revenue to plunder, and with the terrorist violence way down, U.S. investigators are asking tough questions about where the money is, or has gone. The U.S. has been spending over $100 million a week on Iraqi reconstruction, and that effort is too often more visible than what the Iraqi government is supposed to be doing. Iraqis have noticed this, and the Iraqi media has taken up the cause of clean, or at least effective, government.

Over the next four months, the number of American troops in the country will drop from 162,000 to 140,000. One of the last big operations is in and around Mosul. Here, many battered terrorist groups have taken refuge among the threatened (by Kurds) Sunni Arab communities. Thousands of Iraqis, and foreigners, still support the use of terror for religious reasons. The killers are disproportionately poorly educated, unemployed younger sons with no prospects (no marriage, no career.) For guys like these, dying as a religious "hero" has some appeal. They come from throughout the Middle East, because Iraq is easy to get into, and "martyrdom" is readily available. Efforts to break up the organizations that bring in the "martyrs" and get them to terror teams that can provide explosives, or some other suicidal mission, have been increased. Iraqi police and troops are playing a larger role in this. The security forces are encouraged by the population in general. The sharp decrease in terror attacks over the last six months has made it possible for people to assemble and demonstrate, and what they are shouting about is crime and corruption. Gangsters are keeping their heads down, but are not going away. There's still money to be made from kidnapping, extortion, drugs, prostitution, gambling and sundry other vices. Not so much working with terrorists anymore. Too dangerous. Easy money is the preferred approach, and a lot of crime is still easy to get away with.

The misfortunes of the Sunni Arab tough guys has provided more opportunities for the Shia gangs. Many of these began as religious fanatics, but are now in it for the money and power. Police are cracking down, and more frequently resulting in gun battles and major raids. It's a beginning, for there are hundreds of gangs. The U.S. intelligence efforts of the last five years have found that all the data collected on terrorists also picked up lots of useful stuff on the gangsters of Iraq.

 

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