Syria has cracked down on some terrorist activity on its side of the border, but smugglers are still getting some people, cash and weapons into Iraq, helping to sustain the remaining Sunni terror groups. Iran sends more terrorist support into Iraq, but these groups have not been active. Many of the Islamic radicals Iran supports are taught to be less public with their violence. Thus recent assassinations of senior security officials, by pistols equipped with silencers, is suspected to be from Iran trained killers. There has been a spike in terror attacks in the last few weeks, with over 200 killed (most in a few high-profile operations). The majority of recent attacks killed only a few people each, or none at all. The police and army are getting better at controlling terrorism, but terrorists who are foiled (prevented from reaching their intended target, or forced to abort) are not big news, even though more terrorist operations are being detected and halted.
Sunni Arab terrorists are still setting off several bombs a week, in addition to using gunfire attacks against police and security officials. The car bombs, which are the most devastating, get through because of poor leadership, and the ability of terrorists to bribe police. Not all cops can be bribed, and suicide bombers are increasingly caught, or later found to have aborted their attacks because of security. But the ancient terrorist tools, "blood (killing key security officials) or gold (bribing cops)" still works. Another factor is a mindset that rejects critical thought. Case in point is the $85 million worth of ADE 651 explosives detectors. Iraqi officials bought thousands of these hand held devices purchased two years ago, for up to $60,000 each. The devices were fake, and a year ago the government was persuaded that this was the case and an investigation began. Recently, the government got $20 million of their money back, after officially admitting that the detectors were a scam. The British manufacturer is being prosecuted in Britain for fraud. The ADE 651 contains useless components, and repeated tests showed that it could not detect anything. Apparently a large chunk of the money Iraq paid for the ADE 651 was kicked back to the Iraqi officials who approved the sale. The ADE 651 is very cheap to make, and the manufacturer made a huge profit even after paying the bribes. No one in Iraq tested the ADE 651, they just took the government's word that the device worked, and it is still being used. The problem is that some senior police officials still insist ADE 651 works, as do many police manning checkpoints. Science and reality says otherwise, but in Iraq, science and reality does not carry as much weight as in the West.
Iraqis believe their example was responsible for the pro-democracy movements in Tunisia, Egypt and in other Arab states. But that attitude is only popular inside Iraq, as the media in the rest of the world was generally hostile to the removal of the Iraqi dictatorship by foreign invasion, and still is. Thus Iraqis get little credit for the democracy they are building. But what's going on is instructive for what would likely happen in other new Arab democracies. Corruption, tribalism and continuing terrorist violence can be expected. It won't be easy or safe to be a democrat in an Arab nation that was long ruled by a dictator.
U.S. auditors find that the main reason for poor police performance, and the slowness in rebuilding the armed forces (so Iraq could defend itself against, say, an Iranian invasion), is corruption and a tolerance for failure. The two often go together. These are painful subjects for the Iraqi media to cover, but increasingly the problems are getting more coverage. As a result, more journalists are being threatened and attack. In Iraq, building honest and efficient government is getting a lot of good people killed.
February 3, 2011: Nearly a year after the elections, the last of the government ministers were selected for the new government. This was a painful, and drawn-out, exercise in democracy.
In Western Iraq, several bomb attacks against police left ten dead (seven of them policemen) and 20 wounded. This area, Anbar Province, is heavily Sunni Arab and believed where most Islamic terrorists have their bases. Government efforts to find the Anbar terrorists is hampered by corruption (cops being bribed) and attacks on honest police who get too close.
January 27, 2011: A car bomb went off in Baghdad at the funeral for Shia victims of an earlier attack on pilgrims. Over fifty mourners were killed, and there was an outbreak of popular violence against the police, for failing to protect the pilgrims or mourners. Actually, the police (who are largely Shia) do a pretty good job protecting the millions of Shia pilgrims moving through Iraq each year. But it only takes one successful attack every few months to make all those actual, and potential, pilgrims nervous and angry.
January 23, 2011: Last year, 118,890 Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons returned to their homes. This was a 40 percent drop from 2009. Many refugees are still waiting for the government to control the Sunni and Shia radical groups that continue to threaten returning refugees, and many others.