The numerous, and growing, demonstrations this month were mainly about basics, like the lack of regular electric supplies, clean water supplies and sewers, or sewers that worked. Also in big demand was government officials who did their job, and didn't steal everything they were responsible for. Largely ignored was the fact that the culture of corruption is ancient in this part of the world, and won't be easy to be rid of. For example, in the last few days it was obvious that government security forces were paying careful attention to the demonstrations, and eventually arrested over 400 "leaders" (journalists, bloggers and other media commentators calling for clean government and demonstrations.) Just because you're a greedy, dishonest politician, doesn't mean you're stupid. Those arrested in this roundup, were beaten and tortured, to try and discover some grand foreign conspiracy to overthrow the government. There's wasn't any, and many of those arrested had friends or family who were well enough connected (to Iraqi or foreign officials) to get them released after a day or so. But the government got its message across. We know who you are, and can come and get you. The intimidation did not stop the demonstrations, but did remind many reform minded Iraqis that cleaning up government won't be easy. The police, however, largely stayed away from clergy, possibly because Sunni and Shia religious leaders were united in supporting the demonstrations, and threatening to denounce individual security commanders if there were police attacks on mosques and clergy.
In other ways, the 650,000 Iraqi security forces (police and military) are getting better. Terrorist violence last year was down 10 percent over the previous year. By Iraqi, and regional, standards, the police response to the recent demonstrations was restrained. But lacking Saddam's use of terror and secret police, shutting down the remaining Islamic terror groups is going to take a while longer.
February 26, 2011: In a pre-dawn raid, men armed with pistols and silencers entered the Baiji refinery, 180 kilometers north of the capital, and set off explosives that caused enough damage to shut down the facility. Baiji is the largest refinery in the country, producing 25 million liters (over six million gallons) a day of gasoline (petrol), kerosene and similar items. Islamic terrorists have tried to shut down Baiji in the past, but no one took credit for this attack (which left four dead). It is believed that the damage will take several months to repair.
February 25, 2011: In most cities, large demonstrations were held, as planned, against government corruption and mismanagement. Inspired by the demonstrations that overthrew dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the Iraqis are not seeking to overthrow the government they elected a year ago, but to coerce these officials to stop stealing and operate more efficiently. There were over a hundred casualties, and twenty dead. The police and soldiers were not particularly violent in trying to restrain the crowds, but there was some gunfire and vigorous use of clubs. Muqtada al Sadr urged his Shia radical followers to stay off the streets, and government officials promised to be behave better.
February 24, 2011: In Western Iraq, security forces cornered and killed al Nasser Lideen Allah Abu Suleiman, a senior leader (the "war minister") of the Islamic State of Iraq. This group is a close ally of al Quaeda, and is attempting to restore Sunni Arab rule for Iraq. Elsewhere in the area, a suicide bomber killed twelve in Ramadi (at a religious celebration).
February 22, 2011: In an attempt to defuse growing rage, and plans for major anti-corruption demonstrations on the 25th, officials promised to personally supervise touchy items like the distribution of food to the poor, and to fire officials notorious for corruption.
February 21, 2011: About a hundred kilometers north of the capital, a suicide car bomber killed a dozen security personnel. This violence is part of the struggle between Sunni Arab and Kurdish groups in the area. In the capital, parliament was shut down for a week, with legislators urged to return to their constituencies and try to placate the voters. To that end, parliament voted to reduce members pay and benefits (which were high, even by Western standards.) There have been more and more anti-corruption demonstrations in the past two weeks. The security forces have been firm, but not violent. There have been over a hundred demonstrators injured, with at least four dead.
February 20, 2011: Parliament approved an $82.6 billion budget for the next year. In response to recent anti-corruption demonstrations, the budget had a lot of obvious gifts and benefits, for politicians, removed.
In the Kurdish north, over forty unidentified gunmen attacked an independent TV station and shut it down by shooting up the broadcasting equipment. The stations had only been on the air for a week, and had broadcast stories about the anti-corruption demonstrations against unpopular and ineffective Kurdish leaders. The Kurds have always been divided by clan and tribe (dominated by the feuding Barzani and Talibani clans). Since gaining independence (via U.S. and British air power) from the Iraqi Arabs in the early 1991s, the Kurds have maintained a shaky alliance between two coalitions. Both are corrupt, and the Kurdish leaders do not want their lucrative corruption interfered with or criticized.
February 12, 2011: In the Shia south, a Sunni suicide bomber killed 30 pilgrims visiting Shia shrines.
February 10, 2011: In the northern city of Kirkuk, three car bombs went off, killing eight people.
February 5, 2011: Sensing that the growing number of anti-corruption demonstrations are aimed at him, third term prime minister al Maliki has promised to return half his salary to the treasury, and to not run for another term as prime minister.