Iraq is a very corrupt place, where most everything has been for sale for thousands of years. What is different today is that the corruption, and the damage it does to the country, is openly discussed on the streets and in the media. In the past discussing openly the corruption of the leaders could get you killed. The discussions are particularly acute at the moment because of a recent jailbreak that let many al Qaeda men, some condemned to death, loose. Some 74 are still being sought. This happens regularly, after the government has reacted to the last failure of the prison system and criminals and terrorists have had time to reach the new prison system commanders with bribes, threats (against family), or both.
The problem in Iraq is that the forces of darkness are more pervasive and persistent than the forces of light. This accounts for a continued reliance on family and tribe for essential services (security, justice, and survival in general). Thus government officials are expected to steal all they can and share it with family and tribe, as these are the only people you can rely on in the end. In short there is no "civic spirit" (or "civil society") that Westerners take for granted. Many Iraqis know what civic spirit is and would like to see it in Iraq. But making that move, from family/tribe centered to nation centered trust is not easy. Looking to the West for examples of how to do it is discouraging. There it took centuries and multiple failed efforts to get to a civil society. Corruption was never eliminated, but it was reduced to a much lower level than found in present day Iraq. At least they keep the bad guys in jail for as long as they are supposed to be there.
The Iraqis have come up with a temporary solution to prison corruption. To the dismay of many in the West Iraq uses the death penalty a lot. Westerners often fail to realize that the Iraqis are simply responding to corruption and the need to put the most prolific killers out of action. No one escapes from the grave.
American Special Forces (and intelligence specialists) are back, to help the government deal with the Sunni Arab terrorists. The Sunni-Shia conflict remains a major issue in Iraq, as does fear of Iranian aggression and influence. The Americans had the most success against the Sunni terrorism and the government wants to get some of that American know-how back.
Sunni Arab terrorists, without any Americans to attack, now declare Iran and pro-Iran Iraqis (a minority itself) to be the main target. The official line is that when the Americans were in Iraq they were allies of the hated Iranians. A lot of Iraqi Sunni Arabs believe this, and that's the kind of mentality that Westerners have to cope with.
The Sunni Arabs are determined to regain control of the government. Their main tactic has always been to use terror attacks against Shia Iraqis and thus trigger a decisive battle that the Sunnis would somehow win. Western observers could never understand this, as it makes no sense. The Shia Iraqis, who now control the government and security forces, could crush the Sunni Arabs but the Sunnis do not believe this would ever happen. It's an article of faith that the Sunni Arabs must prevail. It is God's Will. Besides, most Sunni Arabs remember when (before 2003) they controlled, and received, most of the oil income. The other 80 percent of the population (Shia and Kurds) got scraps. The Sunni Arabs miss the good old days and want them back.
So the Sunni terrorists continue attacking and the Shia dominated government threatens harsher punishment against the Sunni Arab community. This retribution has been underway for over a year, with the arrest of elected Sunni Arab politicians who are accused of participating in the terror attacks. All Sunni Arab politicians must have some relationships with Sunni Arab terror groups because the Sunni terrorists regularly assassinate Sunni Arab politicians they believe are "disloyal." It's easier (and a lot safer) to maintain some relationship with the terror groups than to openly oppose them. The Shia majority insists, for obvious reasons, that the Sunni Arab leadership cooperate in crushing the Sunni Arab terror groups. But the Sunni Arab belief in their own superiority, and eventual regaining control of the government, is too widespread to be easily eliminated completely. As a democracy the Shia politicians cannot ignore popular demand from the Shia majority for some action to end the Sunni terrorism. What the West and neighboring Sunni Arab majority states fear most is a massive attack on the Iraqi Sunni Arab population, in order to eliminate the source of support for Sunni Arab terrorism. This would be another effort to expel all Sunnis from Iraq, something like the one that got started six years ago and was aborted by the American success in getting Sunni Arab leaders to turn against Sunni Arab terror groups. But over 20 percent of the 2003 Iraqi Sunni Arabs still live in exile, and many more were driven from their homes and fled to Sunni Arab majority areas for refuge In part, because of that, the Sunni Arabs have been unwilling or unable to finish the job. Nevertheless the Shia majority wants an end to the terror attacks against them. Yet, right on cue, neighboring Sunni countries (including Turkey) have increased pressure on Iraq to work out a non-violent solution to their Sunni Arab terrorist problem. The Iraqis have told their neighbors to butt out. But if a massive attack on the Sunni Arab minority (about 15 percent of the population) develops, the Sunni neighbors will be under pressure to do more than issue diplomatic protests. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Sunni Arabs fleeing across the border will do that.
October 4, 2012: An American citizen (Palestinian born Omar Rashad Khalil) was sentenced to life in prison (leaving the possibility of bribing his way out) for being an active member of al Qaeda since 2005.
October 1, 2012: September was the most deadly, in terms of terrorist violence, in two years with 365 killed (182 civilians and terrorists, 88 police, and 95 soldiers). This was more than twice the number of deaths in August (164). Deaths were 326 in July and 282 in June. The sharp decline in August was the result of several factors. First, the increased terrorist activity has resulted in a lot of police action and the terrorist groups have suffered heavy losses. The Sunni terrorist groups could not sustain the level of violence they began in January (when 225 died). Second, pressure from the government (in reaction to public anger) produced more tips from citizens, more neighborhood self-defense groups, and more effective performance by the police. Third, some Sunni Islamic terrorists have gone to fight in Syria, where the Sunni majority is rebelling against the Shia minority dictatorship. The feeling is that, at the very least, Sunni terror groups will have sanctuary in Syria once the Shia government is overthrown. That would enable to the Sunni terrorists to use Syria as a base for continued attacks on the majority Shia government of Iraq. The success of the Sunni led rebellion in Syria has encouraged more Iraqi Sunni Arabs to believe that their terror campaign can work. New recruits are now easier to get. The Sunni terrorists are increasingly concentrating their bombing attacks and assassination operations against police and military commanders. This is an effort to get the security forces to back off on their efforts to wipe out Sunni terror groups. This sort of intimidation makes prison commanders more willing to take cooperate in arranging mass escapes.
The terrorist deaths are still far below the numbers (2,000 to over 3,000 a month) suffered in 2005-6. The inability to stamp out the terrorist diehards is humiliating for the national leadership. What's particularly irritating for Iraqis is the government ability to keep terrorists out of some areas (like the Green Zone of Baghdad) where most senior officials live and work, most Shia shrines, and some neighborhoods where the wealthy (who hire their own security) live. If their leaders can protect some parts of the country, why not all of the country?
September 30, 2012:
The government has given in to foreign pressure (especially from the United States) to inspect Iranian aircraft passing through Iraq on their way to Syria and checking for weapons. Iran protested but agreed to random checks. The problem now is who guarantees the effectiveness of the Iraqi inspectors. Corruption is rampant in Iraq and bribes have been known to interfere with the eyesight of inspectors. Given how cozy Iran and Iraq are getting in security matters it is likely that Iran can continue flying weapons into Syria as long as they go along with the pretense that their aircraft are being inspected. The U.S. has plenty of agents (foreigners and locals) in Iraq and will know if the Iranian aircraft are not inspected. But if the Iraqi government goes through the motions, however ineffective, of inspecting, nothing can be done. These intelligence sources include the 220 civilian (former military) trainers working with the Iraqi police and military. The U.S. may be gone from Iraq but they still know a lot about what goes on there.
September 29, 2012: On the Turkish border Turkish troops ambushed and killed twelve PKK (Turkish Kurdish separatists) fighters trying to sneak in from Iraq.
September 27, 2012: In Tikrit (Saddam Hussein's home town) there was a mass escape from a local prison. Twenty were killed (16 inmates and four guards), over three dozen wounded, and 102 prisoners escaped (47 of them terrorists who were condemned to death). Within 24 hours 23 escapees were recaptured and two days later a curfew was imposed on Tikrit and surrounding areas. The provincial police chief was fired and several prison officials and guards are suspected of corruption or, also likely, incompetence. The breakout was accomplished via a car bomb going off outside the prison followed by prisoners using pistols (smuggled in during family visits) to get past the guards and outside. Terrorist convicts forced other prisoners to serve as human shields. Cell inspections had been non-existent for months, preventing guards from finding the pistols.
September 26, 2012: The government agreed to allow humanitarian aid cross the border into Syria.