Read it all. So should the Washington Post's Ellen Knickmeyer whose most recent story is about how car bombings and terrorist attacks were unknown before the war. But that only made the state supported terrorism worse because there was no hope for justice then as there is now. Knickmeyer has done some good reporting in Iraq, but this story falls into the trap that many journalist in Iraq have of assuming that prewar Iraq was like the kite flying scene in Michael Moore's awful movie. Where does Knickmeyer think the 300,000 plus in mass graves met their demise--flying kites?
Casualties, and terrorist attacks, continue to run at half the rate of the last few months. It is believed there is a connection between this and the growing number of patrols and raids in Sunni Arab towns, places that have not seen such activities for the last two years. These battles are a deliberate effort to break the power of the gangs that provide the support that make the terror attacks possible. All of this is possible because of more information about the gangs, and the increase in such information is no accident.
American intelligence efforts, a war-in-the-shadows that has been fought with great intensity for over two years, has revealed a lot of detail about how Iraqi society really works. It is not a pretty picture. Saddam left behind a culture of armed gangs that use on terror and intimidation to control populations. This is the system that kept Saddam in power, and it is a clever perversion of traditional Iraqi society. Saddam took advantage of family, clan and tribal loyalties to increase the power of tribes or clans that would cooperate with him. For the groups that remained hostile (mainly Kurds and Shia Arab, but some Sunni Arabs as well), he allowed loyal "gangs" to terrorize and exploit these hostile groups. Many of these loyal gangs were, literally, criminal enterprises that controlled illegal activities in an area. The most valuable of these scams was the smuggling, especially oil smuggling, where the gangs with official permission, kicked back to Saddam part of their profits.
When Saddam's government fell in early 2003, and his army and civil service were dismissed shortly there after, Saddam's gangs were largely unaffected. The gangs actually thrived in the aftermath of the invasion, often being responsible for much of the organized looting. Some of the gangs, especially the ones doing dirty work for Saddam in the Shia south, were destroyed by their armed, and vengeful, victims. Saddam had provided overpowering military force to back up the gangs, and this backup disappeared when Saddam was run out of office. But in the Sunni Arab areas, the gangs became the heirs to Saddam, and carried on in his tradition of rule-by-terror and large scale theft.
The decision of the gangs to join forces with al Qaeda was a practical one. Both groups were hostile to the foreign troops who had deposed Saddam, and al Qaeda had an endless supply of suicide bombers, and cash. It was a marriage made in hell, and it is coming to a bad end....