THE big news out of Iraq this week was the capitulation by the Philippine government Tuesday to the demands of terrorists, and the explosion of a massive car bomb Wednesday outside the "Green Zone" in Baghdad.
Terrorists who had kidnapped a Filipino truck driver threatened to kill him unless the Philippine government withdrew its troops from Iraq.
The damage done was more symbolic than substantial, since the Philippines had only 51 soldiers in Iraq, and they were slated to come home in August anyway. But the damage is real. We can expect there will be more kidnappings of the nationals of the smaller coalition partners.
On Wednesday morning, a car packed with an estimated 1,000 pounds of explosive detonated near a checkpoint at the entrance to the Green Zone. Ten Iraqis were killed. Another 40, one of them an American soldier, were injured.
The news media described this, accurately, as the biggest terrorist attack since the hand-over of sovereignty on June 28. But few journalists noted that this was because there has been very little terrorist activity since the hand-over.
Given less attention by the media was a series of raids conducted by the Iraqi police in Baghdad Tuesday that netted at least 525 criminals. Since Saddam Hussein emptied his jails of some 70,000 hard-core criminals on the eve of the war, the Iraqi police have a long way to go to restore law and order, but the skill with which the raids were pulled off, and the courage displayed by the Iraqi cops indicate they are off to a very good start.
StrategyPage.com, a Web site run by James Dunnigan, one of the keenest of military analysts, reported this week foreign jihadis who have come to Iraq in response to al-Qaeda's call are giving up and going home.
"Iraqis have become increasingly hostile to al-Qaeda's suicide bombing campaign, " StrategyPage said. "Religious leaders, which al-Qaeda expects to get support from, have been openly denouncing these bombings. Iraqis, aware that they are more likely than American soldiers to be victims of these attacks, are providing more information on where the al-Qaeda members are hiding out. Most of the al-Qaeda in Iraq are foreigners, and easy for Iraqis to detect. As a result of this, many of the al-Qaeda men have moved back to Fallujah, which has become a terrorist sanctuary."
Local leaders in Fallujah, out of a combination of sympathy for the terrorists and fear of them, have so far been unwilling to back a military attack to clean out various al-Qaeda, criminal, and Baath Party gangs, StrategyPage said. But if the leadership is intimidated, many residents of Fallujah are not, so the United States has been getting timely intelligence on when and were foreign fighters gather, which has made possible several successful air strikes.
"Al-Qaeda has found the atmosphere even more hostile elsewhere in Iraq, and many of the terrorists have returned home. This is especially true of those who came from Saudi Arabia and Syria," StrategyPage said.
The Christian Science Monitor reported July 12 that factional fighting has broken out in Fallujah among the various terrorist groups.
The Monitor story challenges the conventional wisdom that the failure of the Marines to crush the resistance in Fallujah in April (after the grisly murder of four U.S. contractors) was a setback for the United States.
"The city west of Baghdad is no longer a sympathetic rallying place for a unified Iraqi resistance," the Monitor said. "It is now seen as run by intolerant and exclusivist Sunni imams who are seeking to turn it into a haven for al-Qaeda ideologues."
The formation of a mini-Taliban in Fallujah, coupled with rising hostility toward them elsewhere in Iraq, has caused foreign jihadis to concentrate there, where they can more easily be destroyed once Iraqi public opinion supports military operations against them.
It's becoming clear that Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda chieftain in Iraq, was correct when he wrote in February: "If, God forbid, the government is successful and takes control of the country, we just have to pack up and go somewhere else again, where we can raise the flag again or die, if God chooses us."
Jack Kelly is national security writer for The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.