December 16, 2007: In Iraq, terrorist car bomb use is only about a third of what it was when the surge offensive began last Spring. While part of that is due to military operations that have killed or captured the terrorists who build and use these weapons, another major factor has been improved intelligence. The U.S. Army has managed to build experience (informants, databases of local good and bad people) in neighborhoods and rural areas during each rotation. Entire units move to Iraq for 12 or 15 month tours, and intel specialists in these units begin exchanging information as soon as the relieving unit knows when it will be arriving in Iraq, and where. The Internet has been a major help here. That many intelligence troops are returning for a second or third tour helps as well.
The accumulated information covers who the enemy is, what they can do, and which Iraqis are willing to help. Over the years, some bad guys have survived, and kept killing. The one positive aspect of that is the many Iraqis who want to nail these terrorists as well. The car bombs, even though often aimed at the military, tend to kill more civilians. Even Iraqis who have strong (negative) feelings about the U.S. presence, are willing to provide information on people preparing car bomb attacks. This effort involves fitting the car with explosives and detonators, then moving it to a target. Year by year, more Iraqi civilians know what to look for. The Iraqi media has given a lot of play to this, showing captured car bomb workshops, and lots of pictures of vehicles equipped as car bombs, as well as grisly images of dead and mutilated civilians. Add to that the proliferation of cell phones, police hot lines for tips, and even some cash rewards, and you get a lot more information on car bombs that have not yet gone off, but are being prepared, or moving toward a target.
American and Iraqi intelligence also have a good idea who the surviving car bomb builders are, and these guys are basically the "most wanted" people in many parts of Iraq. At the same time, more and more towns and neighborhoods have not experienced a car bomb for months, and want to keep it that way. There are fewer places where car bomb teams can safely prepare a car for an attack, and more Iraqis are getting on their cell phones to report suspicious cars on the road. This has led to some embarrassing incidents for nervous looking drivers of cars with busted suspensions (a tell tale sign that a vehicle is loaded down with explosives), who were not car bombers. But Iraqis are encouraged to err on the side of caution. For the many Iraqis who have had kin killed or wounded by a car bomb, not much encouragement is needed.