STRATEGYPAGE on the battles in Iraq:

October 2, 2004: As promised, the government began its campaign to retake control of Sunni Arab towns and cities that had fallen under the control of al Qaeda, criminal gangs and Baath Party gunmen. For the last two days, some 4,000 American and Iraqi troops have surrounded and regained control of Samarra, a Sunni Arab city with 100,000 residents, a hundred kilometers north of Baghdad. So far, about a hundred Iraqis have been killed, some 75 percent of them gunmen who have resisted the Iraqi police and American troops. Iraqi troops quickly seized major mosques in the city, preventing them from being used as fortresses by anti-government forces. At least one kidnap victim was released by advancing troops, and others will probably be found as well. A third of troops involved are Iraqi, and this includes a new Samarra police force, drawn from other parts of Iraq and led by more experienced and reliable commanders.

The nearby town of Tikrit, Saddam’s home town, did not go the way of Samarra mainly because of local politics. The local power brokers in Tikrit make a deal with the coalition and kept it.

That’s the good news. Here’s the cautionary note:

The real battle for Samarra [will] take place in the next few months. The people fighting American troops at the moment, and getting killed, are the dummies. The smart guys just hide their weapons and wait for an opportunity to take over the town again. If the new police force cannot hunt down and arrest most of the smarter gangsters and terrorists in the next few months, Samarra will lapse into anarchy again.

There’s also this:

A recently published survey of attacks on police and troops in Iraq revealed what had long been taken for granted, over 80 percent of the attacks took place in just four Sunni Arab provinces. The other 14 provinces were pretty quiet, most a dozen or fewer incidents a month. Interrogation of captured gunmen has made it clear that most of the attacks are planned, and the attackers recruited, by the gangs that have found refuge in the “outlaw” towns like Samarra and Fallujah. Especially in light of last week’s terror bombing that killed and wounded some 200 children in Baghdad, the new government, and most Iraqis, are determined to put down the gunmen, terrorists and gangsters, and restore law and order.

And because of these bombings, a degree of force that might have aroused resentment among Iraqis is now more likely to produce satisfaction.