After two straight days of mass bombings that have killed scores and wounded hundreds, it's hard to find a silver lining in all the violence.
But there may be one in a little-known but increasingly common part of the insurgent arsenal: the use of silencers on handguns.
Since July 4, the Daily Violence Report compiled by the McClatchy Baghdad bureau from police and hospitals all over the county has contained no fewer than four cases of insurgents and others killing and wounding Iraqi army and national police officers with pistols fitted with silencers. In June there were several others, including shootings at officers' homes, in northern Iraq.
This week two incidents occurred in Mosul and one in Kirkuk--both in northern Iraq--and one in Baghdad. One of the incidents in Mosul was especially gruesome. A father was killed and his son wounded at a police checkpoint by a gunman using a silencer.
With all the homemade bombs, adhesive bombs, hand-thrown bombs and other lethal weapons that've been used in recent weeks, why would the use of handguns with silencers be anything but one more downer?
Because, security experts suggest, it means that the bad guys are being forced to change their tactics. Instead of directly targeting civilians for intimidation purposes, now they have to engage the police, who are becoming both more visible and more professional. Police pressure is forcing militants to take more steps to hide their movements and preparations.
That's no consolation to the familes of police officers who must cope with the loss of their loved ones. But it could offer some relief and respite to Iraqis, especially in cities. With the Americans pulled back to perimeter bases, and now allowed to patrol only with Iraqis, the presence and capacity of Iraqi National Police (INP), local and traffic officers at urban checkpoints become much more important.
One sign of the officers' potentially improved competence: About 900 new Iraqi police officers graduated in a ceremony Thursday at Camp Dublin in Baghdad. It was the ninth course trained by the Italian Carabinieri since the start of their training in 2007 under NATO Training Mission-Iraq.
The specialized course was designed to provide further training for the Iraqi National Police to develop their skills. During the nine-week course, police officers studied operational planning, police procedures,
police intelligence, counter-insurgency skills, weapons, combat skills, first aid and basic logistics. The course paid special attention to police ethics and human rights, according to a release from the NATO Training Mission-Iraq.
The American military hopes the INP will become like the Carabineiri--a depoliticized, well-trained cadre of federal law enforcement officers. For years, many Iraqis have viewed the INP as little more and little less than a Shiite militia. U.S. military authorities have tried for some time to weed out the worst sectarian leaders in the INP and to upgrade its capabilities. Late last month in an interview, INP Gen. Dhafir praised "joint training with the Americans, who spend a lot of energy and time on our forces. When things change over (the June 30 withdrawal), that's what will benefit us the most."
Maybe perversely, the fact that more insurgents and just plain criminals are starting to use silencers on their handguns signals a desperate response to better policing. Earlier, they could move around boldly in public without worrying about getting busted. Now the cops are forcing their hand.
Tragic for the families of the dead and wounded officers. Possibly a positive sign for law-abiding Iraqis. And, over time, a morale-builder for the men and women at the front lines of guarding their fellow citizens.
--By Mike Tharp