Iraq’s Civil War Spins out of US and Iraqi Government Control
Four essential factors underlie the deadly upsurge of Shiite-Sunni sectarian savagery in Baghdad this week:
1. No one, including US forces, has stepped in to halt the sectarian cleansing operation engulfing Baghdad in the last six months, the largest of its kind the world has seen in recent years.
Shiite fighters, many in the uniforms of the new Iraqi national army or Iraqi security forces, are battling Sunni gunmen, in defiance of their duties to – and the authority of – the Nouri al-Maliki government. This conflict is nothing but outright civil war.
First the two hostile camps fought one another for Baghdad suburbs. In early June, they clashed over the control of streets. Now they are dueling for single buildings that overlook strategic sections or installations in the capital. Some streets are consequently ruled half and half, and any Sunni or Shiite venturing into the wrong end of the street takes his life in his hands.
2. The most powerful military force in Baghdad today is the radical Shiite cleric Moqatada Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia. With an estimated 15,000-20,000 men under arms, the Mehdi Army outnumbers the government’s military and security forces’ strength in the capital.
3. In contrast, the Sunni’s command only a few thousand fighting men. Most belong to the various insurgent groups and Islamist terrorist organizations linked to al Qaeda, which are also responsible for attacks on the American Army and Iraqi officials and institutions.
The Sunni groups seek to compensate for their numerical inferiority in three ways:
First, they are drawing Sunni fighters from all over Iraq – albeit with small and variable results.
Second, they are perpetrating large-scale massacres of Shiites as a deterrent to their militias spreading out to more sectors of the capital.
Third, they have enlisted prominent Sunni clerics for decrees ordering all Sunnis to rally for the war on their Shiite compatriots.
Last week, they persuaded Sheikh Yusuf Qardawi, the most prominent Sunni Muslim religious authority today, who is obeyed even by al Qaeda, to publish a dispensation permitting all Sunni guerrilla fighters to join the ranks of Iraqi security forces and police for the sake of saving Sunni positions in Baghdad. Incredibly, notorious al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents are ready to join the forces pledged to hunt them down, on the authority of an imam of high repute, because they are convinced that the last Sunni stand in the heart of Baghdad is impending.
Fourth, the fortified Green Zone, nerve center of the Iraqi government and high command, and seat of the US embassy and military headquarters, goes on functioning calmly in the eye of the storm of civil warfare and apparently divorced from its violent currents. However, intelligence sources estimate that, after the bloody struggle is decided, the Green Zone will find itself held to siege by the winning side.
The descent of Sunni-Shiite duel in Baghdad into sheer brutality was highlighted on Sunday, July 9. Shiite gunmen in Iraqi police uniforms put up fake roadblocks, stopped cars for inspection and pulled the passengers out. When the names on their identity cards proved the terrified passengers to be Sunnis, they were shot dead on the spot. Altogether 41 Shiites, including women and children, were mercilessly murdered in this way.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that Shiite militiamen committed this slaughter in revenge for the killing of Abu Dar’a by the Sunni commandos of the 37th Battalion of the Iraqi government’s special operations force a few days earlier.
Abu Dar’a was condemned to death during Saddam Hussein’s rule as a murderous robber chief. He was awaiting sentence in March 2003, when the US-led invasion of Iraq began. Saddam then opened the prison doors and let hundreds of hardened criminals loose on the streets. Abu Dar’a, given a new lease of life, took up residence in Baghdad’s Sadr City, joined Muqtada Sadr’s militia and embarked on a career as terminator of Sunni Muslims in the area north of Baghdad. His savagery earned him the soubriquet of the “Shiite Zarqawi.”
The Medhi Army, burning to avenge his death, was responsible for the furious Shiite rampage against Sunnis of the last few days.
This fresh crisis sent prime minister Maliki speeding to Irbil, the Kurdistan capital Monday, July 10, for what was officially designated as a visit to the Kurdish parliament. Maliki went there to plead urgently with Iraq’s Kurdish president Jalal Talibani and the Kudistani prime minister Masoud Barzani, for several thousand Kurdish peshmerga commandos, as the only force capable of saving Baghdad. He appears to have given up on an American forces coming to the rescue.
debkafile‘s Iraq sources reveal that the two Kurdish leaders were in no hurry to respond to the Iraqi prime minister’s appeal. They see no profit in intervening in a Shiite-Sunni civil conflict, especially when the Kurdish community is itself split into Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Furthermore, whereas they are not keen on seeing central government in Baghdad collapse, neither are they willing to fight for its survival. And lastly, Maliki offered the Kurdish no real incentives for sending their best troops to fight in Baghdad.
In the absence of a competent army available to stem the bloody spiral of death gripping the heart of the Iraqi capital, Shiite-Sunni violence will probably intensify in the days to come and threaten to spill out into the rest of Iraq.