Joined: Sat May 29, 2004 11:46 pm
|Civil War’ Is No Longer a Taboo Phrase in Iraq
Luke Baker, Reuters
BAGHDAD, 27 April 2005 — Civil war. It’s a phrase everyone in Iraq has strenuously avoided for the past two years.
Yet now, with no government formed three months after elections, and tensions deepening between Iraq’s Muslim sects and other groups, it’s on many people’s minds. Several clashes between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in events apparently unrelated to the two-year-old anti-US insurgency have highlighted the danger in recent months.
Whereas once politicians were not willing to utter the term for fear of dignifying it, it is no longer taboo. “I do not want to say civil war, but we are going the Lebanese route, and we know where that led,” says Sabah Kadhim, an adviser to the Interior Ministry who spent years in exile before returning to Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s overthrow. “We are going to end up with certain areas that are controlled by certain warlords ... It’s Sunni versus Shiite, that is the issue that is really in the ascendancy right now, and that wasn’t the case right after the elections.”
In Madaen and other mixed Sunni-Shiite towns on the rivers south of Baghdad, rival groups have been carrying out revenge attacks since before the January polls, police said. This month more than 50 bodies have been pulled from the Tigris River. In the poor Shiite district of Shuala in western Baghdad, there has been a series of car bombings and killings, apparently related to tensions with Sunni militants in the neighboring district of Abu Ghraib, one of Iraq’s most violent. Similar violence has hit towns north of Baghdad, such as Baquba, where Sunni and Shiite mosques have been bombed.
In part the tensions are the result of the long-declared intention by Sunni militants such as Jordanian Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi to sow sectarian discord and provoke civil war. But they also reflect a natural increase in animosity between the two sects since the Jan. 30 poll, which handed power to the Shiite majority after decades of Sunni-led rule.
The failure to form a government in the immediate aftermath of the ballot, when the nation was buoyed by the fact more than 8 million people defied threats and voted, has allowed distrust to grow as all sides scramble to secure a share of power.
“The huge window of opportunity created by the success of the elections has been frittered away in the politics of personal gain and internecine squabbling,” said Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at Queen Mary University of London. He now sees politicians using the sectarian issue to leverage more power, a move that could backfire. “Using sectarianism as a bargaining chip and for political advantage is rankly irresponsible ... it’s the sort of thing that can start a slide into civil war,” he said.
At the same time, he said conditions in Iraq did not yet resemble the conventional scenario of civil war in which various communities with militias face off against one another — as they did in Lebanon in the 1970s and 80s. “Iraq is more fractured and atomized than that,” he said.
Still, there are worrying signs. Several Sunni-led military units operating under the Interior Ministry’s banner and created with the support of US forces, are leading the battle against the insurgency. But if, as widely expected, a Shiite takes over the Interior Ministry when a new government is named, those units could be purged — a course that US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned against during a visit to Iraq this month.
The Sunni-led units could be replaced by soldiers from the Badr Organization, a militia loyal to the main Shiite party. Interior Ministry officials fear the Sunni commanders, with their well-armed and trained men, could then break away to set up rival militias. “Both sides are sharpening their knives. They are saying, ‘we’ve got to protect our own people’. It is not a good situation,” said Kadhim at the Interior Ministry.
Tensions are not limited to Sunnis and Shiites. Non-Arab Kurds, who came second to a Shiite alliance in the election, are also determined to consolidate their power. President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, wants a security role for the peshmerga, or Kurdish militia, to safeguard the Kurdish heartlands in the north. Yet he rules out civil war.
“The wisdom of the Sunni and Shiite leadership,” he told Al-Hayat newspaper yesterday, “prevents ... the possibility of the outbreak of civil war, and this is unlikely.”
Link: http://www.arabnews.com/?page=7§ion ... m=4&y=2005
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