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Another Year In Iraq

Sectarian tensions rose rapidly in the two months following the elections. It was like gunpowder being piled up. All that was needed was the right spark to set off the explosion. It came on Feb. 22 when Sunni insurgents bombed the venerated al-Askariya, or Golden Mosque, in Samara.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Jan 02, 2007
There was a grim, ironic symmetry to the execution of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein at the end of 2006. Saddam's execution symbolized the past year in Iraq -- it was all about death. For 2006 was the year when the Bush administration's vision of democracy failed in Iraq. Far from ushering in a new era of peace, stability and security, the parliamentary elections a year ago created a new political dynamic that within little more than two months unleashed a sectarian civil war on Iraq far worse than anything the country had known in modern times.

The elections produced fragmented ethnic parties vying for supremacy in the new Iraqi parliament. They confirmed and vastly intensified the ethnic and religious divisions of Iraq between its 60 percent Shiite Muslim majority and its Sunni Muslim and Kurdish groups. Despite all of the Bush administration's intensive lobbying efforts, with the different groups, the new democratic politics in Iraq were a zero-sum, winner-take-all-game from the very beginning. No one was prepared to compromise with anyone else when it really mattered. As a result, sectarian tensions rose rapidly in the two months following the elections. It was like gunpowder being piled up. All that was needed was the right spark to set off the explosion.

It came on Feb. 22 when Sunni insurgents bombed the venerated al-Askariya, or Golden Mosque, in Samara. The newly empowered Shiite majority reacted with unrestrained fury. Shiite militias went on rampages in Baghdad and elsewhere slaughtering innocent Sunnis picked at random. The new Iraqi army and security forces so eagerly hyped by the U.S. government proved both unwilling and unable to stop the mayhem. By the end of the year, a senior U.S. officer had stated publicly that up to 25 percent of the senior commanders of the Iraqi national police had connections to Shiite militias.

Far from cementing the triumph of democracy and the rule of law, 2006 instead proved to be the year that marked the triupmh of the militias as the real power running Iraq.

It was a power exercised through the barrel of a gun. Bullets, not ballots ruled Iraq in 2006. Estimates of the Iraqi civilian death toll varied widely. Even sober estimates agreed that between 30,000 to 35,000 civilaisn were killed in the sectarian violence in the course of the year.

The force of 130,000-140,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq proved far too few to provide enough regular boots on the ground to stem the slaughter. At the end of the year, following the Democratic takeovers of both houses of the U.S. Congress, President George W. Bush finally dropped his Iraq warlord, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and replaced him with former Director of Central Intelligence Robert Gates. And far from seeing a gradual reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq, as U.S. policymakers had previously confidently expected, the year ended with plans to boost them by 20,000 to 40,000. Larger and more permanent troop increases could not be ruled out either.

It was a year when U.S. Army and Marine officers serving in Iraq began feverishly reading Alistair Horne's classic history of the ferocious 1954-1962 Algerian War of Independence, "A Savage War of Peace." The omens were not propitious ones. Even though the Frnech Army won the Battle of Algiers and crushed the FLN insurgency there in the late 1950s, politically and strategically, they still lost the war. And Algiers, which only had a population of half a million in 1956, was far easier to subdue than giant Baghdad with 7 million people, 2 million of them in the Shiite militia strongholds of Sadr City alone, would be.

It was a year that saw Iraq's new democratic parliament produce not a stable, solidly pro-American coalition government bridging the gaps between Iraq's different communities, but two sectarian Shiite prime ministers, neither of whom seriously tried to win the confidence of the Sunni minority.

Both Iraqi prime ministers sought far closer ties with neighboring Iran. Both of them had strong ties to political groups representing Shiite militias. And both prime ministers rapidly lost the confidence of the U.S. government. The year ended with U.S. policymakers preparing to promote their third Iraqi prime minister in little more than a year with no indication that he would or could prove to be any more effective than either of his predecessors.

It was a year that saw the trial and conviction of Saddam. His show case trial was supposed to make Iraqis appreciative of their new found freedoms and deliverance from his long and brutal tyranny. But the horrors of sectarian civil war and of day-to-day living in Baghdad and many other parts of Iraq made those lessons irrelevent. Saddam proved proud and defiant. An ex-torturer, he might have feared torture but he did not fear a quick death. He was unrepentant to the end. His execution offered no hope of a brighter new day. He only brought misery to his people during his blood-stained life. His death offered no hope of anything better for them.

The year 2006 dawned bright with hope in Iraq. The year 2007 entered stained with the blood of tens of thousands; 2006 saw bright hopes dashed, while 2007 threatens to see dark fears fulfilled.

Source: United Press International

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Washington (UPI) Jan 02, 2007
Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging early Saturday morning in a Baghdad security facility where, ironically, many of his opponents were put to death during his rule, The former dictator walked his final steps escorted by several masked men who placed a hangman's noose around his neck, while some made references to Moqtada Sadr, the Shiite cleric who had numerous members of his family, including his father, killed by Saddam.

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