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Fronts Keep Multiplying In Iraq

A veiled Iraqi woman passes by pillars that once held statues, now torn down, of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, in Baghdad, 09 April 2006. Three years after the toppling of the ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq seems to be sliding ever deeper into chaos, and is teetering on the brink of a sectarian civil war. AFP Photo/Karim Sahib
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Apr 10, 2006
There is no longer one war raging in Iraq. There are now at least three different, though overlapping ones, and very soon their number could rise to four. The first war, of course, is the already nearly three-year-old Sunni Muslim insurrection against both U.S. forces and the democratically elected Iraqi government in Baghdad.

This is the war that understandably has preoccupied the American public, Congress and Bush administration policymakers.

But since the Feb. 22 bombing of the al-Askariya, or Golden Mosque, in Samara, the Sunni insurgents have succeed in provoking a massive and far-ranging grassroots Shiite reaction against them. This has been flaring on a far vaster scale on both sides than the Sunni insurgents -- originally led by a combination of former Saddam Hussein Baath party loyalists and al-Qaida extreme Islamists -- wanted to achieve.

And in the north, largely overlooked, the Kurds supported and protected by U.S. power, have been forcibly exerted their own control over resentful Assyrian and Turkoman minority communities. The Kurd-Turkoman conflict, almost totally ignored in the U.S. media, is particularly significant because Turkey, a key U.S. ally and NATO member and traditionally hostile to Kurdish independence, feels strong ethnic loyalty to the Turkomans from the days of the old Ottoman Empire.

As Chaim Kaufmann wrote in the New York Jewish newspaper the Forward Friday, "Not one but two full-scale communal conflicts are raging in Iraq. In the north of the country, the Kurds are fighting several other communities for the oil-rich Kirkuk Province. Further south, Sunnis and Shiites are struggling for control of a roughly 100-mile-deep band of mixed settlement that runs across central Iraq, including Baghdad."

And there is a fourth potential war that would likely prove the most bloody and devastating of all. That would explode if the Shiite militias of southern and central Iraq rose up against U.S. and British forces in the region and sought to deny the U.S armed forces its vital land supply artery from Kuwait up to Baghdad.

Right now, however, it is the Shiite-Sunni conflict that is the main driving force of events. It is significant to note, as Kaufmann does, that this conflict did not erupt overnight after the Golden Mosque bombing in February.

"Sectarian conflict has been burning for several years," he wrote. "Sunni terrorists and death squads have been killing Shiite civilians since 2003 while the Shiites have been retaliating on an ever-increasing scale, using Iraqi police as death squads."

This is entirely correct, but several key trends need to be emphasized. The first is that the new police and army forces run by the Shiite controlled Ministries of Defense and the Interior in Baghdad have boomeranged on U.S. policymakers.

The U.S. conception was that they could take over much of the burden of fighting the Sunni insurgents and maintaining security in their own country. But instead, the new, rapidly trained Iraqi security forces have become enabling and empowering havens for the pre-existing Shiite militias and in many cases even appear to have spawned their own death squads to retaliate against random Shiites.

This has turned the war into a sectarian conflict between the two Sunni and Shiite communities historically intermixed with each other in central Iraq and in Baghdad in a way that no previous effort by the insurgents themselves had managed to do.

The Iraqi government itself has confirmed, as Kaufmann noted, that at least 40,000 people in Iraq have been turned into refugees by the sectarian conflict in the last month alone. Over the past six weeks, Western estimates put the numbers of dead at 3,000. As we have noted in previous analyses -- these figures are comparable to the major bloodbaths, forcible expulsions of minorities and related clashes that set off the sectarian conflicts in Northern Ireland and Lebanon, both of which lasted for decades.

The eruption of the Sunni-Shiite conflict along classic ethnic civil war lines is going to make the war vastly more complex and difficult for U.S. policy planners. The war can no longer be looked upon in simple "football game" or "us versus them" terms of the number of casualties inflicted on the insurgents or simply degrading their capabilities to inflict casualties on U.S. and allied Iraqi forces.

Nor can U.S. diplomats and military officers in Iraq continue to hope that all they need to do is maintain strong bilateral ties with the official Iraqi army and police they did so much to create in order to re-establish and then maintain order. In any long-lasting sectarian conflict between not merely the government and a rebellious community, but between feuding communities themselves, the militia groups that dominate each community became political as well as military powers of significance in their own right and could not be ignored.

Iraq, therefore, became a shattered mosaic of warring communities. This process has been ongoing ever since the failure of the Bush Pentagon planners to commit enough troops to establish secure law and order throughout the country right after Saddam Hussein was toppled almost exactly three years ago, as then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki urged before the war. The Feb. 22 Golden Mosque bombing ignited the tensions, fears, grudges and grievances that have been accumulating since then.

This Sunni-Shiite war already vastly overshadows the Sunni insurgency against U.S. and Iraqi regular military forces. It also renders obsolete all the hard-won operational methods and political initiatives the U.S. forces in Iraq have been developing to fight the Sunni insurgency, because this new conflict is of an entirely different nature. Iraq's new a war is likely to have plenty of unpleasant surprises of its own.

Source: United Press International

Related Links

Wolfowitz Says World Bank Has Role In Rebuilding Iraq
Makassar, Indonesia (AFP) Apr 10, 2006
The World Bank has a role to play in helping Iraq rebuild, its chief Paul Wolfowitz told AFP in an interview Saturday. "The Iraqi people deserve a peaceful, stable country and the World Bank has a contribution to make clearly on the development side," he said.

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