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No Hope Left In Iraq Fear Some

In Iraq if you're young poor and Shiite you're probably a supporter of Muqtada al-Sadr.
by Alexis Fabbri
Washington (UPI) May 12, 2006
Sectarian violence in Iraq between Sunni and Shiite Muslims is getting worse and there is no hope of quashing it, the author of a new book on Iraq says. Nir Rosen, former Baghdad bureau chief for the Asia Times and now a freelance writer, spent time with Shiite firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and individuals involved with the Sunni insurgency in central Iraq.

In his book, "In the Belly of the Green Bird: the Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq," Rosen describes what life is like in Iraq now that religious divisions and Iraqi on Iraqi violence grips the country.

Speaking at the New America Foundation Thursday, Rosen said a civil war in Iraq was now inevitable. The conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims "has grown much more intense," he said. "The worst is yet to come."

"All it's going to take is an assassination attempt or another mosque bombing," he said. "I no longer think that there is any hope for national reconciliation."

The conflict could grow to destabilize the entire region, Rosen said. "The civil war in Iraq is going to spread in the region and the idea of the Iraqi nation state will cease to be a relevant concept," he said.

The U.S. approach in Iraq from the beginning was "sectarian," Rosen said. Iraq's interim governing council was constructed on a sectarian basis, he said.

The bombing of the al-Askariya , or Golden Mosque in Samara on Feb. 22 was a turning point, Rosen said. "It has almost become sort of a racism how Sunnis and Shiites view each other," he said.

Sunni militias will stop buses, demand ID cards and shoot passengers with Shiite last names, Rosen said. Some Iraqis have even begun changing their names. "The militias are more and more open" in their activities, he said.

The mood in Baghdad has changed since he first went to Iraq during the beginning of the war, Rosen said. "You don't feel the (American) occupation anymore in Baghdad," he said. Instead there are "various masked Iraqi security forces" patrolling the streets in ski masks, shooting into the air.

"It's the only country in the world where the good guys look like the bad guys," he said.

Peter Bergen, a journalist and CNN's terrorism analyst, also speaking at the New America Foundation, said the U.S. government had miscalculated the importance of religious divisions in Iraq.

"Clerics are driving the story," Bergen said.

The most powerful among them is al-Sadr, who leads the Mahdi Army militia and who is backed by Iran, Rosen said. "In Iraq if you're young poor and Shiite you're probably a supporter of Muqtada al-Sadr," he said.

Al-Sadr has achieved a celebrity-like level of fame despite lacking the experience and credentials of other clerics, Rosen said. "He doesn't rely on his education or experience because he doesn't really have any, compared to the competition," he said.

Rosen spent time with al-Sadr and his followers while in Iraq. "I was struck by how unimpressive he was," he said. His Arabic is "gruff and colloquial."

Yet when al-Sadr spoke at a mosque, "it was like being at a Michael Jackson concert," Rosen said. "No other leader in Iraq has this kind of popularity," he said.

Rosen said he advocated a total withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

"I don't think there's anything the U.S. government can do," he said. "I think there's no hope."

Source: United Press International

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