Iraqi Civil War? An Update
An a day when the top Iraqi general in Baghdad was killed in an ambush, our top envoy to Iraq issued the most pessimistic remarks yet by a still-serving official of the government.
The top U.S. envoy to Iraq said Monday that the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime had opened a “Pandora’s box” of volatile ethnic and sectarian tensions that could engulf the region in all-out war if America pulled out of the country too soon.
In remarks that were among the frankest and bleakest public assessments of the Iraq situation by a high-level American official, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the “potential is there” for sectarian violence to become full-blown civil war.
For now, Iraq has pulled back from that prospect after the wave of sectarian reprisals that followed the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra, he said. But “if another incident [occurs], Iraq is really vulnerable to it at this time, in my judgment,” Khalilzad said in an interview with The Times.
Abandoning Iraq in the way the U.S. disengaged from civil wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Somalia could have dramatic global repercussions, he said.
“We have opened the Pandora’s box and the question is, what is the way forward?” Khalilzad said. “The way forward, in my view, is an effort to build bridges across [Iraq’s] communities.”
There are some hopeful signs that this is happening. Iraqis are increasingly fighting back against the terrorists.
Tribal chiefs in Iraq’s western Anbar province and in an area near the northern city of Kirkuk, two regions teeming with insurgents, are vowing to strike back at al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni Arab-led group that is waging war against Sunni tribal leaders who are cooperating with the Iraqi government and the U.S. military. Anbar tribes have formed a militia that has killed 20 insurgents from al-Qaeda in Iraq, leaders said.
Separately, more than 300 tribal chiefs, politicians, clerics, security officials and other community leaders met last week in Hawijah, about 35 miles southwest of Kirkuk, and “declared war” on al-Qaeda in Iraq. In a communique, the participants vowed “the shedding of blood” of anyone involved in “sabotage, killings, kidnappings, targeting police and army, attacking the oil and gas pipelines and their transporters, assassinating the religious and tribal figures, technicians, and doctors.”
Further, Edward Wong reports on efforts by the United States to better integrate Arab Sunnis into the Iraqi security forces.
As the threat of full-scale sectarian strife looms, the American military is scrambling to try to weed out ethnic or religious partisans from the Iraqi security forces. The United States faces the possibility that it has been arming one side in a prospective civil war. Early on, Americans ceded operational control of the police to the Iraqi government. Now, the police forces are overseen at the highest levels by religious Shiite parties with militias, and reports of uniformed death squads have risen sharply in the past year.
The American military is trying an array of possible solutions, including quotas to increase the number of Sunni Arab recruits in police academies, firing Shiite police commanders who appear to tolerate militias, and sending 200 training teams composed of military police officers or former civilian police officers to Iraqi stations, even in remote and risky locations.
There is no quick or painless fix. The efforts risk alienating Shiite politicians, who have fiercely resisted attempts to wrest away their control of the security forces. The moves may appeal, though, to recalcitrant Sunni Arabs, whom the Americans want to draw into the political process.
Trying to reform the police forces could take years, because sectarian loyalties have become entrenched, and police officers are rooted in their communities, senior military officials acknowledge. Critics say American efforts to train the Iraqi police also continue to be hampered by a shortage of troops and civilian advisers.
Several of the initiatives, such as enrolling more Sunni Arab students in police academies, have been going on for months. Others, such as the deployment of the new police training teams, are just beginning on a large scale. The wave of sectarian violence that followed the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22 has heightened the urgency of the measures.
So, we have countervailing trends: The vast majority of Iraqis hoping for peace and wanting the terrorists to lose but the latter inflicting sufficient pain and fear as to undermine the confidence of both the Iraqi and Coalition domestic publics.
Update: Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer who gained notoriety during the Valerie Plame affair, has apparently decided to audition for “The Daily Show.”
Assessing comments from JCS Chairman Peter Pace pointing out that there is a lot of progress despite the violence, Johnson chimes in with, “Let’s ask Iraqi General, Maj. Gen. Mubdar Hatim Hazya al-Dulaimi, the top commander of the Iraqi army division in Baghdad, what he thinks. General, wazz up?” And, later, “Could it be that our old friend, Baghdad Bob, has been brought back as an advisor to the US Joint Chiefs of Staff? What else could explain such delusional nonsense. No Civil War? My ass!!”