London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Is Iraq on the verge of a civil war or is it already, silently, in the throes of a countrywide conflict?
Everyday in Iraq, individuals are killed because of who they are and what sect they belong to. According to a UN report, 5818 people died from violence in May and June alone. July claimed the lives of 1600 victims. These grim statistics indicated that, on a daily basis, more than a hundred people are killed in Iraq.
On a recent visit to London, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki said his government had taken a number of steps to resolve the problem of sectarianism. “Civil war will not occur in Iraq,” he pledged. However, in a confidential memo addressed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, William Patey, outgoing British ambassador in Iraq, gave a bleak assessment of the country’s future. “The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy.” In order, “to avoid a descent into civil war and anarchy, the prevention of the Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdi Army) developing into a state within a state, as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon, will be a priority,” he added.
For his part, the top US commander in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, warned that Iraq could slide into civil war, if sectarian violence is not stopped. “Sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it,” Gen Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Speaking to PBS network, Senator John Warner that if a civil war erupts in Iraq, the American people will be asking, “Who do we fight? Do we fight both sides?”
The Bush administration has already considered such a scenario and has set a number of alternatives to the withdrawal of US troops in the event that civil strife erupts in the country.
Lauren Thompson, director of the Lexington Institute in Washington D.C, said, “The United States might be left with no choice but to withdraw from a country that has plunged into chaos, despite the confusion associated with such a choice.” He added that the withdrawal of US forces in the midst of a civil war “would represent a tremendous defeat for diplomacy and possibly its biggest defeat in history.”
A US presidential advisor believes that three alternatives can prevent a civil war from occurring in Iraq: the evacuation of civilians from certain regions where sectarian tensions are high and the withdrawal of minorities from certain areas, working to dissolve armed militias and preventing the media from fanning the fire of sectarian strife. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the advisor said that if a civil war were to occur in Iraq, it would not only include Iraqis but would become a regional war in which neighboring countries will interfere.
The first Iraqi politician to admit openly a civil war had erupted in Iraq was Iyad Allawi, Iraq’s interim prime minister after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the current head of the Iraqi National List. “If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is,” he told the BBC in March. That same month, he told Asharq Al Awsat, “The ongoing civil war in Iraq is a reality. The situation is deteriorating.”
Refusing to be drawn into a debate about terminology, Dr. Barham Salih, deputy prime minister, told Asharq Al Awsat from his office in Baghdad, “What is happening in Iraq is very grave. A large number of innocent people are being killed on a daily basis because of their identity. Iraq is currently witnessing a leadership crisis.”
“The problem about the civil war is its prolongation because of the abundance of funds from corruption and foreign interests.”
Adnan Pachachi, a member of the Iraqi parliament and the head of the Assembly of Independent Democrats, said, “The outbreak of a civil war means that a country is divided into two parts that fight one another. This hasn’t happened in Iraq and will not happen. What is taking place in Iraq is a war between militias and armed groups, similar to what took place in Afghanistan. Each group has its own force and army and controls a certain area and from time to time, they fight each other. The Badr militia controls an area, the Sadr militia controls another area, and what is referred to as the resistance controls another area.”
As ordinary Iraqis feel in danger, “They establish their own security forces to protect themselves. These eventually turn into militias. Iraq will only regain its vitality when the militias are dissolved and disarmed,” he added.
Describing a daily diet of violence and killing, Adnan al Dulaymi, leader of the Sunni bloc in the Iraqi parliament, said, “Iraqis nowadays suffer from raids, kidnappings killings, shelling and car bombs.” This “is an undeclared civil war.”
Current events point to “a sectarian conflict built on bloodshed and terrorist acts which has led to chaos in the country. What is happening is an undeclared sectarian war. We ask God to save Shiaa, Sunni and all members of Iraq society from its evils.”
He blamed, “Iraqi and foreign hands” for the war adding, “There is a regional intervention from neighboring countries that have brought weapons and drugs [to Iraq].”
Iraqi thinker and member of the House of Representatives on the Iraqi National List, Iyad Jamal Al-Din believes that “political forces in Iraq have been categorized into sectarian and nationalistic divisions; politicized Sunnis, politicized Shiaa and politicized Kurds. In relation to these nationalistic and sectarian groupings, there are two probable outcomes, either that these groups fight each other in civil war or that Iraq is divided.” He added that what is currently taking place are “the signs of civil war based on sectarian and ethnic divisions. If civil war breaks out, I believe that it could extend to Kurdish Iraq and will drag Kurdistan into the terror of war through Kirkuk and Mosul.”
Jamal Al-Din told Asharq Al Awsat, “the most effective way to avoid this war is to support nationalism by offering concessions and by making significant sacrifices for the sake of nationalism, otherwise we should expect a civil war that may last as long as fifteen years and the be the cause of continuous bloodshed.”
Dr Fouad Masum, a Kurdish politician who heads the Kurdish bloc in the Iraqi parliament, gave an alternative representation of the political situation in Iraq. Dr Masum said, “parties that were against the democratic process believed that the governments position would always be austere towards them and would refuse the principle of dialogue, but dialogue has been introduced and all points of the dialogue initiative have been accepted by all parties involved in the political process. However, there may be a number of observations that could enrich such an initiative.”
Dr Masum continued, “When the government showed flexibility towards these parties, they increased their activities in order for the government to retract from its initiative. On the other hand, these parties believe that if they enter the dialogue process, they would negotiate from a strong position on the basis that they have a strong presence in Iraq. There is also regional intervention that encourages these parties to engage in terrorist activity and adopt violence.”
Dr Masum stated, “Militias must be dissolved and if this issue is not resolved, there will be no government that would be able to implement its policies and enforce security. I believe that the government must have a set of pragmatic initiatives and plans in order to solve the problem of militias. Many countries have had the same experience and have been able to put an end to militias by including some of them and by rehabilitating others.”
Dr Saad Jawad Qandil, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) that is headed by Abdulaziz al Hakim, does not believe that civil war has erupted in Iraq even though “there are many signs [that it has]. Security has deteriorated and people are being killed on the basis of their identities.” He asserts, “The deterioration in security is a result of the lack of preparation of the Iraqi security forces.”
Dr Qandil told Asharq Al Awsat that what is currently happening in Iraq “is terrorist activity that aims to trigger sectarian conflict. After failing to achieve their political objectives, they are killing innocent unarmed Iraqis. They kill Shiaa to incite them against the Sunnis and vice versa.” The SCIRI leader explained that he does not expect that the Shiaa would be dragged into fighting Sunnis. He says, “Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the supreme Shiaa cleric had issued a fatwa that clearly prohibits Shiaa from becoming involved in sectarian fighting saying, “If they kill half of the Shiaa the other half should not involve itself in the killing of innocent people.””
Dr Qandil states that is it important that “armed militias remain in order to support security authorities until the authorities complete their training and gain the strength to confront terrorists. These militias should merge with the security authorities.” He mentions that the Badr Corps is the armed wing of SCIRI.
Saleh Al Mutlaq, leader of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, believes that the current situation in Iraq “is the beginning of civil war. There are powerful forces that aim to fuel this war. These forces have tried to escalate matters but have failed owing to the cohesion of the Iraqi people. During a telephone conversation, Al Mutlaq told Asharq Al Awsat from Amman that “death squads that kill Sunnis, Shiaa, Christians, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen now seek to ignite civil war for their own interests and to implement their own agendas and carry out an American-Zionist project that has been named ‘the new Middle East’.” Al Mutlaq added, “The draft of the national reconciliation project in Iraq has been delayed a number of times because of pressure from internal forces that want civil war to take place, leading to the division of Iraq.”
Statements from Iraqi political figures from various sectarian and political backgrounds have portrayed pessimistic representations of the current political and security situations in Iraq. Though they have differed in their explanations and accounts of the present circumstance in Iraq, they all agree that there is a serious and likely possibility that civil war will rage unless effective political and military initiatives come to Iraq’s rescue.