Iraq Civil War a tragedy but not strategically

The war in Iraq seems to have fundamentally changed character.

The violence has reached hitherto unheard-of proportions. In today's and yesterday's news reports, at least 30 Iraqis were killed in a bomb blast at a U.S.-Iraqi joint military base west of Mosul; 30 corpses, many headless, were found near Baqubah; 13 corpses, many of them handcuffed before being shot, were found around Baghdad; and, most ominously, somewhere from 16 to 37 supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr killed in a mosque raid carried out by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. In a particularly macabre episode, an Iraqi doctor admitted, presumably under torture by Kurdish security forces, that he had killed 35 patients under his care, members of the Iraqi army and police. 

News reports alone show perhaps 50 people a day being killed in Iraq; the true number is, of course, significantly higher. Individual murders don't even make the news any more.

This level of violence has only been matched during a few months of last summer, when a sensational wave of suicide bombings was unleashed following formation of the Iraqi government in late April. This time, it doesn't even involve Zarqawi and the suicide bombers, who have drastically decreased their level of attacks. Responding to severe criticism from everyone from the Iraqi insurgency to Ayman al-Zawahiri of al-Qaeda, they have stopped beheading prisoners, cut down on car bombings, and are now reconfiguring, supposedly with an Iraqi leader. In U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's words, "More Iraqis are dying today from the militia violence than from the terrorists."

At the same time of this explosion of violence, the anti-occupation struggle has fallen to a low ebb. March will see fewer U.S. fatalities than any month since February 2004, before the events of late March and April 2004 permanently altered the character of the occupation.

Although the bombing of the shrine in Samarra on February 22 triggered the shift, it had been building for a long time. The shift is not all peaches and cream for the Bush administration. They appear to have lost control of the country (although they never really had it); the car-bombing campaign of last summer, which gave the same impression, helped drive down Bush's job approval rating significantly.

Still, the United States seems to be viewing the prospect of Iraqis killing Iraqis and ignoring Americans with, shall we say, great equanimity. Indeed, it plays well into the strategic shift that I wrote about earlier. Although U.S. forces are still occasionally attacking the Sunni insurgency, they are beginning now to openly attack the Shi'a militias, in concert with Iraqi troops.

This serves several purposes. The United States needs to reign in Shi'a militias because the Shi'a political parties they're associated with have grown too powerful and independent. The sectarian killings provide an excuse to attack Moqtada al-Sadr, who has become their number one enemy - partly because he still opposes the occupation and partly because he has made serious attempts to build unity with Sunnis, including clerics from the Association of Muslim Scholars. Joint maneuvers against militias with Iraqi troops serve the goal of trying to detach the Iraqi soldiers' loyalty from the militias and transfer it to the U.S. military. Simultaneously, those maneuvers, presumably largely with Kurdish troops, help disrupt the Kurdish-Shi'a bloc that had been emerging but that threatened to be hegemonic, reinforcing the current much weaker Kurd-Sunni Arab bloc.

Daniel Pipes, in an op-ed in early March, almost seems to lick his lips as he contemplates Iraq's possible descent into civil war, pointing out that "when Sunni terrorists target Shiites and vice versa, non-Muslims are less likely to be hurt," adding that, from his point of view, "Civil war in Iraq ... would be a humanitarian tragedy but not a strategic one."

Although Pipes' attitude is probably shared by many neoconservatives, it is not by the Bush administration or the bulk of the foreign policy establishment. This level of violence is not good for U.S. interests. It imperils the oil flow and makes the occupation look like a failure. But if it lays the foundation for permanent ethnic-sectarian feuding by warring factions, all of whom look to the United States to be an "honest broker," then indeed it will be worth the temporary cost to them.

One thing is for sure: the United States was not asked to invade Iraq by anyone and it is morally culpable for all the resulting mayhem.

Rahul Mahajan teaches at New York University. He has been to Iraq twice and reported from Fallujah during the siege in April. He maintains a blog Empire Notes

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Older Comments:
THe idea that the US is going after Shia militias of Sadr because he wants unity is ridiculous... it is general concensus among Sunni in Iraq... to include Sunni I met myself as well as a few bloggers... riverbend for one... that Sadr is only paying lip service to "unity" with Sunni... while his people in the meantime have been abusing Sunni in Baghdad and Basra for over a year... Sadr is very much a part of the sectarian retaliation...

Sorry... but no dice. Little more than fantasy by someone with delusions of resistance unity... and yet another believer that there was no real ethnic tension between Shia and Sunni prior to occupation...

It was the intention of Neo-Cons to redo the map of the Middle East -- split Iraq into several mutually hostile pieces (so that it is no threat to Israel), split parts of Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq and Azerbaijan to make it into a Kurdish territory. But it is not working out exactly as the Neo-Cons wanted. Whatever US may say publicly, in reality US wants a civil war in Iraq as long as it is able to manage the results (which I doubt it will ever be able to do); but in the process, Iraq and its civilization will be permanently damaged. And that is how impeialists behave. Civil war in Iraq is unavoidable. Only thing one has to worry about it does not spill into other Arab countries, especially Saudi, Kuwait, and other PetroSheikdoms, and Egypt (though US has no problem if it spills into Sudan and Yemen).

But this seems a result of leaving Saddam in charge of most of Iraq after the first war. And estimates suggest that more Iraqis were hurt each day by economic sanctions than are hurt each day by the current violence in Iraq. Apparently a decade of waging bloodless war against the children of Iraq was not a better solution. Not to mention the harm that was done to those who were left to their fate after agreeing to rebel against Saddam.

But perhaps the past can tell us something of the future. If the people who used to cut out tongues have a voice in governing Iraq than the current war is just as unlikely to be worth the trouble it has brought to their tormented land. But it seems they still want it governed their way.

C. MARTEL said:
Nobodies is doing the civil war thing other then Iraqis themselves, and they have nobody to blame except themselves. This self victimization stuff is a joke! From a Western viewpoint of course it is better to not be killing Westerners. What great genuis does it take to realise this! Of course the West would greatly prefer that all Iraqis act civilly and with moderation and tolerance. But that is not the Arab way.

To finish the statement; 'One thing is for sure: the United States was not asked to invade Iraq by anyone and it is morally culpable for all the resulting mayhem.' is wrong on both accounts!

Rahul Mahajan instead should tell the Arabs what they are doing wrong, because alot more is going wrong over there then in the West. The first thing he can do is to tell the Arab world to stop preaching hatred of Jews and Christians, because if it doesn't stop, the West will open its eyes to this ultimate hyprocrazy soon, very soon!

Iraq civil war a TRAGEDY for true muslims,is a lesson for muslims when you are not united,not strong and do not follow the Quran & Hadith.We need an ISLAMIC union like NATO & UN.

It is the most great sucess for non-believers and will be continued in other muslim countries Why?

Many muslims lost their lives in brutal ways.The lives, actions & thinking are being manipulated & under their control. Muslims are fighting among themselves and giving full support to westerners by giving access to their military needs. Making constitution and laws with their approval and seal(immunity laws etc.)

The infra & Islamic structures are destroyed. Muslim heritage and Islamic institutions are destroyed and getting replaced by Westerners ideas & laws which are man-made has nothing to do with Bible(State and religion are seperate).

They call it Spreading democracy but it is Spreading CHRISTIANITY, Spreading westerners' values? & wiping off Islam. Curfew was imposed on the most religious day(Friday), Muslims were barred to visit holy shrines and places.

Muslims and Islam image are on fire. Quran verses and Hadith are misquoted and try to publish the modern quran with some hypocrites.

Contracts for rebuilding infrastucture,control of resources oil,gas,valuables were taken.It is totally under their control,they are immune to the laws (i.e. Dictatorship in foreign Lands)Their economy is going up based on destruction and rebuilding another country (booming military industries making weapons, machinery, equipment, tools, then rebulding contracts, taking total control, companies, Personel & so on.).

Who is the winner here & future and such things continue?