An Ebb in Fighting

Over two days after the destruction of the dome of the Golden Mosque, is the violence surging or abating?

The Dome of the Golden Mosque at night. Picture courtesy of the soldiers of the 3/69 Field Artillery Regiment.

Two and a half days after the destruction of the Golden Dome in Samarra, is the violence and retaliation attacks increasing or decreasing in Iraq? The Belmont Club’s Richard Hernandez attempts to establish the framework for a timeline and the progression of violence in Iraq since the destruction of the Golden Dome in Samarra. Mr. Hernandez uses both established media and Iraqi bloggers to piece this together, quite a difficult task. I know because I tried to refine this, without much success.

It appears the bulk of the violence occurred on Wednesday and portions or Thursday, based on a reading of the news reports and Iraq bloggers. The New York Times describes today’s situation in Iraq as such; “Across Iraq on Friday, people walked through quiet streets to attend weekly prayer service at neighborhood mosques. Traffic was light because of an extraordinary daytime curfew that the government had put in place to try to prevent worshippers from attending Friday Prayers, out of fear that imams would incite more violence. The groups that did gather appeared to do so in a largely peaceful manner, though.” The London Times reports families are claiming the bodies of their murdered relatives at the mortuary – an event unlikely to take place during sustained violence.

Iraqi bloggers Riverbend and Iraqi the Model have not provided Friday updates as of this writing. Zayed at Healing Iraq reports on the violence of the preceding days (his post was at 1:13 AM, presumably Iraqi time). Christopher Allbritton updates his blog Back to Iraq and reports a small protest of 70-100 Iraqis armed but peacefully marching towards the interior ministry.

There is anecdotal evidence that some Iraqi Security Forces provided assistance to the militias, but the assistance appears to be of the passive nature. The Times Online reports, without providing details of the sources or locations; “teams of Shia killers had moved apparently unchallenged through the city, attacking Sunni mosques, rounding up and killing Sunni men, sometimes cheered on by soldiers at Iraqi army checkpoints.” Zayed states, “There was no presence of security forces that I could witness. Friends from areas around Sadr city said pickups full of armed men in black were patrolling the streets, unchallenged by Iraqi Security Forces. Many people swear that the Interior ministry forces are explicitly siding with the Mahdi militiamen in their rampage of arson and plundering.” The New York Times reports “Yet Iraqi forces did little to contain the violence. In at least one case in Baghdad, Iraqi witnesses said that policemen joined in attacking a mosque.”

Organized attacks against Sunni mosques or citizens was not the policy of the Iraqi Police or Iraqi Army, and there is no evidence of officers or politicians ordering the security forces to assist the militias. The actions reported are isolated examples.

The initial violence appears to have been spontaneous and confined to the first 24-48 hours after the attack. In situations such as these (riots, spontaneous demonstrations) the security forces (police and military) are often absent, or if present, hesitant to intervene. The difficult situation of a civil disturbance, combined with the inherent bureaucratic inertia of government organizations and the struggle to formulate a plan to respond cause a big lag time in a meaningful response. And the simple fact is the Iraqi Security Forces are far from mature and self reliant organizations. The Washington Post reports the combination of the curfew, driving ban and the deployment of police and Army has had an effect; “On Friday afternoon, news services reported that scattered attacks killed five Iraqis after troops and police threw up a web of checkpoints in Baghdad and in the mixed Sunni-Shiite provinces of Diyala, Babil and Salahuddin.”

Richard Hernandez concludes his analysis of the security situation as follows; “So that’s a good-looking trend from 22nd to the 24th. The trouble seems to have run out of gas for the present, though it may pick up again.” We concur. The spasm of violence appears to have been contained withing two days of its inception. The reaction of the Iraqi government over the next few days and weeks is critical in determining the outcome of this crisis. Security forces must reestablish control, and Sadr’s militias must be reigned in to restore the security situation in Iraq. And Iraq’s political and religious leaders must continue to make call for restraint and reproachment, as Haider has described:

[W]hat is not being reported is the calling for calm and cooperation by all Sunni & Shiite religious leaders (except the young Alsadar who remains a thorn). The demonstrations of national unity. The mullahs in Sunni & Shiite mosques calling for support for injured brothers and sisters, national calm. They do not report on the Shiites standing guard outside of Sunni mosques in the south. Etc…There are two sides to this incident. The side of revenge, anger and the much larger side of unity and support. This bombing in Samarah has brought more unity amongst Iraqis than any other incident since the stampede on the Kahdumiah bridge (when Felujans [mostly Sunni] donated blood for the wounded in Kahdumiah [mostly Shiite] in Baghdad). Iraqi political parties, community leaders, religious leaders, political leaders all are strongly condemning this bombing and asking for national support and help for the people of Samarah. This outpouring of compassion, support and help is what is not being reported.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • cjr says:

    This is going to be another major test for the capablity of the ISF, just like the Jan05 elections, the Oct05 elections and the Dec05 elections. Going into each election there was major uncertainty about how well they would do. But each time, they performed well.
    If the ISF perform well this time, it will be another major demonstration of their increasing capablity and will result in another jump in their prestege and confidence.
    In other words, this may actually turn out to be a very useful episode.

  • PeterArgus says:

    I remember a post about 6 months or a year ago, I think it was at your site, in which a US general in Iraq was interviewed (by you?). He predicted that in the not too distant future there would be a cataclysmic blow-up of this nature that would really test the resolve of the Iraqis. The end result, if I am rememembering his words correctly, was that in the face of this adversity unity would be acheived, spelling the end of the insurgency. If you were the source of this interview could you please provide the link to your archive. Of course, like I said, I could be completely wrong….

  • hamidreza says:

    Indeed this is a test of the resolve of the Iraqis.
    Maybe the Sunnis will for the first time feel their vulnerability to the combined Sadr and Badr forces backed by Iranians – and that would make them think long and hard about their “Oriental self-Defeatism” insurgency. Same with those Shiites who think grabbing power via Islamic Khomeinist thuggery will bring them a just and prosperous society.
    This is the time for Iraqis to show their nobility and claim their dignity – or for the next 100 years, to remain silent, and accept their own shortcoming and lack of reasonability.
    I sincerely hope that after this incident, something better emerges from this senseless idealism and utopianism, masquerading as “insurgency to free our country”.

  • Dave From Chicago says:

    Fierce streetfighting at my doorstep for the last 3 hours. Rumor in the neighbourhood is that men in black are trying to enter the area. Some armed kids defending the local mosque three blocks away are splattering bullets at everything that moves, and someone in the street was shouting for people to prepare for defending themselves.
    There’s supposed to be a curfew, but it doesn’t look like it. My net connection is erratic, so I’ll try to update again if possible. The news from other areas in Baghdad are horrible. I don’t think it’s being reported anywhere.
    My father and uncle are agitatedly walking back and forth in the hallway, asking me what we should do if the mob or Interior ministry forces try to attack us in our homes? I have no answer for them

  • Enigma says:

    These are the times that try men’s souls.
    I believe the words of Thomas Paine are very fitting in these circumstances. The restraint shown so far by the Iraqis bodes well for the future. The hysterical among us would do well to acquire a better knowledge of history.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    I’m reminded of the Katrina reporting. Zeyad(from healing iraq) seems to be quite concerned about the Ministry of Interior lately. Even if the Ministry of Interior had Death Squads, why would they target Zeyad? He stopped blogging for a year, and now he’s blogging again and one of his first entries is “how to avoid death squads”.

  • Dave From Chicago says:

    Comments deleted

  • serurier says:

    I hear coalition (Special Force ?)and Iraq polices kill a AQ lead .

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Dave, post foul language somewhere else. Do it again here and you’re no longer welcome.
    To everyone – re-read the comments policy if you are not familiar with it. Be adults. Stop wasting my time with policing the comments.
    PeterArgus, That quote wasn’t made here that I am aware of. The only general I interviewd was General Huck while I was in Ramadi.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    “I hear coalition (Special Force ?)and Iraq polices kill a AQ lead”
    MNF-Iraq reported today that the “Emir of Northern Baghdad” was killed on the 22nd”

  • Dave From Chicago says:

    I didn’t post foul language.

  • Dave From Chicago says:

    Soldier’s Dad, are you still fighting with people on that Iraqi Blog?

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    Transcript from todays Baghdad briefing.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Give me your real email address, or email me, and I’ll forward it. You did.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    Dave From Chicago,
    “Soldier’s Dad, are you still fighting with people on that Iraqi Blog?”
    Dave, I did my time in the sandbox when Jimmy Carter was president. Somewhere I’ve got a copy of the Carter speach, declaring that I didn’t exist.
    My child has now done time in the Sandbox.
    People who talk about “The Bush Policy” has failed make me sick. The Nixon policy failed, the Ford policy failed,the Carter policy failed, the Reagan policy failed, the Bush Sr policy failed, the Clinton policy failed.
    Bush Jr at least had the intestinal fortitude to try to tackle the problem head on.
    So when you declare, yet another “failed policy” and take glee in that, understand that another generation of American Soldier’s will be fighting and dieing 10 or 20 years down the road, in a conflict even bloodier than this in the same region, over the same issues.

  • Comments deleted and John is banned

  • This comment responds to the actual post; I am not getting involved in the internecine fighting among other commenters.

    I generally agree but I wouldn’t go too far with describing the initial two days violence as “spontaneous.” Both the Financial Times and (on the ground) IraqtheModel say that the attacks were organized and targeted to specific Sunnis, although clearly there were civilian casualties. I think that Sadr was behind it early, and then the Grand Ayatollahs Sistani and Husni Baghdadi demanded full restraint and Sadr complied.

    My basic thesis explaining the events is this: The key factor driving the post-attack violence seems to be a retaliatory offensive by Moqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army in the immediate aftermath, followed by a reversal by Sadr in which he began ordering his gunmen to protect both Shia and Sunni mosques in Shia areas. For full post, click here.

    An interesting sidenote: According to Al-Quds al-Arabi, which I cite in my post, Sistani focused on urging calm and unity, while Husni Baghdadi of Najaf also called or Iraqi unity but framed it in an anti-American way, arguing that it was necessary to “remove the imperialist forces from our holy land.”

  • Matthew says:

    Up until Wednesday, there had been a serious lull in fighting which I had attributed to a build-up and preparation phase for an insurgent operation/campaign. The problem is, why such a long wait for such a relatively simple operation? Is the bombing of the shrine/mosque the operation that I was predicting? Or are they holding on for a bigger offensive?
    Of course, the insurgency could just be beaten and this is all they can muster…

  • blert says:

    The local players have clearly shifted into armistice mode while the government is being formed.
    No faction wants to hurt their negotiating position.
    The fighters are now criminal/mercenaries being paid by external sources.( Ronin )
    In the manner of the Indian Wars: once the Chief stops fighting the tribe falls in line.
    There are very few Sheiks on the war path.
    It’s not peace: it’s an Arabian standoff. Everone is packing heat. The lack of heavy weapons in the Iraqi Army means that any attempt against the Sunnis would be Stalingrad on the Tigris.

  • blert says:

    The local players have clearly shifted into armistice mode while the government is being formed.
    No faction wants to hurt their negotiating position.
    The fighters are now criminal/mercenaries being paid by external sources.( Ronin )
    In the manner of the Indian Wars: once the Chief stops fighting the tribe falls in line.
    There are very few Sheiks on the warpath.
    It’s not peace: it’s an Arabian standoff. Everyone is packing heat. The lack of heavy weapons in the Iraqi Army means that any attempt against the Sunnis would be Stalingrad on the Tigris.

  • AST says:

    I thought this was supposed to be their Tet Offensive. If so, it sure fizzled. But Iraqis who desire freedom and a modern economy have to understand that those things require sacrifices in blood and lives. And they have to decide whether they’re willing to pay the price.
    The Golden Mosque can be rebuilt. It’s the site that’s sacred, not the building. That should be the Shiite motto and they work to reach a consensus with reasonable Sunnis to prevent another regime like the Ba’ath Party dictatorship.


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