A status report on the violence in Iraq and prospects for civil war; Sadr’s role
Four days after the destruction of the dome of the Golden Mosque, the threat of an all out civil war in Iraq seems to have abated. Saturday’s violence resulted in over sixty deaths, however some incidents were related to insurgency activity and al Qaeda carbomb attacks, which are designed to further stoke the flames of sectarian violence. Omar at Iraq the Model provides the government statistics for the attacks, which indicate the media reports are exaggerated. Zeyad at Healing Iraq is skeptical of the government’s claims, and provides further details on the violence in Baghdad and elsewhere. By all accounts, the fighting is isolated and directed at the local level, while the national religious and political leaders are calling for calm. The title of Zeyad’s post, Curfew Extended, Situation Still Tense, indicates the situation is not at the level of a full blown civil war.
The Iraqi government is working to marshal assets to restore and maintain the peace. Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi has indicated a mechanized army division and a mechanized Interior Ministry brigade are prepared to be deployed if the situation warrants.
U.S. forces are not confined to their posts, but have taken a role in keeping the peace while continuing to focus on the more dangerous elements of al Qaeda and the insurgency. The Stars and Stripes reports U.S. troops have shifted their mission from counterinsurgency operations in the rural regions to providing urban security in the city of Mahmudiyah, a mixed Shiite and Sunni city south of Baghdad and a flashpoint for violence in the past. During the height of the conflict on Friday, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police killed Abu Asma, al Qaeda’s Emir of Northern Baghdad, who “was in possession of and expected to use suicide-bomber vests against Iraqi civilians and security forces.”
There has been much speculation on the culprits of the destruction of the Mosque. Iran and Muqtada al-Sadr have been the focus of many theories, as it is believed Iran has much to gain by inciting a civil war – breaking off the Shiite regions and tying down U.S. forces in Iraq to prevent them from interfering with Iran’s nuclear development program. Syed Saleem Shahzad disagrees, and states the destruction of the mosque has set back Iran’s alliances with disparate terrorist groups and a planned offensive throughout the region.
A plot such as this, if traced back to Iran or Sadr would have serious consequences. The Al Askari mosque is not just any run-of-the-mill mosque, but one of the top four religious sites in Shiite Islam. Sadr balked when faced with damaging the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf in 2004, as he understood the consequences. If the destruction of the Golden Mosque was traced back to Sadr, he would be finished in Iraq – his death warrant would be signed and executed with little thought. The Iranian government would not only face a backlash from Iraqi Shiites and others world wide, but from within their own borders. The likelihood is this attack was al Qaeda designed and executed.
While al Qaeda is main suspect in the destruction of the Golden Mosque, Sadr has been most opportunistic during this situation. Both Omar and Zayed have indicated the majority of the reatliatory strikes have been conducted by Sadr’s Madhi Army. But it appears that Sadr has switched gears and is now calling for the end of violence and made conciliatory gestures towards the Sunni Muslim Scholars Association and the Iraqi Islamic Party.
It appears the violence in the aftermath of Wednesday’s attack in Samarra is unpopular, and Sadr senses this. He may very well be under real pressure from the Iraqi government and Grand Ayatollah Sistani, his political and clerical rival who wields far more power than Sadr. Richard Hernandez sums up Sadr’s switch quite aptly, “Sadr’s about-face suggests he wants to distance himself from a failed enterprise… This suggests the civil war crisis has been beaten down for now.”
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