Iraq “Civil War” Sitrep

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.”

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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20 Comments

  • Bill Roggio: Iraq “Civil War” Sitrep

    Read it here.

  • hamidreza says:

    If Iran is behind the mosque bombing, I don’t think it would be the government of Iran that would execute it. The Quds brigade is a secretive death-squad organization, a government within a government controlled by a security clique. Quds would be the mastermind.
    Few people in the Iranian government would even know of this job. But Quds would need agents in Iraq to do the job. Ansar-al-Sunna, an al-Qaeda offshoot are known to receive financial and material assistance from Iran. Rumsfeld has complained about that many times, and the Kurds have stopped car bombs manufactured by Quds inside Iran at the border.
    Most likely Quds would pay and order Ansar or a similar organization to carry out the job. Apparently it was not difficult at all to execute.
    Interesting is that they did not blow up the two tombs of the 10th and 11th Imams inside the mosque. This would be FAR more significant than blowing up the dome. The dome is very visible, but theologically has no significance. The two tombs would be of much higher doctrinal value, for a Sunni that wants to destroy Shiite sensibilities. Even Iran would not want to blow up the two tombs – so again this points out to a highly “symbolic” act that Iran would carry out, without real damage to the faith.
    Also, the Asia Times Online publication is a neo-fascist publication loaded with American haters such as Henry Liu and Pepe Escobar and a slew of Muslim “journalists” such as Shahzad. Henry Liu is noted for his denial and revision of history. It is owned and run by a Chinese self-made billionaire who now is trying to form a nexus for all anti-Americans in South East Asia. It is a very suspect and inherently biased publication.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    hamidreza,
    Regardless of what you think of the Asia Times (and I agree many of the authors are highly anti-American), Syed Saleem Shahzad is a respectable author. I think he exaggerates the resurgence of the Taliban, but he is pretty accurate when it comes to matters of terrorism, and I felt his view was interesting. I don’t know I fully buy into his premise, but felt it was worth mentioning as a counterargument to the Iran/Sadr theories.

  • Jamison1 says:

    Here is another Iraqi blog, blogging this story:
    //twentyfourstepstoliberty.blogspot.com/

  • Tim Solan says:

    Bill,
    Thanks for the reports on the possible civil war in Iraq. They are well thought out, balanced and in context of the big picture in Iraq.
    Although the Iran/Sadr connection in interesting and deserves mentioning and analysis, I do not believe in was an Iranian ploy, even though Sadr has been the most opportunistic in this crisis.
    I still believe the work is from Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq. Zarqawi has the most to benefit from this by pulling Iraq into a full blown civil war. The silence from Zarqawi, I believe is a statement in itself. He knows he can’t go public with it, since he is becoming more and more isolated even with the domestic elements of the Sunni led insurgency as witnessed by the red on red fighting. Zarqawi is very shrewd, so he will continue with his plans, while at the same time not claiming responsibility or possibly even denying any involvement when pressed.
    Fortunately cooler and more moderate heads from Iraq’s poiltical and religious leaders seems to be prevailing.

  • Scott Malensek says:

    It’s no mistake that the mosque is the shrine of the 10th and 11th Imams….Iran’s president believes the 12th Imam is about to return, and his return is supposed to be foreshadowed by a great fire and darkening of the sky to the W. Hmmmm, also, the destruction of the shrine plays just as the Danish cartoons did (one that were published in Cairo in Oct without incident, but brought about riots around the world soon after Iran was sent to the UNSC by the IAEA). By enflaming the Arab Street, Iran aims to use the potential rage and fervor of the Arab Street as a deterrent to using force against them re their nuclear program. Syria has similar interest as the UN’s report showing that Syria’s highest leaders were involved in the murder of Lebanon’s former pm. Neither nation can deter international action and force by themselves or even combined, but by making the world community fear international rioting etc…they create a deterrence they could never muster themselves. Further, fmr CIA agent Robert Baer was on Hardball back months ago saying that he’d just come from Tehran, and the Ayatollahs had already met with Sadr and planned an uprising in Iraq for Spring. The IAEA’s action accelerated the pace of the diplomacy/violence dance. Look for Iran to feign compliance as we get closer to the 3/6 presentation of the IAEA to the UNSC (which will bring about some sort of sanctioning of Iran, and start the clock on Israel’s strike). Also, look for more violence in Iraq and around the globe to further the deterrence effort in conjunction with the veil of compliance. Finally, in late March, there’s going to be a solar eclipse over Israel-the perfect opportunity for the nutcase in Iran to claim that the fire and darkness in the sky shows the time of the 12th imam’s return has come.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Bill Roggio,
    What is the role of Kurdish forces in this. Are there any attempts to bring them into wider security arrangements. It seems to me that they are being under utilized. They might be useful away from Kurdish areas as a semi-neutral party where Iraqi army troops are not trusted.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Some Kurdish soldiers and officers have been integrated into the Iaaqi forces, and some peshmerga units have been switched to IA units. But the Kurdish regions still possess organized Pershmerga units in the north to provide security for the region. I think a better integration of the Peshmerga units into the IA would help matters greatly.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Bill Roggio
    “I think a better integration of the Peshmerga units into the IA would help matters greatly.”

  • Jamison1 says:

    Bill,
    Iraqi Blogger’s Central has a summary of the thoughts of a number of Iraqi blogs on who maybe behind the initial bombing.
    //www.back-to-iraq.com/

  • Alan Furman says:

    Last year Samarra was controlled by Sunni thugs who kept the populace afraid to tip off the coalition troops. Some of the tribes went along with the terrorists out of opportunism.
    Then things began to happen. Coalition tactics changed from whack-a-mole to clear-and-hold, which meant that once a place was cleared it would not be abandoned yet again to let the thugs go after snitches. The terrorists kicked over numerous hornets’ nests when they assassinated sheiks who had begun snubbing them. And the Iraqi defense minister dropped hints that Samarra would get the Tal Afar treatment if there was no other way to clean it up.
    So the floodgates opened and our side got enough intel to terminate several key terrorist leaders. Samarra’s elites promised to have local security forces oppose the insurgency in exchange for a lower coalition profile.
    Bottom line: Zarqawi has a powerful motive to punish Samarra to go with his history of brutalilty against reluctant allies. Although the Iranians and their lackeys are unscrupulous enough to commit this crime, Zarqawi looks like the frontrunner to me.

  • blert says:

    Not going after the tombs… a much simpler task… points away from AQ. If the purpose is civil war then that was the target to hit.
    The expertise required points to a highly trained Impossible Mission Force.
    I’m thinking like hamidreza.
    Too many Iranian angles.
    If AQ, why not a car bomb?
    Too much asset exposure for a non-lethal symbolic act.
    Just not AQ’s style at all.

  • Marlin says:

    Haider Ajina, an Iraqi living in California, provides the following positive commentary at Gateway Pundit.
    “We have much more evidence of a strong national unity movement in Iraq. This is exactly the opposite of what the bombers of the samara shrine (Alzarqawi’s group is a strong suspect) wanted to achieve. This attack was supposed to plunge Iraq into sectarian mayhem and senseless massive killing. This did not happen. A few over zealous individuals attacked Sunni mosques (8-11 Sunni mosques burned and small arms fire hit about 100) and killed Sunnis (120-160). There is no excuse for these retaliations; they are exactly what the enemies of democracy and freedom in Iraq want. It is playing into their hands.
    Let us remember that Iraq is the size of California and has over 25 million people. Every neighborhood has at least two mosques. Considering this the retaliations are small while tragic.
    Demonstrations in Baghdad (in spite of the curfew) called for national unity. Combined Sunni & Shiite prayers were held all over Iraq.
    This is a sign of a people united not divided. A people with a common cause (defeating terrorism), a people with a common goal (self rule through democracy, rule of law & freedom).
    The terrorists are bringing about their eventual demise by uniting Iraqis. We witnessed this effect on 9-11. Americans were united and developed the strong resolve to fight terrorist. Let us not forget that we were attacked not so long ago.”
    Haider Ajina
    McKinleyville CA
    Unity Protests Break Out in Basra, Mosul, Hillah, Al Kut, Karbala… Amarah… And, London.

  • Weekend quick glances

    There are a few things worth taking a glance at this weekend:
    The blogger at 75 Degrees South is leaving Antarctica.  I’m really going to miss the pictures.
    Abu Aardvark has an interesting analysis of the Arab press’s coverage of the Cart…

  • hamidreza says:

    Hi Bill, Shahzad’s account appears contradictory for a person who seems to know so much about the Islamists. As you say, there are many holes in his theory.
    He indicates this could be the job of Ansar al-Sunna, but for some reason, neglects to say that Ansar al-Sunna has bases inside Iran along the border, and they are clearly financed by Iran, for the past 5 or 6 years, at the minimum. In fact they are one of the groups he claims Iran is trying to stitch together for protection. How is it that he suspects this group which closely works with the Iranian Quds death-squad-intelligence brigades, but he feels molla Iran would not benefit from this act?
    Of course, if Iraqis master the nobility to unite and show certitude against political Islam, then he would be right – this incident would backfire against Iran. But that is a 2nd order effect. The 1st order effect is that Iraq has come closer to a civil war, and that is to the benefit of Iran. From all indications, this act may have backfired, but it is too soon to tell.
    Also, Shahzad does not explain why the bombers decided NOT to blow up the 10th and 11th Imam tombs, which would have created far more damage within the Shiite faith. The tombs were accessible to the bombers. Why did they decide to blow up a symbolic dome, and not the icons of the faith? Looks to me somebody wanted to instigate chaos, without real damage to the Shiite faith.
    Also, Shahzad’s account that the 12th Imam occluded in a celler in the mosque, I believe, is not accurate. Of course this is a myth that the 5 year old 12th Imam occluded inside a well or cellar back in the 9th century, and is still alive in there, waiting for the apocalypse! But I believe the location of occlusion is either in dispute or kept secret. It has been reported that this well is somewhere in the Samarra area, but not in the mosque.

  • Civil War?

    That was on Thursday the 23rd. From today, the 26th: 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 S…

  • Paul says:

    Bill,
    Great analysis in this post, and in Thursdays as well. I wish the people who get paid the salaries to “tell” us whats going on had half the intelligence, analytical skills and, most of all, the desire that you display in your reporting.
    Keep up the good work.
    As for Civil War, more of the same doesn’t make it a civil war and essentially, aside from the fairly limited number of reprisals, this is not anything new in the big scheme of things.

  • Enigma says:

    I don’t think we can dismiss AQ out of hand. If anything, AQ is adept at changing their tactics in order to maintain the element of surprise. Looking at it in this way, the mosque bombing does have AQ’s fingerprints on it.
    But neither can we dismiss the Iran angle. In fact, I think it’s important to note that both Iran and AQ would likely benefit from chaos in Iraq. And do we not have some indication that Iran may have helped AQ in the past? Is it not at least conceivable that they might work together now to attack their common enemy, the US? Just wondering…

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    The Jihadi’s are complaining that some of their “Mujahadin” were martyred by the “safwi gangs”
    //soldiersdad2.blogspot.com/2006/02/civil-war-tidbit.html
    What can I say, what goes around, comes around.

  • FOR IRAQI UNITY… BUT AGAINST AMERICA: THE DOUBLE-EDGE OF IRAQI NATIONALISM

    Since last Wednesday’s attack on the Askariya Mosque in Samarra, there was a surge in violence that day and the next, followed by relative calm on Friday as radical Shia Islamist Moqtada Sadr called in his militia, followed by more…

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