Parliament meets; Sectarian violence, not civil war; Planned attack on the IZ broken up
Amid threats of violence and a lockdown on driving in Baghdad, Iraqi’s elected parliament gathered and was sworn in, vowing to “preserve the independence and the sovereignty of Iraq and to take care of the interests of its people.” The parliament now has sixty days to form a government. The session was suspended after the parties were unable to agree upon a speaker of parliament, indicating further haggling over the political appointments is in the offerings. Iraq’s current Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, has been nominated for a second term by the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, but has indicated he would “step aside” if the parliament decides to block his nomination. Small steps forward, but steps forward none the less.
While the political wrangling continues, Time Magazine’s Michael Ware provides an insightful look at the current situation in Iraq and the prospects for civil war, which loosely matches our assessment from yesterday. He makes the distinction between sectarian violence and civil war, and explains the current violence is not yet at a level to consider the situation a full-blown bout of sectarian violence or worse, a civil war:
A senior U.S. officer told me that they see Iraq as still one step away from civil war, because the sectarian violence is not yet self-sustaining, and you’re not seeing wholesale “ethnic cleansing” of neighborhoods by militias: It’s still hit-and-run stuff, and it still requires prodding and provocation by the likes of Zarqawi and the most sectarian elements on the Shiite street.
U.S. intelligence believes there are enough incentives for the major parties to restrain their followers so that a civil war can be avoided. The nationalist and Baathist insurgents don’t want or need it; the Shi’ite religious parties have won so much power at the ballot box that it’s not in their interests to jeopardize that; it’s not in the Kurds’ interests to see Iraq go up in flames and possibly give Turkey a pretext to come in and seize Kirkuk on the grounds that they’re protecting the city’s Turkmen. It’s only really the Zarqawi element that wants a civil war. And if the Shi’ite leadership were to lose control of the highly emotive Shi’ite street, the al Qaeda element may just get the war it wants.
It is for these reasons that al Qaeda is the main suspect in the destruction of the dome of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, and may very well be behind some of the more egregious acts of mass killings thought to be sectarian-related violence. The recently discovered al Qaeda plot to attack the International Zone (aka Green Zone), where al Qaeda was to have infiltrated the security checkpoints manned by Iraqi troops and over 400 al Qaeda fighters were to assassinate diplomats, U.S. military officers and Iraqi politicians, is yet another attempt to drag the country into further sectarian violence. It would be interesting to know if the attack was planned to coincide with the convening of parliament, as this would make for great political theater.
The plot on the International Zone was also an attempt to destroy U.S. confidence in the war effort. While Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to make progress in securing Iraq, Baghdad and the International Zone are a political and media center-of-gravity in Iraq, and a spectacular assault on the compound, regardless of the fact that al Qaeda would be routed in a counterattack, would serve as a media coup for al Qaeda, much like the failed Tet Offensive in Vietnam.
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