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1/25/2018 7:38:29 AM
Posted: 2/26/2006 2:24:18 PM EST
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Storm clouds over Baghdad

Iraq the Model adds this eyewitness account of the hornet's nest stirred up by the Shi'ite mosque explosion. His bullet points are reproduced verbatim below.

President Talabani promises to make rebuilding the shrine his personal responsibility and to donate the required money from his own.

Head of the Sunni endowment sheikh Ahmed al-Samarra'I announces that he will allocate 2 billion dinars (~1.4 million $) for the rebuilding of the shrine from the treasury of the Sunni endowment.

Huge demonstrations in many of Iraq's provinces including Samarra and Mosul where thousands of people condemned the attack.

The top 4 Shia Ayatollahs hold a meeting at Sistani's home to discuss the situation.

The Association of Muslim scholars and the Islamic Party condemn the "criminal act".

Retaliatory attacks on reportedly 29 Sunni mosques and the Accord Front warns from the consequences of such violent reactions.

Jafari in a press conference calls for national unity and the leaders of the UIA hold a meeting. A press release is expected to come soon.

The Iraqi TV opened the phone lines to receive the reactions of the audience to the attack and hosts Sunni clerics and politicians in an attempt to relieve the tension.

Baghdad is in undeclared emergency situation, shops closed and streets nearly empty.

Tight security around the shrine of Abu Haneefa in Aazamiya district of Baghdad, this is considered the top shrine/mosque for Sunni Muslims in Iraq.

Masked gunmen attack Shia protestors in at least one neighborhood in western Baghdad and armed clashes in Ghazaliya and Hay al-A'amil.

People exchange phones calls with their relatives and friends to check on them and discourage them from leaving their homes.

Bill Roggio's appreciation of who the perps are is given below:

The likely culprit is al-Qaeda in Iraq, or groups underneath the newly created Mujahedeen Shura Council. Zarqawi has desired a sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis since his entry into the conflict, as he clearly stated in his letter to Osama bin Laden. al-Qaeda in Iraq has gone to through great pains of late to deny this, and will very likely not take credit in such an overt attack on the Shiite faithful. Silence and uncertainly will play into their hand, and feed conspiracy theories on who committed such an act. But the nature of the target and the sophistication of such an attack undeniably points to al-Qaeda. The detained “commandos” will be thoroughly interrogated, and the FBI will likely be called in to determine the nature of the charges used to destroy the dome.


The good news is that there are enough cools heads on both sides to try to keep the lid on. That fact alone attests to the accomplishment of those who have tried to build a unitary Iraq. The bad news is that the pressures -- stoked by parties unknown, though Iraq the Model suggests they are "foreign terror groups" -- may be too much to handle. The description above depicts a city going into voluntary and involuntary lockdown and implies, to me at least, the average Joe doesn't want the streets to run with blood.

This is going to be a test for the security apparatus of Iraq. My own hunch is that they will need to identify the perps quickly and hunt them down so that Iraqi society can confidently repose the task of justice to the authorities. The problem will be if the perps are across some nearby border.

posted by wretchard at 2:54 PM | 248 comments

Link Posted: 2/26/2006 2:28:50 PM EST
Storm clouds over Baghdad Part 2

More on the situation in Baghdad from Iraq the Model. The highlights are given verbatim below.

... extended curfews 8pm-6am ...Sistani ... calling for restraint ... but ... some Shia factions are not listening to him ... ... Islamic Party and Muslim Scholars claim more than 120 mosques have been blown up, set ablaze or came under small arms and RPG fire ... the central morgue in Baghdad received some 80 bodies ...

In our neighborhood the Sadr militias seized the local mosque ... the sense in the streets and the statements given by some Shia clerics suggest that retaliation attacks are organized and under control and are focusing on mosques frequented by Salafi and Wahabi groups and not those of ordinary Sunnis. ... Looking at the geographic distribution of the attacked mosques, I found they were mostly in areas adjacent to Sadr city forming a line that extends from the New Baghdad district in the southeast to al-Hussayniya in the northeast ... The Association of Muslim Scholars is accusing the Sadrists in particular ...

... Sunni political leaders ... refused to join the meeting saying the government has to condemn attacks on their mosques as well before they consider ending the boycott. Talabani responded positively ... and condemned all attacks on worshipping places of all kinds....

Baghdad looks more alive today but in a very cautious way, traffic in the streets is heavier than it was yesterday ... the good thing is that the Sunni have not returned the attacks and I hope the Shia have satisfied their vengeance by now...

Bill Roggio has a piece up called Looking for Signs of Civil War in Iraq, in which he lays out indicators to watch for if a full blown civil war is under way. Some of them are:

• The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance no longer seeks to form a unity government
• Sunni political parties withdraw from the political process.
• Grand Ayatollah Sistani ceases calls for calm, no longer takes a lead role in brokering peace.
• Muqtada al-Sadr becomes a leading voice in Shiite politics.
• Major political figures - Shiite and Sunni - openly call for retaliation.
• The Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party and Muslim Scholars Association openly call for the formation of Sunni militias.
• Iraqi Security Forces begins severing ties with the Coalition, make no effort to quell violence or provide security in Sunni neighborhoods and actively participate in attacks on Sunnis
• Shiite militias are fully mobilized, with the assistance of the government, and deployed to strike at Sunni targets.
• Sunni military officers are dismissed en masse from the Iraqi Army.
• Kurdish officers and soldiers leave their posts and return to Kurdistan, and reform into Peshmerga units.
• Attacks against other religious shrines escalate, and none of the parties make any pretense about caring.
• Coalition military forces pull back from forward positions to main regional bases.


Zeyad from Healing Iraq has more on the situation following the attack on the Golden Mosque.

Eyewitnesses and relatives from Samarra claim that American and Iraqi Interior ministry forces blocked the main street leading to the shrine at 9 pm on the night preceding the blast. It was opened again at dawn Wednesday and the troops pulled out of the area. The two blasts occurred at 6:40 and 6:45 am according to residents, while the official statement from Interior minister, Baqir Solagh has them around 7:50 and 8 am. The details on the operation are also very vague. Some sources say there was a force of 35 guards in the shrine, but there were only 4 or 5 that morning. The number of attackers has fluctuated between 4 and 15 armed men, one of them dressed in military uniform and the rest in black. PM Ja’fari mentioned yesterday that preliminary investigations pointed to ‘infiltration’ of the police, but he has not given any further details since. No word on the 10 suspects that were supposed to have been arrested yesterday either.

Another eyewitness from Samarra, who wrote to the Iraqi Rabita website, claims that 2 Iranians were arrested yesterday, and that the Al-Arabiya channel crew had filmed them. The Iranians were released when Solagh arrived at the scene. The Al-Arabiya crew was near Al-Dor, north of Samarra, surrounded by a crowd of locals, when a vehicle stopped and someone shouted: “We want the anchor,” and fired a couple of shots in the air to disperse the crowd. The Al-Arabiya anchor, Atwaar Bahjat (a very well known Iraqi journalist originally from Samarra), screamed for help but the team took her and the two cameramen. Their bullet-ridden corpses appeared this morning at the outskirts of Samarra; their footage tapes were confiscated. ...

What kind of nation are we? What kind of nation kills its intellectuals and academics, its doctors and healers, its women and children, its clerics and preachers? What kind of nation blows up churches and mosques, hotels and schools, funerals and weddings? We have left nothing sacred. Yet we have the insolence to accuse others of offending us, of vilifying us. I announce today that we have proved ourselves worthy of that vilification. Ten years ago, I denounced religion and disavowed Islam. I do not want to be forced to disavow my country and nation today, but with every new day, I’m afraid I am getting closer to it.

From the Big Pharaoh in Egypt:

Egyptian born Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi blamed the US and Israel for.............the bombing of the Shia shrine in Iraq.

"We cannot imagine that the Iraqi Sunnis did this," said the influential Sunni cleric Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian who lives in Qatar. "No one benefits from such acts other than the U.S. occupation and the lurking Zionist enemy."

Qaradawi, who lives in a mansion not very far from the US military base in Qatar, is a perfect example of how some US allies such as Qatar want it both ways. The presence of US bases on their soil and excellent relations with washington, and the presence of radical crazy clerics and TV stations that appease the fundamentalists.

Saudi Arabia is another similar case. Saudi rulers want good relations with the US yet in the same time their money goes into funding one of the worst brands of religion in the world.

Unfortunately, the US can't do anything about both cases. It needs oil from Saudi and military bases from Qatar.


If the reader tries to match up the situation described by Iraq the Model against the checklist provided by the Fourth Rail it is only fair to conclude, I think, that while the situation threatens to slide into civil war it's not there yet.

If Bill Roggio was right in thinking that the al-Qaeda are behind this attack in order to provoke civil war (see previous post), they have really started on this new tactic a year and half too late. They wasted their time trying to defeat the US Armed Forces and that didn't work so well. Unfortunately the time they wasted has also provided the time for the Coalition Forces to train up hundreds of Iraqi battalions, establish a shaky but nevertheless functional national leadership core (as events are proving) and weakened Sadr. In war as in other things, timing is important.

The prospective warring parties also need a source of weapons and ammunition to really go at it. Wars need logistics and civil wars are no exception. In an ironic way, the cache-busting activities conducted by Coalition forces against insurgents, plus the campaign to seal the borders (with Syria at least) and the river lines has mowed a lot of the dry grass off the prairie. For example, just three days ago Captain Pool of the Marine sent Press Release 6-031:

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq –– More than 3,000 pieces of various types of munitions were discovered yesterday by U.S. Army soldiers conducting a reconnaissance patrol near Al Quratiyah, approximately 350 km northwest of Baghdad. This cache is among the largest discovered to date in western Al Anbar province. ... The cache of munitions ranged from 60 to 125 mm mortars and included various other projectile-type munitions ... This latest cache is the 118th found by soldiers from 4th Squadron, 14th U.S. Cavalry Regiment. In a similar find last October, soldiers here discovered about 1,000 122 mm artillery rounds, 40,000 armor piercing bullets, 1,000 .50 caliber rounds, detonation cord and various bomb-making materials.

The reason the caches existed in the first place is because those who planned on using them knew they would they would need them. Civil wars and insurgencies cannot fight on thin air and green grass. However, considering the rumors reported by the updates tinfoil hats are not in short supply.

posted by wretchard at 12:46 PM | 48 comments

Link Posted: 2/26/2006 2:33:32 PM EST
Is the storm building?

Ominious new about events in Iraq as reported by the Times of London:

At least 140 killed yesterday
In worst incident 47 killed by gunmen at roadblock. Bodies discovered in Nahrawan, on outskirts of Baghdad
At least 53 killed in Baghdad in 24 hours
At least 25 killed in Basra. Overnight 12 prisoners removed from Basra prison and 11 killed
Bomb aimed at Iraqi Army foot patrol kills 16 in Baquba, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad — 8 soldiers and 8 civilians
Also in Baquba, gunmen kill one at Sunni mosque
Bomb kills policeman, wounds four in Iskandariya, south of Baghdad
7 US soldiers killed in northern Iraq
Convoy of Iraq’s Minister of Housing and Reconstruction stoned in Samarra
Journalist for al-Arabiya TV killed with two members of her crew in Samarra
Police and army leave cancelled
Curfew hours extended in Baghdad and major cities from 8pm-6am
Road to Abu Hanifa Mosque, most important Sunni mosque in Baghdad, closed by army
Several thousand in Basra demonstrate near governing council offices
About 1,000 demonstrate in Samawa, 170 miles south of Baghdad. Police guarding Sunni mosque in the town
Leading Sunni group, the Muslim Clerics Association, blames Shia leaders for fuelling tensions
Main Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, pulls out of talks to form a new government, blaming ruling Shia alliance for violence
President Talabani, a Kurd, meets Shia leaders

Here's something that sounds particularly worrisome, from a different article in the Times of London:

From Dora in southern Baghdad, to Sha’ab in the city’s north, 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.

The conduct of those soldiers should give pause to those in Britain and America who believe that the new Iraqi Army will be an impartial force capable of keeping order in the country so that coalition troops can withdraw.

Wednesday night’s murder spree showed them to be partisan at best, complicit at worse.

So is the situation in Iraq deteriorating?


If we look at the timeline and compare it to Iraq the Model's posts, these attacks happened on Wednesday. He claims things have calmed down and that a curfew is being imposed. The curfew is only now being reported on the MSM.

What we could be looking at is historical data coming in only now. The thing to watch is whether the trouble ramps up from here or whether the steps authorities have taken bring this under control.

Many of the incidents related by the Times of London stories are mirrored in Healing Iraq's post of February 22nd. For instance, he details the attacks on the Sunni mosques and describes militias prowling around outside his door, but on the 22nd. On the 24th (recall Iraq is some hours ahead of US time. I am using ITM's post times as markers. His post of the 22nd was probably updated on the 23rd), he says:

Movement today was sparse. The government announced it a day off yesterday, while Sistani, the supreme religious Shi’ite authority, called for his followers to close their businesses for 7 days in mourning. Both he and Muqtada Al-Sadr have urged their followers to continue their ‘peaceful’ protests today, resulting in more retaliatory clashes and attacks against mosques in several areas of Baghdad. No one can really fathom the amount of damage since movement is very limited. We went out to buy supplies, food and fuel. Baghdadis tend to stockpile at any sign of a looming crisis.

There was not much to hear in our area, apart from the occasional thud and fire exchange, which are really usual everyday experiences for the last 3 years. 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. Most of the mosques in Baghdad are now closed and surrounded by barbed wire.

Riverbend, an Iraqi woman blogger who is pretty much an anti-coalition, has this report from February 23.

No one went to work today as the streets were mostly closed. The situation isn’t good at all. I don’t think I remember things being this tense- everyone is just watching and waiting quietly. There’s so much talk of civil war and yet, with the people I know- Sunnis and Shia alike- I can hardly believe it is a possibility. Educated, sophisticated Iraqis are horrified with the idea of turning against each other, and even not-so-educated Iraqis seem very aware that this is a small part of a bigger, more ominous plan…

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. If anyone wants to help me play this timeline game to keep the situation board updated, please chime in.

A source with recent experience in Iraq says that in reading the London Times story it is important to bear in mind the difference between the IA (Iraqi Army) and the IP (Iraqi Police). The source says the IA is a more disciplined force and the Times may not have been able to tell the difference between the IA and the IP.

posted by wretchard at 5:07 PM | 52 comments

Link Posted: 2/26/2006 2:37:56 PM EST
Zeyad reports from Baghdad

Zeyad in Healing Iraq has this post up:

Friday, February 24, 2006

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.

UPDATE: Apparently, the attackers were fended off in our neighbourhood. The fight ended about 2 hours ago, about the same time electric power returned to our area. Now we are only hearing sporadic gunshots here and there. To have an idea of what was going on, listen to these small audio files I recorded using a cell phone.

News are conflicting. Some say the local National Guard unit (its commander is from our own area) helped repel the assailants. Others say the neighbourhood watch teams clashed with an armed group in several unmarked vehicles.

The same situation occured in both Adhamiya and Al-Khadhraa'. In Adhamiya, armed groups in black crossed the river in boats from neighbouring Kadhimiya and took over the Nu'man hospital.

In Khadhraa', a combined force of Interior ministry forces and men dressed in black are surrounding 2 mosques with several families inside, threatening to burn them down on the occupants. Baghdad TV (the Islamic party's channel) is updating on the situation through telephone calls from inside the mosque. The families are crying for outside assistance.

Other bits from here and there:

An armed group in 10 vehicles with no number plates entered the Al-Iskan Al-Sha'bi district in Dora, and attempted to enter mosque, but was turned back by the residents. Eyewitnesses claim that as many as 40 bodies and 5 burnt vehicles are still in the area. 3 attackers were also killed in Dora when they attempted to enter the Al-Kubaisi mosque.

Another group dressed in black in one Daewoo and two Opel vehicles passed the Interior ministry forces' checkpoint at Abu Dshir square, south of Dora, with no resistance and entered the Yassin mosque with explosives in tin containers. The keeper was killed and the mosque blown up.

a Shi'ite armed group carried Sheikh Ghazi Al-Zoba'i in a pickup truck around Sadr city, shouting that they have a Wahhabi terrorist with them, before he was lynched on the streets by the angry mob.

Government officials and spokespersons are deliberately suppressing any news of these ongoing attacks on Sunni neighbourhoods and mosques. The official Al-Iraqiya channel is playing a historical movie, while other channels are playing Shi'ite mourning and Quran. The Interior ministry says it only has reports of 19 mosques attacked and one cleric killed. Go figure.Healing Iraq


Data for whatever it's worth. I'm looking for collateral information. If readers have any sources, please chime in.

Updated Commentary

Thanks to readers data is coming in, such as the update from Zeyad's site and analysis thereof. The value of collateral confirmation and building a timeline is amply demonstrated. Just a few comments:

as per Whit, Fox is reporting a peaceful Baghdad with 10,000 Sunnis, Shi'ites marching for peace in Basra.

it's probably good to treat Zeyad's report as a series of unconfirmed reports which are being reported verbatim. What can we say for sure or nearly sure?
Mosques are a focus of fighting
The fighting in his neighborhood has ended for now.
The authorities are trying to keep the lid on
Reported incident casualties are fairly low.

What can we say as probable?
There are small groups racing around fighting actions against each other.

What's a maybe?
Maybe some units of the National Guard are doing their job
Maybe some units of the Interior Ministry are in cahoots with militias

Overall what would be reasonable to conclude? There's some unrest, but Baghdad is not burning -- yet -- and the trends while still unclear are not clearly in the direction of all-out fighting.

Let's see if we can refine the picture. If there's more info, let's bring it in.

posted by wretchard at 2:57 PM | 106 comments

Link Posted: 2/26/2006 2:42:30 PM EST
Link Posted: 2/26/2006 2:43:24 PM EST
Two reports from Iraq

Two interesting reports, one from Iraq the Model and the other from Healing Iraq regarding the situation in Baghdad.

The key messages from Iraq the Model are:

the level of violence was not as bad as made out to be in the press, at least according to the government briefers.
the curfew continues.
neighborhoods are setting up checkpoints to screen outsiders

He has this interesting observation:

Sadr ... holds two meetings with Sunni leaders; one on the clerical level with the Association of Muslim Scholars and the other on the political level with the Accord Front. A couple of joint press releases were made after the meetings in which the two parties made calls for unity among Iraqis and condemned all kinds of attacks on mosques and civilians. In both cases the US and Iraqi authorities were blamed for the escalating situation. Ironically, these are the very two factions believed responsible for the greatest deal of the violence in the past few days!

Healing Iraq's also reports the government assertion that reports of sectarian violence while real, were exaggerated, but in a more skeptical tone. He remains skeptical of the Interior Ministry's neutrality, suspecting them of siding with the Shi'ites. This bit coincides with Iraq the Model: "Things are now quiet in the Sunni towns of Zubair and Abu Al-Khasib, south of Basrah. Sadr's followers continue to demonstrate, but in general, things appear to have calmed down there."

We also get a glimpse of what American forces have been doing:

Clashes between Interior ministry forces and insurgents at Khan Dhari, Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad. According to the Defence minister, the force was providing protection for a funeral procession of the slain Al-Arabiya TV, Atwar Bahjat, heading to the Karkh cemetary. They came under fire and roadside bomb attacks near Harith Al-Dhari's residence at Khan Dhari, resulting in a firefight. The Association of Muslim Scholar's website, and Muthanna Al-Dhari's statements on Al-Jazeera TV, say the residents returned fire after they were mocked and assaulted by the Interior ministry force which arrived in 20 vehicles early in the morning, before the funeral procession. American forces in the area seem to have intervened, and later freed 2 of Dhari's cousins taken as prisoners by the Interior ministry forces.

(As far as I can recall Atwar Bahjat was a celebrity Sunni news correspondent who was killed, possibly by Shi'ite militias in the first hours after the Golden Mosque attack. The US forces are depicted as watching, intervening at least on this occasion.)

Moqtada al-Sadr seems to be trying to cover up his apparent involvement in the earlier. Healing Iraq reports this strange statement from the Mahdi in which their spokesmen say that the killers of the past few days have been too handsome to be them.

The Iraqi Rabita website reports an interview with a Mahdi militia leader today, quoted as saying: "Strange things are happening these days. It's true that our guys often act as a bunch of spiteful, criminal thieves going on sprees of sabotage, murder and plundering. But the people who were running the act were clean young men, elegantly dressed, in modern vehicles, carrying the latest weapons, unlike our guys who are usually unkempt ruffians. No one knows were they are now."

Here are pictures from Healing Iraq's site which illustrate the point.

Pajamas Media has a link to a podcast interview of Omar at Iraq the Model describing the situation in Baghdad.

I'm guessing that Healing Iraq got his pictures from one of the websites he mentions as sources. His information about Sadr's backpedaling seems to square with Iraq the Model's ironic observation that Sadr is now churning out press releases denouncing violence which he is suspected of avidly participating in. And I'll grant that the uniforms worn by the militiamen shown above look like they came straight out of a box.

Sadr's about-face suggests he wants to distance himself from a failed enterprise. He is not, definitely not the kind of guy to go down with the Titanic after letting the women and children into the lifeboats. This suggests the civil war crisis has been beaten down for now. However, if those uniforms are new and Sad'r and the al-Qaeda (mentioned elsewhere in Healing Iraq's post) were practically ready to exploit the civil unrest from the start, then one might speculate whether the Golden Mosque attack was not part of a larger plot to spark up a civil war in Iraq. That's speculation but an interesting thought to hold in mind as more evidence comes to hand. Once again, input from the readers if they have any info (remember to quote the URL or type of source) would be much appreciated.

posted by wretchard at 2:51 PM | 41 comments

Link Posted: 2/26/2006 2:46:00 PM EST
The Nauroz offensive

Syed Saleem Shahzad, writing in the Asia Times (hat tip: Bill Roggio) says that the destruction of the Golden Mosque was a terrible blow to the Sunni-Shi'ite united resistance against the United States.

KARACHI - Spring is only a month away, and preparations for Nauroz (the Persian new year) are well under way. In Iran this year, however, Nauroz was due to come with a deadly dimension: the start of a new phase of a broad-based anti-US resistance movement stretching from Afghanistan to Jerusalem. ...

Security contacts have told Asia Times Online that several al-Qaeda members have been moved from detention centers to safe houses run by Iranian intelligence near Tehran. The aim of these people in Iran is to establish a chain of anti-US resistance groups that will take the offensive before the West makes its expected move against Tehran. ... Many believe that the US is planning preemptive military action against Iran.

With Wednesday's attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra in Iraq, home to a revered Shi'ite shrine, the dynamics have changed overnight. ... The potentially bloody polarization in the Shi'ite-Sunni world now threatens to unravel the links that have been established between Shi'ite-dominated Iran and radical Sunni groups from Afghanistan and elsewhere.


I'm not sure whether to believe Mr. Shahzad. Zarqawi has long declared his intention to start an Iraqi civil war. The al-Qaeda or Sunni groups have attacked Shi'ite pilgrimages and holy places for two years running. Saddam Hussein launched a war against the Ayatollah in 1980. Therefore it does not necessarily follow that the Golden Mosque attack was in response to the Nauroz offensive. But it does raise the question: what is the Nauroz offensive?

posted by wretchard at 1:43 AM | 36 comments
Link Posted: 2/26/2006 3:19:39 PM EST
February 24, 2006
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.

By Bill Roggio | Posted February 24, 2006 | Permalink | Print Article

Link Posted: 2/26/2006 3:27:30 PM EST
February 26, 2006
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.”

By Bill Roggio | Posted February 26, 2006 | Permalink | Print Article

Link Posted: 2/28/2006 1:22:56 PM EST
February 26, 2006
Iraq “Civil War” Sitrep II
Fighting in Doura district of Baghdad seems to be locus of fighting; QRFs established to address hot spots

It is quite difficult at this point in time to sort out the 'day to day' insurgency related violence from the violence related to the destruction of the dome of the Golden Mosque in Samarra. Reuters provides an update on the major security incidents in Iraq forthe 26th of February. While it is pure speculation, the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Basra (three of the bombers were wounded during premature detonation), a drive by shooting on youths playing soccer in Baquba and the fighting in Baghdad's Doura district likely are directly related to destruction of mosque.

The fighting in Baghdad's Doura district is the heaviest, with 15 killed and 45 wounded during mortar exchanges. Journalists/blogger Christopher Albritton, who is living in Baghdad, was extremely negative about the prospects on February 25th , (“We have reached a point where the facade of the “political process” has been shredded.”) and was predicting an all out collapse of the government and full blown civil war. According to Mr. Allbritton, the government (or “government” as the “objective” reporter Chris Allbritton refers to it) was not entering the fray on the streets of Baghdad. Today, Mr. Allbritton backtracks (“Well, maybe I spoke too soon.”) and reports the Iraqi Security Forces along with Coalition air support are engaging in Doura.

As I type, the mixed neighborhood of Doura, to the south of me, is reeling under a mortar barrage. The refinery there is on fire, it looks like. Fifteen people have been killed and 45 wounded as of last count. I have no idea how many mortars have landed, they’ve been so numerous. The sky is abuzz with Coalition choppers and Iraqi Army units have been seen crossing the Two-Story Bridge from Karradah to Doura.
Doura itself is a mixed neighborhood, with both Sunni and Shi’a residents. For months now, it’s been a very nasty place and it’s the current HQ for Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters in Baghdad. You don’t go to Doura unless you’re looking for trouble.

There is no word if the Iraqi Army mechanized division or the Interior Ministry's mechanized brigade are engaging in Doura, but it is highly likely as this appears to be the Iraqi Quick Reaction Force. The Washington Times' Rowan Scarborough reports the U.S. military has set up quick reaction forces and are monitoring the Iraqi Security Forces actions via Unmanned aerial Vehicles and embedded Military Training Teams, and are prepared to provide assistance if needed. The Iraqis are being given the lead in this fight.

While much of the focus is on the divisions between various Sunni and Shiite groups, Gateway Pundit rounds up the news of the unity demonstrations being held throughout Iraq, in cities such as Basra, Mosul, Hillah, Al Kut, and Karbala.

The Jordan Times looks at how the “Wolf Brigade” is transitioning to an effective elite unit that is gaining the respect of the Iraqi people in Ramadi. All hope is not lost for the Iraqi police, and it should be remembered that 2006 is considered to be “the year of the police” - where police units are to be trained up to improve their effectiveness.

Again, it appears the Iraqi government is beginning to assert itself and push security units into the fray. As Mr. Allbritton notes, Doura is no place for the meek. It should also be noted that the oversimplification of Shiite and Sunni relations is a big source of misinformation in the press. Mr. Allbritton, in his February 25th posting, questions Shiite military and police units would turn on their “brethren” in the Madhi or Badr militias. Or would Sunni police forces “confiscate the AK-47s of their mujahideen brothers off to fight the Shi’ite members of the 1st Division down the road?”

Mr. Allbritton forgets the 2004 assault on the Shrine of Imam Ali, where Muqtada al-Sadr's forces were routed by U.S. forces accompanied by Shiite militiamen of the Thulfiqar Army and the Ansar Sistani, which Mr. Allbritton witnessed first hand (and, incidentally, he also predicted the government would collapse and Sadr was extremely popular and would be victorious). Sadr is very unpopular in many Shiite circles, just as the “mujahideen” are very unpopular in many Sunni circles. That's why there has been so much Red-on-Red fighting between insurgents, tribes and al-Qaeda. The sectarian devides exist, and have existed for hundreds of years, and should not be oversimplified or confused with a civil war.

By Bill Roggio | Posted February 26, 2006 | Permalink | Print Article

Link Posted: 2/28/2006 1:29:17 PM EST
February 27, 2006
Stepping Back from 'Civil War' in Iraq
The bombing at the Golden Mosque has not instigated civil war in Iraq

After the daytime curfew designed to limit sectarian violence in the wake of the demolition of the dome of the Golden Mosque was lifted in Baghdad, the city returned to 'normal', a relative term as Baghdad is a dangerous place to begin with. Reuters lists the Developments in Iraq for February 27, and the picture it paints is just another day of the insurgency in Iraq. It's less than optimal but far from civil war.

The Reuters report also highlights a high tempo of operations by military and police forces in Iraq. Iraqi television reports the Interior Ministry's Wolf Brigade arrested al-Qaeda leader Abu al-Farouq al-Suri (the Syrian) along with five other terrorists in the city of Ramadi. al-Farouq is described as "a senior Zarqawi aid" however he is a virtual unknown.

Evan Kohlmann warns we should be skeptical of Iraqi government statements at this time as "the political pressure on the Iraqi government to prove its control of the security situation might move it to make claims of success in matters of importance to Americans." While this may be the case with Abu al-Farouq al-Suri, it is unlikely the operational details are being inflated. I personally saw the system used by Coalition forces to track 'events' across Iraq, and with American Military Training Teams embedded in Iraqi units, it is highly unlikely these statistics are being falsified.

Both Mohammed at Iraq the Model and Zeyad at Healing Iraq provide updates on the situation in Baghdad and the aftermath of the six days of violence in the city. They intimate the situation in Baghdad is stabilizing, and both share the opinion the police forces of the Interior Ministry are worthy of contempt, while the Iraqi Army units performed well during the crisis.

It should be remembered that 2006 has been dubbed "the year of the police" by the Coalition - meaning the main focus of Coalition efforts will be on training and integrating the police forces. Some police units are said to be wholly comprised of elements of the Shiite Badr and Madhi militias, and their performance during this crisis should be scrutinized by the Iraqi government. The Sunnis are talking about returning to the negotiating table to form a unity government. One of the Sunni's sticking points has been the status of the Interior Ministry and the composition and control of the police battalions. Expect this issue to remain in the forefront.

The Iraqi politicians have the opportunity to prevent future problems such as those which occurred in the aftermath of the destruction of the golden dome by insisting on the disbanding of the militias and reforming and reorganizing the Interior Ministry battalions. If these reforms can be implemented the power of Sadr, and by proxy Iran, will diminish.

By Bill Roggio | Posted February 27, 2006 | Permalink | Print Article

Link Posted: 2/28/2006 1:32:57 PM EST
Link Posted: 2/28/2006 1:41:19 PM EST
So the news media is still panicking, but no one else is...
Link Posted: 2/28/2006 1:47:42 PM EST
Transcript of Bill Roggios radio interview with Hugh Hewitt is online at www.radioblogger.com

Also on the same page, right beneath it is Michael Yons take on the violence...
Link Posted: 2/28/2006 1:53:29 PM EST
Link Posted: 2/28/2006 1:57:40 PM EST
[Last Edit: 2/28/2006 1:59:50 PM EST by ArmdLbrl]
I am extremely skeptical of anything the Washington Post writes about Iraq.

Over the last three years, Belmont Club and Bill Roggio have been far more accurate than than WaPo and Reuters.
Link Posted: 2/28/2006 2:49:06 PM EST
who is really going to read this entire thread?
Link Posted: 2/28/2006 2:53:24 PM EST

Originally Posted By DocBrooks:
who is really going to read this entire thread?

Sadly that is part of the problem.

Take your Ritilan and suck it up.
Link Posted: 3/1/2006 1:09:03 AM EST
Link Posted: 3/2/2006 11:38:32 AM EST
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 5:54:14 AM EST
Sorry but the Iraqi blogs still show no signs of Civil War- on going or impending.

The country and goverment are still there.
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 5:56:48 AM EST
Operations in Jazerra Region
Coalition forces take down al-Qaeda camps in the rural areas of Anbar

As the Iraqi government rebounds from the rise in sectarian violence in the wake of the bombing of the Alaskari Mosque, Iraqi and Coalition forces continue the hunt for al-Qaeda. A series of raids in Anbar province has put a bomb making facility, ammunition caches and over sixty al-Qaeda operatives out of business. The Multinational Forces Iraq press release provides the details:

CF [Coalition Forces] captured 61 suspected AQIZ facilitators in multiple raids 30 miles northeast of Fallujah[note, I suspect he meant northwest, as 30 miles northeast of Fallujah is the Baghdad suburbs]. The suspects are believed to be members of the Zarqawi network, and to have personally facilitated suicide bombers, foreign fighters and the funding of terrorist activities. Five AQIZ safe houses were destroyed during the operation. Coalition Forces also uncovered a large number of weapons and ammunition caches which they destroyed in place. Of the 61 suspects, four are considered key AQIZ facilitators.

The location of this operation is the Jazerra region which lies directly north of Ramadi and Habbaniyah (or about 30 miles northwest of Fallujah), and has been the subject of Iraqi Army operations in the recent past. The Iraqi Army and Coalition forces launched Spider Web on January 4, 2006, and the Iraqi Army independently conducted Final Strike on January 30, 2006.

The region is a “known insurgent staging area for attacks against Iraqi citizens, Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces.” Captain Jeffrey Pool informed me during Final Strike that “this area is where a lot of ex Baathists and military retired,” and that the Iraqi Army was just beginning to make inroads into the area after a year of neglect.

Link Posted: 3/4/2006 6:00:10 AM EST
March 03, 2006
Searching for the Sheikh of Slaughters
Coalition forces are investigating claims Zarqawi may have been detained in the raid in the Jazerra region

The death or capture of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s commander in Iraq who is affectionately called the “Sheikh of Slaughters” by his admirers, would be a tremendous psychological victory to the Iraqi people and the American public. The Kuwait News Agency is reporting that Multinational Forces - Iraq is investigating claims that Zarqawi may have been detained during the raid on the Jazerra region, which sits north of Ramadi and Fallujah. According to KUNA, “A MNF officer did not confirm or deny the arrest, noting that the US forces are still investigating the reports... Meanwhile, sources in the Iraqi Army said that Al-Zarqawi could be among those arrested in the operation on Monday.”

Enthusiasm should be muted at this time as we have been down this path several times. It has been believed Zarqawi has been close to death or capture on several occasions, including February of 2005, when he was almost captured in Fallujah (his laptop was seized and driver captured during the raid); April of 2005, when he was thought to be cornered in Ramadi; May of 2005, when Zarqawi evaded capture and was wounded in the Qaim region, and later thought dead; November of 2005, when he was believed to be in Mosul during a raid on a al-Qaeda safe house; and February of 2006 when reports indicated Zarqawi may be in the Hamrin region of north-central Iraq [located between Tikrit and Kirkuk].

Zarqawi is being sought by the hunter-killer teams of Task Force 626. This is an elite team of professionals, likely made up of elements from the Navy SEALs, Delta Force, Defense Intelligence Agency, NSA, and CIA. Multinational Forces - Iraq is very sensitive about the operations and whereabouts of this group. During my time in Iraq, questions about Task Force 626, their mission and any cooperation with conventional forces went unanswered, or the answers were so vague as to be meaningless.

Link Posted: 3/4/2006 6:02:26 AM EST
[Last Edit: 3/4/2006 6:03:17 AM EST by Greenhorn]

Originally Posted By ArmdLbrl:
So the news media is still panicking, but no one else is...

No, I don't think they're panicking, I think they're climaxing.

I hearby create a new term: the "wargasm."
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 7:06:45 AM EST
Sectarianism, Violence, and the Future of Iraq
Does sectarian violence constitute civil war in Iraq?

By Dan Darling
While the ultimate fall-out from the Askariyah bombing is still in doubt, the situation is by no means grave. With the death toll standing 379 and 1,300 over the last several days, it is entirely clear for supporters and critics of the US presence in Iraq alike to ask where the country is heading.

To begin with, it should be understood that the nation is probably not yet on the verge of civil war, as can be seen from the fact that despite all of the valid concerns that have been raised as to the involvement of the militias in the recent violence, the individuals and political factions to which these individuals owe their allegiance are still, at least publicly, devoted to the political process, including the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. As the Los Angeles Times notes, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry has recently requested that US ambassador Zalmay Khalizhad refrain from making recommendations concerning the composition of a new Iraqi government, an event that at the absolute least suggests that the two largest political factions within Iraq, the United Iraqi Alliance and the two major Kurdish parties, still intend to push forward with the creation of a new government rather than Balkanizing into separate camps and preparing themselves for a fight for control of Iraq. Indeed, it is the major Shi’ite and Kurdish groups, all of whom occupy prominent positions within the new Iraqi government, who almost certainly have the most to lose with respect to the outbreak of a civil war in Iraq, particularly one that might lead to the country’s dissolution and the intervention of neighboring powers.

A Debate Over Terms

There has been, to a certain extent, a debate over the definition of civil war as it relates to Iraq. If it is defined simply by body count, then the Sunni insurgency itself certainly qualifies as one on account of the number of Iraqis it has killed in attacks since 2003. If it is defined as a major outbreak of sectarian violence, then one is hard-pressed to explain why Iraq should be defined as being in a state of civil war but that India, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Pakistan, all of which have endured ongoing and extremely costly sectarian violence, should not be. Indeed, one of the greatest dangers of the current situation in Iraq is that it will lead to an annual cycle of sectarian violence similar to that found in the above-mentioned countries. Such an outcome would not be in the interests of either the United States or Iraq, but neither would it be synonymous with the dissolution of the Iraqi state along the lines that some observers have suggested.

Here again, the major difference between Iraq and other nations that have endured civil wars is that currently all of the major political factions inside Iraq are interested in continuing with some form of political participation, something that wasn’t the case in Lebanon following the events of Black Saturday or in Yugoslavia following the destruction of Ravno. In both cases, all of the major factions had given up on some kind of peaceful resolution and instead returned to their own power bases to prepare for the battle to control the country. If this begins to happen within Iraq (and it would be exceedingly easy for this to occur with most political parties controlling sizeable militias of their own), then and only then would it be appropriate to label the conflict as being a civil war, but not beforehand.

The absence of civil war, however, should not be seen as an absence of sectarian violence, and if such violence becomes commonplace in certain regions of Iraq or in conjunction with certain Shi’ite holy days, it will lead to a further weakening of the Iraqi state at the local and national levels as well as prolonging the existence and power of political or sectarian militias indefinitely, none of which will assist in the successful emergence of a democratic Iraq. Nor should the continuing existence of the insurgency, which has repeatedly targeted Iraqis of all ethnic groups and creeds, be seen solely through the lens of the Askariyah bombing or retaliation against the sectarian violence that followed: Zarqawi has been actively targeting Shi’ites since at least early 2004 if not beforehand.

The Myth of an Anti-Sectarian Iraq

One of the most unfortunate developments stemming from the Askariyah bombing is that it has prompted inadvertently prompted Western observers to inadvertently recite Saddam-era propaganda without being aware of how dated it is. One such aspect of this propaganda can be seen in the myth that sectarianism did not exist inside Iraq prior to the US invasion.

Yet as Dr. Anthony Cordesman makes clear on p. 1-2 of Iraq’s Evolving Insurgency, nothing could be further from the truth:

The politics of the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980-1988, were essentially the politics of ruthless repression. Political dissent of any kind became even more dangerous … Hundreds of thousands of Arab Shi’ites were driven out of the country, and many formed an armed opposition with Iranian support. While most of the remaining Arab Shi’ites remained loyal, their secular and religious leaders were kept under constant surveillance and sometimes imprisoned and killed. The marsh areas along the Iranian border were a key center of the fighting between Iran and Iraq, but still became a sanctuary for deserters and Shi’ite opposition elements.
Iraq’s defeat in the Gulf War in 1991, following its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, did more than further impoverish the country. Uprisings in the Shi’ite areas in the south were suppressed with all of the regime’s customary violence and then followed by a mix of repression and low-level civil war that lasted until Saddam was driven from power. While this conflict received only limited attention from the outside world, it often involved significant local clashes between Iraqi government forces and those of Shi’ite opposition movements based in, and backed by, Iran. The post-Iraq War discovery of mass graves of Shi’ite fighters and civilians are a grim testimony to how serious this “quiet” fighting could be.

… From 1991 until the Coalition invasion in 2003, Saddam Hussein created further problems by encouraging tribal divisions and favoring those tribes and clans that supported his rule and regime. He exploited religion by increasingly publicly embracing Islam, and privately favoring Sunni factions and religious leaders that supported him while penalizing Shi’ite religious leaders and centers he saw as a threat, At the same time, funds were poured into Sunni areas in the West, government and security jobs were given to Sunnis, and scarce resources went into military industries that heavily favored Sunni employment. The result was to distort the economy and urban structure of Iraq in ways that favored Sunni towns and cities in areas like Tikrit, Samarra, Fallujah, Ramadi and other largely loyalist Sunni towns.

The fact that Iraqi sectarianism predates the US invasion in no way negates the seriousness of its major reemergence following the Askariyah bombings. Yet it is also a major mistake to attribute the recent violence solely to random sectarianism while ignoring the substantial role played by Iran and its proxies like Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army in the recent violence. As Michael Rubin notes, Iran is employing much the same strategy in Iraq as it did in Lebanon during the 1980s. And unfortunately, it is Sadr and by extension Iran who have profited the most from the recent violence.

Theories of Sadr’s or Iranian involvement in the Askariyah bombing aside, it is essential that Western observers not allow their concern over the rise in Iraqi sectarianism to prevent them from recognizing the very real and very dangerous Iranian designs at work in Iraq.

Link Posted: 3/5/2006 5:28:45 AM EST
March 04, 2006
Sectarian Violence or al-Qaeda Attacks?
al-Qaeda attacks are being masked as sectarian violence; negotiations over forming the government continue

Since the destruction of the golden dome of the revered Alaskari mosque in Samarra, the death and violence, particularly that committed against the Shiites, has been automatically assumed to be sectarian in nature. However, a large number of the high-impact attacks bear the hallmarks of al-Qaeda tactics – suicide bombs in buses, markets and restruants; coordinated military style raids on soft targets, such as factory workers, homes and businesses. Beheadings are also dead giveaways of al-Qaeda involvement.

Soldier's Dad provides an interesting example of such an incident. Reuters reports an attack on a town outside of Baghdad called Al-Nahrawan, where 19 Shiites were killed, including “a six-year-old girl killed with a single bullet to her forehead.” Jihad Unspun, which Soldier's Dad notes is a jihadi-friendly website which translates al-Qaeda and other “freedom fighter” statements. The newly al-Qaeda created Mujahedin Shura Council states killed “50 Iraqi Apostates In The Battle Of 'The Village Of Knights'” The Mujahedin Shura Council claims those killed (70 total) were all members of the police & the Shiite Badr militia.

al-Qaeda has a vested interest in stirring up sectarian violence, and are conducting attacks to achieve such an outcome. Their terror campaign designed to disrupt the establishment of the Iraqi Security Forces has failed. The intimidation campaign against Iraqi civilians, despite its terrible toll, has failed to prevent the Iraqi people from voting in three elections over the course of 2005. It has, in fact, pushed elements of the Sunnis population normally sympathetic to their cause, to fight against al-Qaeda. This includes prominent tribes, politicians and even nationalist insurgent groups. al-Qaeda's only hope is to destroy the political process of forming a unity government, and fomenting a civil war.

Iraq's political parties are continuing negotiations to form the government despite al-Qaeda's attempts to torpedo the process. The negotiations are at times contentious. Currently the Kurdish, Sunni and secular Shiite blocks are opposing the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance's choice of Jaafari as prime minister. Omar at Iraq the Model is concerned this will lead to the breakdown of the political process. However, the Iraqi political parties have prooved quite adept at overcoming such problems in the past, most recently with the agreement over the representation of Sunnis in crafting the constitution and subsequence agreements to allow for modification of the document.

The fact that the parties are vigorously fighting over the position of Prime Minister and other cabinet positions also reveals their view of the potential for the Iraqi government. This indicates the political parties see value in the government and its ability to project power and affect change beneficial to their constituents. It also demonstrates the parties have recognized the problem in allowing militias to penetrate the Interior Ministry and remain active in Iraqi society. Jaafari received his support within the UAI from Sadr, whose Mahdi Army was in the forefront of the recent violence.

By Bill Roggio | Posted March 04, 2006 | Permalink | Print Article
Link Posted: 3/9/2006 2:29:32 PM EST
March 08, 2006
Consolidating Success in Western Anbar
Operations Lion and Minotaur are a continuation of a successful counterinsurgency plan

Marines with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment sweeps farmland during Operation Lion in Baghdadi, Iraq, March 2, 2006. More than 80 weapons caches were discovered – a total of more than 62 tons of munitions and weapons – as well as the capture of 65 suspected insurgents. Two insurgents, one Iraqi soldier, and two U.S. servicemembers were killed during the operation. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Adam C. Schnell)

Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to press counterinsurgency operations in western Anbar province. The two latest operations, Minotaur and Line, take place in the Triad and Jubba regions respectively. Operation Minotaur was a sweep of the sparsely populated region south of Haqlaniyah conducted by the Marines of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment and Iraqi Army soldiers from the 1st Division. Operation Lion was another sweep around Khan Al Baghdadi, conducted by Iraqi Army soldiers and elements from Regimental Combat Team - 7. Lion netted over 80 weapons caches and 65 suspected insurgents.

The difference in 'success' in the two operations (weapons caches found, enemy killed/captured) is likely attributed to the presence or lack thereof of Iraqi and Coalition forces in the respective region. The Marines of the 3/1 are near by in Haqlaniyah and make frequent patrols of the surrounding region. The town of Khan Al Baghdadi was identified by Colonel Stephen Davis as one of three towns in western Anbar where he would like to see a greater presence of Iraqi troops (with Anah and Rutbah being the others).

General John Abazaid, the CENTCOM commander, has recently stated Anbar has seen a down surge in violence, but wisely cautions this can be a temporary respite in insurgent attacks. In an Associated Press article on the situation in Anbar, the success is attributed to Civil Military Affairs operations, cooperation with local Sunni tribal leaders and a disgust of al-Qaeda's tactics among the local population. Curiously, one other item is attributed to the change in atmosphere in Anbar: the reduction of offensive operations:

One is an apparent slowdown in U.S. Marine offensives that coincided with the arrival of land forces commander Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli. Chiarelli has said he favors a “hearts and minds” approach that involves less combat.
His predecessor, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, oversaw a harsh U.S. counterinsurgency campaign that included regular bombings of Anbar towns along the Syrian border.

An interpreter with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment talks with locals after finding a weapons cache in their yard during Operation Lion in Baghdadi.(Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Adam C. Schnell)

This assessment could not be more wrong. The yearlong operations in Anbar - or the Anbar Campaign - which culminated in Steel Curtain and Rivergate, set the stage for today's success. Prior to the series of 'clear and hold' operations which established a permanent presence in the various cities and towns along the Western Euphrates River, the Iraqi Army was absent from the region and U.S. forces were garrisoned in few areas - Camp Gannon in Husaybah, at the Haditha Dam, Ramadi, and at Camp Al Qaim and Al Asad Air Base, both which lie miles south of the river in the middle of the desert.

The various towns and cities were contested grounds - al-Qaeda and the insurgency could not hold the ground for any realistic amount of time, and Coalition forces did not have the manpower to maintain the required presence needed to restore order. The Anbar Campaign reduced al-Qaeda and insurgency's bases of operations in preparation for the final assault and garrisoning of the cities. Until the towns were cleared, they could not be held, and the towns couldn't be held until the right mix of forces were available to hold them. That mix required Iraqi troops who understand the culture and have the trust and respect of the Iraqi people.

The insurgency wasn't strong in Western Anbar because of "a harsh U.S. counterinsurgency campaign that included regular bombings of Anbar towns." The insurgency was strong because they were never cleared from western Iraq until General Vines and General Casey directed their attention to western Anbar and committed the resources to the fight. Today's counterinsurgency operations, both of the military and Civil Affairs nature, are a direct result of last year's efforts to secure the region.

By Bill Roggio | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0) | Print Article

Link Posted: 3/9/2006 2:35:22 PM EST
March 07, 2006
More Sunni - al-Qaeda Divisions: The Real Civil War
Anbar tribes and tribes from the city of Hawijah oppose Zarqawi’s jihad

Faced with the continued prospect of submitting to the brutality of al-Qaeda, Sunni tribal leaders continue to band together to fight the terrorists in their midst. The Washington Post provides a look at the state of affairs between al-Qaeda and the tribal leaders in Anbar province and central Iraq. A tribal council was held in the city of Hawijah, which lies directly north on the Tigris River,and has been a hotspot of the insurgency. Many Sunni leaders were willing to go on the record to express their defiance:

"We are a group of the Anbar people who want to get rid of Zarqawi . . . because this is the only way to make the Americans withdraw from Ramadi or Iraq in general...We are against Zarqawi and his followers because they aim to extend the presence of the occupation and hurt our forces to make them weak... I cannot say that all the people in Ramadi support us, but I can say 80 percent of them do...We have killed a number of the Arabs, including Saudis, Egyptians, Syrians, Kuwaitis, Syrians and Jordanians... We were also able to foil an attack by Zarqawi's men who were trying to attack an oil pipeline outside Ramadi. We killed four Iraqis trying to plant the bomb under the pipeline."

An al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Azzam (not that Abu Azzam) lashed out against the Iraqis in Ramadi fighting against his cause, “[they] are collaborators and dogs for America. They kill the mujaheddin to get money from the American crusaders. They are cowards and we have killed a lot of them. . . . All the people here support us and our jihad against the Americans and their followers."

The declarations against al-Qaeda are encouraging. The risk alone of speaking out is great, as al-Qaeda has murdered, raped and intimidated those who opposed them in the past. The tribal leaders are explicitly putting themselves, their families and their tribesmen in Zarqawi’s crosshairs. The fact they are willing to publicly oppose al-Qaeda in Iraq demonstrates a marked shift their attitudes towards both al-Qaeda and the prospects for the Iraqi government.

The split between al-Qaeda and the nationalist elements of the Sunni insurgency began to appear as far back as Fallujah, when al-Qaeda fighters were found murdered in the city, and al-Qaeda 'commissars' executed local fighters who abandoned their fighting positions as the American onslaught of the city intensified. To this day, Zarqawi and other al-Qaeda members refer to the "betrayal of Fallujah" and how the Muslim political and religious leaders abandoned them during the fight. Over the past year, we have seen numerous cases of red-on-red fighting, as well as an open declaration of war against al-Qaeda by one of the largest insurgent groups in Iraq, the Islamic Army of Iraq, along with other groups.

As we've pointed out several times in the past, the importance of turning Sunni groups naturally sympathetic to al-Qaeda's cause is a tremendous ideological victory in the War on Terror. It is not important that the Iraqi people like us (a good number of them do, but that's besides the point), but that they see al-Qaeda for what it is, and reject their ideology.

By Bill Roggio | Posted March 07, 2006 | Permalink | Print Article

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