Iraq Descends Into Chaos as Sectarian Killings Multiply

by Gerry Foley / December 2006 issue of Socialist Action Newspaper

The five car bombs that were detonated in a coordinated way in Baghdad’s main Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City on Nov. 23 were the biggest communalist provocation since the blowing up of the venerated Shiite mosque in Samarra on Feb. 21.

The car bombs were all exploded in street markets and crowded intersections. Along with a barrage of mortars and rockets, they killed over 200 people. The victims were targets apparently only because of their assumed religious affiliation.

The slaughter aroused a wave of vengeance killings of Sunnis by Shiite militiamen and attacks on Sunni mosques. According to the American major media, the main role in the killings of Sunnis was played by men of the Mahdi Army, the militia led by radical Islamist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The clerical leader has opposed communal conflict and appealed for unity against the U.S.-led occupation. But it seems that in cases of extreme sectarian provocation, he is unable to restrain at least considerable elements of the forces ostensibly under his command.

The U.S. occupation command increasingly has been using the pretext of alleged sectarian attacks by the Mahdi Army to go after al-Sadr’s movement. The U.S. military has been staging more and more raids in al-Sadr’s bastion of Sadr city. For example, they carried out a major raid on Nov. 21, two days before the bombings, the third in recent days, and local people complained that they killed people and destroyed houses.

This is fueling suspicions on the part of al-Sadr’s followers that the U.S. is attacking them in order to deliberately foment sectarian violence. In fact, the Christian Science Monitor quoted a Sadr City water department chief in its Nov. 28 edition who argued that al-Sadr was the main force restraining the Shiites: “Without Moqtada’s statement, the [2.5 million] people in Sadr City would go [and] destroy all Sunni neighborhoods,” says Abu Khadhim.

It is clear that the U.S. wants to crush Sadr’s movement for political reasons, since, among other things, al-Sadr identifies himself with the Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. The New York Times of Nov. 28 reported that a “senior U.S. intelligence officer” claimed that the Mahdi Army was getting training from Hezbollah military specialists.

In the case of the Nov. 23 bombings, as in others, al-Sadr and other leaders of his movement placed the basic blame for the violence on the United States. Polls that show a rising hostility to the U.S. forces among Shiites (among Sunnis it has been almost universal for a long time) indicate that his accusations are being largely accepted.

The Los Angeles Times quoted a Sadrite preacher in its Nov. 25 report to indicate the movement’s political response to the provocations: “‘As we denounce the killings of the innocent in Sadr City yesterday, we must also hold the U.S. and British troops as well as the government responsible for what happened,’ said Abdul Kareem Ghazi, a preacher and supporter of Sadr.”

“‘It is true that the perpetrators of these operations are the terrorists and Saddamists, but their tactics are designed by the occupation forces, and they are the beneficiaries of what is happening.’”

The article did not explain what Ghazi meant by “designed,” though that is a very interesting question. Al-Sadr said that the occupiers were responsible for the violence because they have not transferred control of security to the Iraqi security forces. However, the Sunni leaders denounce the Iraqi security forces as being mainly Shiite sectarian militias in uniform.

Although there is a general truth to Sadr’s denunciations, so far he has been unable to offer a concrete solution to the conflict among Iraqis, other than to call on Sunni clerics to denounce the attacks on Shiites.

It is unlikely, in fact, that any religious-based organization can counter the sectarian terror. To achieve unity against the occupation, a new political leadership has to arise that is above traditional communal divisions. The lack of such a leadership is costing the Iraqi people more and more dearly.

The communal conflict does offer the U.S. rulers an argument for keeping their forces in Iraq—that is, that they are needed as a buffer between the antagonistic communities. But although this argument seems effective for some Iraqi politicians who think that they benefit from U.S. protection, it is obviously not convincing for the great majority of Iraqis. Moreover, it has little appeal for the American public, who generally cannot see the sense of getting involved in a civil war in a far-away country in which none of the contending forces is very attractive.

And while thousands of Iraqis are being killed in the civil strife, the steady loss of U.S. soldiers is also continuing. Almost 60 GIs were killed in November. The total of American deaths is now approaching 3000, and the U.S. war in Iraq has now lasted longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II.

The U.S-backed Iraqi government risks collapse simply over the agreement of the premier, Nuri al-Maliki, to meet President Bush in a special summit to discuss how to deal with the deteriorating situation.

Muqtada al-Sadr has threatened to remove his support from al-Maliki if he meets with “the criminal Bush.” Al-Sadr controls 30 seats in parliament and three ministries. (One of them is the Ministry of Health, which was occupied by Sunni insurgents). His withdrawal would bring down the government.

In an analysis of the U.S. dilemma in its Nov. 25 issue, the Washington Post quoted a foreign policy expert as follows:

“‘This summit is an act of desperation. The White House doesn’t know what it can do,’ said David Rothkopf, a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace fellow and the author of ‘Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power.’ ‘The situation is deteriorating more rapidly than anyone anticipated and to an unending depth.

‘I don’t think, in modern American history, there is another example of such egregious failure of policy and execution. We’re really seeing something unprecedented here. Even Vietnam was a slower decline, and the military forces were more in balance. … I don’t know anyone who thinks there is an outcome in Iraq now that is hopeful.’”

The U.S. occupation is on the brink of total isolation in Iraq, without any allies, even tactical ones, who can claim to represent a legitimate government.

Thus, the enormous investment in the Iraqi war intended to eliminate Iraq’s support for Arab nationalism and secure its oil resources for the United States appears to be becoming a total loss for U.S. capitalism as a whole, if not for the individual capitalist companies—many of which have already walked away with huge profits at the expense of the American taxpayers. The defeat facing the U.S. rulers in Iraq could be far graver than their defeat in Vietnam.

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