Iraqi leaders sidestep all-out civil war
After a violent week in Iraq, the possibility of large-scale Sunni-Shiite conflict still looms.
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Though Ambassador Khalilzad and other American officials say the crisis has been averted for now, they have few resources to impose the kind of national unity government many believe is necessary for peace.Skip to next paragraph
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"I think that what the crisis has demonstrated in my view is that it has increased the need for the establishment of a unity government, it has made it more necessary,'' he said. "There are forces that are determined in seeking and trying to provoke a civil war ... and it is very important given that fact that there is a national unity government that Iraqis do not fall into that trap of sectarianism, sectarian conflict."
The US is also calling for the disarming of sectarian militias - as it has done without success for much of the past two years. But a unity government and an end to militias are precisely what seems least likely in the wake of recent events.
Iraq's dominant Shiite parties, led by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Dawa, as well as clerics like Ayatollah Sistani have long nurtured a vision of a unified Iraq dominated by its Shiite majority, replacing the Sunni-minority governments that have dominated Iraq throughout its history. Sunni Arabs, adrift in a country in which sectarian death squads have operated against them out of the Shiite-controlled interior ministry and hoping to regain their past position, are unlikely to stand down.
"All these things are necessary and none of them are likely,'' says Pat Lang, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency's Middle East bureau and a retired colonel with a counter insurgency background. Shiites and Sunnis "are contestants for the loot.... it's not about being Iraqis in an idealized Iraq but the real one. These are groups that are contesting power and they'll continue to do so."
Mr. Hiltermann's organization released a report on civil war in Iraq on Sunday, saying it could be averted if a national unity government is formed and militias disarmed. But Hiltermann says that while that may be the best way forward, he's skeptical that will happen.
"I don't see a solution, frankly. But if there is to be a solution it will have to come from the US expending a lot of political capital to convince them that the only way to keep Iraq united, which is a shared interest, is to form a government of national unity,'' he says. "The military and the police have been rebuilt in a sectarian fashion, even though that's not the intent, and so the security forces can end up playing a role in sectarian fighting rather than to dampen it, and that's been what has been going on."
A measure of how seriously the threat of all-out civil war is being taken can be found in the recommendations of Monday's ICG report.
"The international community, including neighboring states, should start planning for the contingency that Iraq will fall apart, so as to contain the inevitable fallout on regional stability and security."