As US withdraws, will Al Qaeda in Iraq find new openings?
The Sunni insurgent group may strike back, but Iraq experts say it's unlikely they will ever achieve the level of power they once wielded.
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"The insurgency, as it faced [Coalition Forces], is not around anymore. It's a different array of political forces and military forces than existed prior to the surge," he says. "The insurgency in all its different locations was united by this common enemy, which is us. We're not going to serve as that for much longer."Skip to next paragraph
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Already, US troops are moving to the sidelines, especially following the status of forces agreement that calls for all US troops to be out of cities by July 2009 and out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
The impending departure of US troops marks a shift that will force Iraqis to face many unresolved internal issues that could escalate.
"The political divide separating the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds remains as wide as it's ever been," says Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York. "The American presence has postponed the inevitable and the inevitable is that the Iraqi rulers must face the challenge of transforming the sectarian-based government into a national unity government."
With the political blocs in Iraq still heavily linked to the country's ethnic groups, Dr. Gerges says there are still a number of fault lines in Iraq that could bring about violent conflict.
For example, the provincial elections that will take place at the end of this month were nearly delayed over a dispute this fall between the Iraqi government and the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north about who controls oil-rich Kirkuk. Though both sides are examining the issue, it remains unsettled.
Ali al-Dabbagh, spokesman for the government of Iraq, contends that "the presence of US troops is not connected with reconciliation issues." While he does acknowledge tension between sectarian leaning political blocs that must be resolved, he says that this strife does not trickle down to everyday Iraqis who are now much less motivated by sectarian issues than they were just two years ago.
Tribes have also acquired a larger role. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki established tribal councils in select areas throughout the country and many of the groups are seeking seats in the upcoming provincial elections.
While the growth of tribal influence may provide a counterbalance to sectarian politics, it could also lead to a rise in violent civil disputes.
The Yusufiyah bombing reveals frustrations within the local SOI group, the country's community policing program that arose from the Awakening Movement.
From now on, Mr. Qaraghouli, the deputy, says if the SOI know someone is guilty of murder they will skip the court and execute the alleged killer themselves. He admits this type of vigilante justice could create enduring bloodshed.
"We will risk hate and fighting forever. It will affect the future of our sons," he says, undeterred.