Raging Flames of Sectarianism

  March 28, 2022   Read time 2 min
Raging Flames of Sectarianism
A growing sectarian war between the country’s two main rival Islamic constituencies, the majority Shia population and the former ruling Sunni community, was claiming an ever larger number of civilian lives.

The civil war was filling the power vacuum left by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. One independent analyst observed in his testimony to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Iraq in early 2007: The origins of the civil war lie in the complete collapse of administrative and coercive capacity of the state. The Iraqi state, its ministries, civil servants, police force and army, ceased to exist in any meaningful way in the aftermath of regime change. It is the inability of the US to reconstruct them that lies at heart of the problem.

The White House tried to deflect attention from both its failure to restore order in Iraq and its refusal to end the country’s occupation by claiming that the insurgency was not locally organised but being engineered by infi ltrators bent on undermining American attempts to bring democracy to Iraq. Both militant Islamic fundamentalists (jihadis) associated with al-Qaeda and the neighbouring Shia-dominated state of Iran were put in the frame. However, neither seemed to be the chief culprit.

According to a report by the Iraq Study Group, a cross-party Congressional group led by James Baker, a former Secretary of State in the Administration of George Bush’s father: Most attacks on Americans still come from the Sunni Arab insurgency. The insurgency comprises former elements of the Saddam Hussein regime, disaffected Sunni Arab Iraqis, and common criminals. It has signifi cant support within the Sunni Arab community ... Al Qaeda is responsible for a small portion of the violence in Iraq, but that includes some of the more spectacular acts: suicide attacks, large truck bombs, and attacks on signifi cant religious or political targets.

A respected Middle East analyst, Hussein Agha, suggested instead that Iraq’s own paramilitary groups had much to gain from the Americans staying, at least for the time being. As long as the US troops were there to impose a loose order, the groups could arm, build their forces and reinforce wider regional alliances for the moment when American troops were forced to leave.

Inside Iraq, this is a period of consolidation for most political groups. They are building up their political and military capabilities, cultivating and forging alliances, clarifying political objectives and preparing for impending challenges. It is not the moment for all-out confrontation. No group has the confi dence or capacity decisively to confront rivals within its own community or across communal lines. Equally, no party is genuinely interested in a serious process of national reconciliation when they feel they can improve their position later on.

A Palestinian academic, Karma Nabulsi, pointed out the similarities in the futures being created for both Iraqis and the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, the latter under a much longer Israeli occupation that seemed to be the template for the new US one in Iraq. Under occupation, the two peoples were living in ‘a Hobbesian vision of an anarchic society: truncated, violent, powerless, destroyed, cowed, ruled by disparate militias, gangs, religious ideologues and extremists, broken up into ethnic and religious tribalism and co-opted collaborationists’.

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