Abusive comments khaalas

I’ve always been a fan of free speech, but recent comments have driven me to a sad decision.

BEIRUT — I’ve always been a fan of free speech. I rarely moderate comments, except for spam, and I’ve banned very few people. Only once was I raised to rage when a commenter made my mother cry by calling for my death at the hands of Marines because I was allegedly too friendly to the insurgents. He also, weirdly, thought I was a Sunni Arab who was born in Iraq and had immigrated to the U.S. for the purposes of … well, I’m not sure. He was mad. I banned him, mainly on the basis that my embrace of personal expression stops when you make my mom cry.
So I have a lot of patience for rollicking debate. But that’s not what has happened here. Recent comments have been vile, vengeful and more than a little disturbing — and all of them have come from people who allegedly want peace and are antiwar. Che_Guerilla has called for me to be beheaded on the Internet; da_ali_truth_show says: “I’ll fight you. Please come back to the States I’ll fucking smash that smug ‘objective’ bullshit through your stupid face. Bring friends you pussy. Your Time Warner corporate Blackwater mercenaries won’t be protecting you from me, dickhead.” (We’ve never employed Blackwater mercenaries, for the record. Our security staff is made up of Iraqis who have proven themselves truly loyal and good friends in the face of terrible risk to themselves.)
Anyway, what I’m getting at is that *you will no longer be allowed to comment unless you’ve registered with TypeKey.* I tried this once before and it really cut down on the people leaving comments. I didn’t like it. But I feel the barrage of threats of death and violence against me and my family is too much. No one should have to put up with that. I’ve had friends die and be kidnapped; I’ve been shot at by all sides in this conflict. I frankly don’t need juvenile ranting cluttering my site and intruding on my thoughts. You folks who do this are finished. (Which is what _khaalas_ means: “enough, finished, ended, done.”) It should also cut down on comment spam which is still a scourge that is difficult to combat.
So, to my regular readers and commenters, such as Trish and Niall, who have left thoughtful notes through the years, I’m sorry for this step and grateful to you all. I hope you stick around. You guys are always welcome. For the che_guerillas of the world, go to hell. You care for nothing more than scoring cheap points off dead bodies of Iraqis and Americans. You’re just as bad as the _National Review_ crowd who say “2,000 deaths is nothing when you look at how many died in World War II.” You deserve nothing but contempt and you undermine the very antiwar cause you claim to support.

Shots to the left of me, shots to the right…

I’m just catching hell from all sides today. Fresh off the the howls for my disembowlment, the PAO for the Marines in Fallujah now says my story wasn’t balanced.

BEIRUT — Wow, I’m just catching hell from all sides today. Fresh off the the howls for my disembowlment, the PAO for the Marines in Fallujah now says my story wasn’t balanced:

Thanks for the link. I ran across it the other day by accident and had other things to do so I did not read the entire story.
I find that reporters who come here have two choices, well three actually. They can choose the glass is half-empty story, the glass is half-full story or they can write a little of both. Yours is very much a half-empty story as you chose to focus on the negative aspects of the situation.
You could have mentioned the fact that Fallujah accounted for 90 percent of the voting in Al Anbar province. You could have mentioned that this took place because the local sheiks and imans saw the need to participate in the political process, which they did not do last January.
You could have mentioned that the voters went to the polls and the security situation was deemed safe enough by the city residents that 100,000 of them did so and voted, despite the insurgents’ threats. There were several small incidents of violence, but not enough to deter anyone from voting.
All of those things may have balance out the bad news you chose to deliver. We don’t expect every story to be a “happy-happy” piece but we do appreciate some balance.
Capt. Walton

So let me get this right: The anti-war left is mad at me because I don’t document stuff I didn’t see, and I’m supposed to take an Italian documentary’s word that “chemical weapons” were used… (By the way, white phosphorus is as much a chemical weapon as, say, gunpowder is a chemical weapon. That’s not to say it’s not horrible, but can you folks stop trying to score rhetorical points over which wounds are more gruesome?) The Marines — well, _a_ Marine — is mad at me because I didn’t toe the party line and talk up all the cool new democracy busting out.
I think that’s about the highest praise a reporter can get. As an old mentor told me, “If they’re all shooting at you, you must be doing something right.” In short, I’m going to sleep well knowing that I didn’t follow anyone’s agenda but my own — which is to tell the best story I can. It’s too bad in some ways, though. I guess I won’t be invited to any organic juice parties in Berkeley or the new school repainting in Ramadi.
Finally, you’ll notice the dateline. I’m now in Beirut and will start working on other, non-Iraq projects through the end of the year. I may or may not update this blog, but if I don’t, don’t worry — or get your hopes up. I’m alive and kicking and I’ll be back online later.

Squids and Whales

It’s Friday in Baghdad, and Iraqis are, by and large, in the mosques hearing the imams call them closer to Allah. Some are being told the new constitution is a grand thing for Iraq, that it will secure their place and the future for their children. Others are being told the exact opposite.

BAGHDAD — It’s Friday in Baghdad, and Iraqis are, by and large, in the mosques hearing the imams call them closer to Allah. Some are being told the new constitution is a grand thing for Iraq, that it will secure their place and the future for their children. Others are being told the exact opposite.
Rory Carroll is safe in the Green Zone and being debriefed. I was heavily involved in the information-gathering part of his release, passing on what we could find to the relevant authorities and working our Sadr City contacts. In the end, however, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior were the guys who got him out without a shot being fired. A security firm I know that requests anonymity was highly complimentary of the local authorities, and were surprised as I am. We’re all pleasantly surprised, in fact. The British and Americans were in supporting roles on this one, so keep that in mind when you see the British Embassy congratulating itself on a job well-done.
Rory’s story will be told, but not now. For the moment, I’m just grateful he’s going home.
The referendum and “Saddam trial”:http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1120567,00.html are now in abeyance. We’re all waiting to see the results of the audit on the vote count, and whether funny business is going on in Mosul or not. A source within the Electoral Commission says all ballots on the recount seem clean — except for Mosul. But we have no numbers and everyone has clammed up. I know the possibility of vote fraud, which I reported on “here”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/10/curious_numbers.php and “here”:http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1119617,00.html this week, is starting to “get some traction”:http://www.newsday.com/news/local/longisland/politics/ny-wovote194475442oct19,0,5677675.story?coll=ny-lipolitics-print.
There are titanic forces moving beneath the surface all over the place: Iran, Iraq, Syria, France, the United States, Britain. They’re all related and I’m desperately trying to discern what’s happening, but it’s like watching the struggle of giant squids and sperm whales by observing the ripples on the surface. This is the new Great Game and the stakes are very high, indeed. With the publication of the “Mehlis report”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/Files/mehlisreport.pdf — which I’m reading now — things will start to move very quickly now, I think, and there’s a straight road running from Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad to Tehran, with off-ramps to the Palestinian camps of Lebanon to the Syrian border to Jordan. Even, I suspect, to the kidnapping of Rory in some way.
None of these vague generalities will be news to anyone reading this site, as you’re probably also someone who keeps up with the news of the region. And truth be told, I don’t have anything to add right now… I’m just catching my breath from this week.
My mental state is not what it was; I’m irritable and snappish, with less patience than ever before. Panic attacks are becoming more common and sleep less so. And I’ve just been back less than two weeks. So when I’m annoyed with the Iraqi people, or scornful — and this, unfortunately, happens more often than I’d like these days — I try to remember that they’ve been through a lot and have been forced to endure a lot. Perspective, you know. How the Iraqis do it, week after week, for 32 months is beyond me. They don’t take Zoloft much and psychotherapy isn’t a common thing here.
But they do have their mosques, where they take comfort and find solidarity. And today, many of them are hearing radically different views of their future and being told that Allah wants them to fight for one set of tomorrows or another. All the while forces and actors outside their control draw their plans that will change their lives.
Some game.

Election Analysis in TIME

My latest take on the referendum is available at Time.com now, and readers of B2I will notice that the blog informed a lot of the magazine copy. Plus, we got some more reporting out of Mosul.

BAGHDAD — My latest take on the referendum is “available at Time.com”:http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1119617,00.html now, and readers of B2I will notice that the blog informed a lot of the magazine copy. Plus, we got some more reporting out of Mosul.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the election was rigged,” said a U.S. Army officer in Mosul who requested anonymity and who worked on security arrangements for the poll with Iraqi security and election officials. “I don’t even trust our election process.”

Secondly, a primer by Elaine Shannon and me on the Saddam trial “is also available”:http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1118387,00.html, and that’s taking up a lot of my time today. Alas, I’m not in the first day’s pool but I’m in the second day — which means I won’t get to see Saddam until January, probably. His lawyer, Khalil Dulaimi is widely expected to ask for and receive some kind of delay, so the first day of the trial will likely be anti-climatic. A little charge-reading, a little delay motions and we’re done.
The security was very tight going in to the trial, according to pool reports. As the journos were bussed in, everything was taken from them — everything. Watches, wallets, even pens and notebooks. (One U.S. soldier told the reporters that the CIA and the KGB have low-calibre pen-guns. Doesn’t he know the KGB was renamed years ago?) The reporters were given pencils and yellow legal pads with which to take notes, although there is allegedly a supply of back-up pens if people get too aggressive with the pencil lead.
So, in the absence of anything actually happening at the trial right now, we’re reduced to a) writing about writing with pencils and b) reporting from pool reports. Eh. It’s a living.

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Curious numbers in Ninevah

BAGHDAD — Ninevah province, home to the mixed city of Mosul and the besieged city of Tal ‘Afar, is seeing some very strange numbers. I’ve done back of the Excel envelope calculations and have found this: In the January election, which was boycotted by Sunnis, there were 165,934 votes cast, according to the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq.

BAGHDAD — Ninevah province, home to the mixed city of Mosul and the besieged city of Tal ‘Afar, is seeing some _very_ strange numbers. I’ve done back of the Excel envelope calculations and have found this:
* In the January election, which was boycotted by Sunnis, there were 165,934 votes cast, according to the “Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq”:http://ieciraq.org/English/Home.htm.
* In October, according to “AP’s preliminary results”:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051017/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq_vote_results, there were 419,804 votes cast in Ninevah, an increase of 253,870 votes, or +152.99 percent.
* The number of people voting *for* the constitution in Ninevah, according to the AP, was 326,774 (78 percent), with 90,065 voting *against* it (21 percent). Less than 1 percent, or 2,965 votes, was disqualified.
By way of comparison, Tamim province, home to the disputed city of Kirkuk, saw 542,000 votes cast — an increase of 35.2 percent over January — with 341,611 voting “yes” (63 percent) and 195,725 voting “no” (36 percent). You mean we’re supposed to believe that in Tamim, which is also a mixed province but which has had a steady stream of Kurds moving in for the last two-and-a-half years, had *more than twice as many no votes as Ninevah?* And with the Kurds already pretty much owning Kirkuk? Color me skeptical.
What’s truly eyebrow-raising is that the number of constitutional “yes” votes — 326,774 — is more than the total increase in votes over January’s turnout. That suggests that not only did all of the Sunnis in Ninevah province, who largely boycotted the January elections turn out, but that they _all voted for the constitution._ That’s a very strange idea to me, as I’ve not met a single Sunni who voted for it here in Baghdad.
Ninevah is home to Mosul, a mixed city of about 2 million Arabs, Turkomans and Kurds, as well as Tal’Afar, the mostly Turkoman city of 500,000 that U.S. and Iraqi forces stormed last month. Anecdotal reports are that a) Sunni Arabs have come out in droves, mainly to vote down the constitution, and b) the constitution was very unpopular in Tal’Afar because of military actions there.
Now, several possibilities spring to mind: Sunni Arabs in the north really _love_ the idea of the new national charter, but I find this unlikely, to say the least. In fact, I only suggest it for the giggle factor. Another possibility is that the vote was blatantly fixed. A third possibility is that the Kurds moved thousands of people into Mosul to skew the vote. Oddly enough, I heard Sunnis making just this charge in the run-up to the Saturday’s referendum. A third possibility is a combination of the last two. The vote was rigged _and_ the Kurds moved people in.
Now, contrasting points that prove I don’t know what I’m talking about, suggested by colleagues:
# Mosul is an Iraqi Islamic Party stronghold. The IIP called on its supporters to vote “yes” after a deal last week to open up the constitution to early amendments. This split the Sunni opposition to the charter.
# The Sunnis simply don’t make up 20 percent of Iraq. There hasn’t been a reliable census in years and not only do the Sunnis not make up 42 percent of Iraq as Saleh Mutlaq, a member of the National Dialogue Council, claims, but they’re much fewer than the 20 percent most people assume.
# Ninevah and Mosul aren’t Sunni strongholds. It’s conventional wisdom, but maybe that’s wrong.
# Mosul was a lot more violent in January, keeping the vote there down. Perhaps now, with less violence, more Kurds — perhaps half of the total increase — were able to come out and vote.
# The Turkomans aren’t a factor. Money quote from cynical colleague: “There are more Turkoman parties than there are Turkomans.”
# The AP numbers are so preliminary, they’re flat-out wrong.
The possibility exists that all of these possibilities have played into the dynamic in Ninevah, leading to wild numbers, and I’ve not been able to reach a stringer in Mosul yet to get more information. But if these numbers hold, there’s something very, very rotten in the north.
(Hat tip to various commenters who alerted me to the numbers here.)

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Quiet Election Day; Sunnis Show Up

The Sunnis come out in droves to surprise everyone.

Woman voter

A woman exits the Ayoon al-Maha Nursery School, in the Jadhriyah neighborhood, a mostly Shi’ite area in Baghdad. Copyright 2005 Yassar al-Ali

BAGHDAD — Well, well… The Sunnis might surprise us all on this one.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, both of you, that means you know (“from other sources”:http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1118269,00.html) there was a referendum yesterday. With none of the giddiness of January, but all the security, Iraqis voted for the second time this year, this time on the proposed permanent Iraqi constitution. It’s a document supporters say will secure the country’s future and unite the country while opponents say it will lead to dissolution and civil war.
Considering the sectarian divisions on display between Iraq’s Shi’ites and Sunnis, it’s unsurprising issues of religion and national identity are what decides people’s vote. What is surprising is the numbers that Sunnis showed up.
Shi’ites overwhelmingly support the document, in part because of the instructions from the powerful Shi’ite clerical body, the _merjariya_, led by the venerated Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He called for a “yes” vote on the document. Most Sunnis, however, say it’s a terrible constitution and bad for Iraq.
“We are following our supreme _merja_, Sistani,” said Jafar al-Khazali, a 29-year-old day laborer as his daughter, Sou’ad, clung to his leg. “I will not lose my rights again like before.”
“This is bad for the Iraqis,” counters Saleh Mutlaq, an influential member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni group which includes many former Ba’athists. “This constitution will break up this country.”
Under the former regime of Saddam Hussein, Shi’ites were often discriminated against and oppressed while Sistani was under virtual house arrest. The constitution, written largely by Shi’ites installed in power by the United States, would securing their place as the country’s new rulers. With 60 percent of the population, demographics translate into political destiny.
Further cementing their power, the document’s federalism provisions, bitterly opposed by most Sunni politicians, would allow the formation of powerful regions — mini-states, in effect — with control of Iraq’s future oil wealth and the ability to ignore the central government in Baghdad. Sunnis say this will lead to the breakup of Iraq, with oil-rich regions in the Kurdish north and Shi’ite south and a barren desert for Sunnis in the middle.
But back to yesterday. The giddy enthusiasm of the January elections, in which Iraqis voted in relatively free elections for the first time in their history, was absent, and instead an air of resignation was felt. Rather than hang around the polling places gossiping, as they did nine months ago, Iraqis came, voted and left quickly. There were fewer children out with parents, too, indicating a heightened sense of the dangers present on the empty streets.
Baghdad was relatively calm, despite violence in the last 19 days that killed more than 450 Iraqi civilians. Saturday’s quiet could indicate that the draconian security measures that banned almost all vehicular traffic, international travel and movement between provinces were effective in curbing insurgents’ attacks. Or it might mean the insurgents just decided to keep their powder dry until a more politically opportune time. The night before the vote, insurgents sabotaged an electrical tower, plunging the city and northern towns into darkness, and there were reports of gun battles between insurgents and combined U.S. and Iraqi troops in Ramadi. In Abu Ghraib, police sources said insurgents had attacked a polling place, killed the supervisor and made off with five ballot boxes. Despite all that, the violence was much less intense than on Jan. 30, which saw more than 100 attacks, including suicide bombings, killing at least 40 people.
Because of the security restrictions,I was unable to visit Sunni neighborhoods where attitudes toward the constitution differed. Residents of these areas, reached by phone said there were many people in the streets all ready to vote against the constitution, but this could not be independently confirmed. I was able to walk to nearby polling areas with no problem, but they’re all Shi’ite neighborhoods, and the response is pretty much what you’d expect: They love the constitution, love Sistani and believe all Iraqis are brothers and love one another.
Excuse me while I sing “Kumbaya” with my Iraqi hippie brothers.
The Sunnis I reached, however, say — again — exactly what you’d expect them to: This is terrible and bad for Iraq. Oh, and by the way, screw the Iranians, er, Shi’ites. Brothers, our collective asses.
Thafir Aga, 38, a taxi driver and Sunni in the Sadiya neighborhood, said he voted against the constitution because “This constitution is dividing Iraq,” he said. “The government is only Kurdish and Iranian, it is not a Sunni or Shi’ite government.” Many Sunnis, who benefited under Saddam’s reign, regard the Shi’ites in government as pawns of Iran because politicians such as Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari spent the war in exile there.
Aga also had little faith in a fair vote and said the government would fix the election in its favor. “They just want to let the people feel they are practicing democracy,” he said. “People in the government are just instruments for America and Israel. If I accept this constitution, then I will be like them.” He added that the constitution was un-Islamic and against Iraq traditions because it was created under foreign occupation.
A neighbor, Mustafa Hamdi, a 35-year-old barber also rejected he document. “They imported this constitution from abroad,” he said. “This is only for Kurds and other parties,” meaning Iran.
However, the Sunnis seem to have come out in droves in several swing provinces, such as Nineveh, and there’s a real chance this might go down to the wire. Anbar and Salahadin provinces — containing the cities of Fallujah and Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, respectively — will almost certainly vote against the document. But Ninevah is home to Mosul, a mixed city of about 2 million Sunni Arabs and Kurds. If the Kurds stayed home out of complacency — and I’m hearing that Kurdish and Shi’ite participation was lower than expected — the Sunnis might just pull off a huge upset.
That will change everything. The Sistani coalition, made up of mainly of religious Shi’ite parties, will be crack apart. The secular parties involved, including Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, will split off. One possibility is to see them ally with former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the National Dialogue Council, who are seeking an alliance to run for elections in December. The religious parties will be unable to go to the voters with a single accomplishment. They haven’t delivered power, water or security. The economy is still in shambles and unemployment is high. If the constitution passes, at least they’ll be able to say to their constituents, “At least we secured our seat of power and put the Sunnis in their place.” If it doesn’t, what can they offer?
On the Sunnis side, you’ll see newly resurgent political groups — and the end of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which supported a “last-minute deal”:http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1116781,00.html to amend the constitution after the election of a permanent Assembly in December. Formerly united with the National Dialogue Council and the Association of Muslim Scholars opposed it, the IIP switched last week with the announcement of the deal and called for its people to support it. If the constitution fails because of Sunni “no” votes, that will show the IIP to be toothless and it will lose support. The Association of Muslim Scholars, at the same time, will be shown to have the real juice among the Sunnis, as it has been a long-time opponent of the invasion, the occupation, the Iraqi government and the constitution. The National Dialogue Council is fairly new, and will also benefit, but from what I’m hearing it was the Sunni mosques, not the secularists of the NDC, that got the vote out.
As for the Americans, they’ll have a a new political reality to deal with. The AMS has deep ties to the insurgency, and a no vote and infusion of political capital will, ironically, allow the Americans to start dealing seriously with the Association — and thus, the insurgency. That could actually be the start of peace talks.
If the constitution wins decisively, however, the Sunnis will grumble but likely work within the system. Sunni members of the constitutional committee, from Fallujah no less, have said as such. They promised to run a slate of candidates that can actively shape the constitution when it’s up for amendments in April.
The absolute worst-case scenario is if the Sunnis come close to defeating the constitution, but fail. There will be accusations of vote-rigging and any political momentum the Sunnis felt was moving their way will be spent. The Shi’ites will have consolidated their power and those Sunnis on the fence might be moved into active opposition. The insurgency might even worsen, if such things are possible, or a close vote might be the trigger for “open civil war”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/09/civil_war_is_he.php.
So, it will definitely be interesting to watch the results come in. So far, we’re hearing nothing but rumors. They range from the intriguing — I heard that the polling stations in the Green Zone, the seat the Iraqi Government, went overwhelmingly against the constitution; make of that what you will — to the absurd: Al-Firat, an Iranian channel, is reporting that instead of voting “no,” Salahadin province, containing Tikrit, voted 75 percent in favor of the constitution. If that result turns out to be true, there will be no doubt the vote was fixed, and in a stupidly clumsy manner.
I do think that defeating the constitution might be best in the long run. It will embolden the Sunnis and give them a political win, motivating them to further involve themselves in the political process. This will force the Shi’ites and Kurds to deal with real elected representatives instead of appointed ones. Will this spell and end to violence? Of course not, but anything that allows the Sunnis to claim victory instead of forcing them to eat political table scraps is a big step in ending the Sunni-led insurgency.

Is It Civil War Yet?

That pink-o, liberal workers’ rag DefenseNews (no link that I can find, unfortunately), also known as a trade publication for defense contractors, published a depressing piece on Iraq calling the situation here an “undeclared civil war.” I think it’s time we journalists faced up that this is, indeed the case.

BAGHDAD — That pink-o, liberal workers’ rag DefenseNews (thanks to Robert for the link!), also known as a trade publication for defense contractors, “published a depressing piece”:http://groups.yahoo.com/group/osint/message/60549 on Iraq calling the situation here an “undeclared civil war.” I think it’s time we journalists faced up that this is, indeed the case.
I remember many discussions over the past few months with colleagues as to whether this place is in civil war yet or not, but I think this article lays out the argument for it pretty well:

‘Things Are Getting Worse By the Day’
Undeclared Iraq Civil War Signals Worse to Come
5 Sept 05
By Riad Kahwaji, Dubai
Iraq’s long-feared civil war is escalating and will engulf the entire country unless ethnic leaders take drastic steps, according to officials and analysts.
“The current sectarian and ethnic killings in Iraq are actually the beginning of a civil war,” said Georges Sada, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and the executive secretary of the Iraq Institute for Peace. “Sectarian divisions in Iraq have started back in the ’90s, which prepared the ground for the civil war spreading today.”

Kahwaji notes that the Americans have downplayed deep cultural differences between Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds despite the increase in sectarian and ethnic killings since April 2003. And while Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad and military commanders now acknowledge the possibility of civil war, none of them will label the violence going on right now as such.
Hundreds have been killed for being Sunni, Shi’ite or, less often, Kurdish. Entire neighborhoods of Baghdad are being “cleansed”:http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,1096488,00.html (paid link, sorry. c’mon, guys!). Sunni leaders accuse the government of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite from the Dawa Party, of allowing the Badr militia to settle scores and eliminate enemies by using the security apparatus of the state. (Badr controls the Interior Ministry and its dreaded commando units.)
And yet, I’ve been reluctant to call it a civil war because I just haven’t been able to. I felt unsure and perhaps a little unwilling to see that it’s gone as far as it has. And others say “the existence of a political process means it’s not yet a civil war”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4249172.stm. I now think that’s simplistic. After watching this place for two years, I’m now prepared to call this thing a civil war, aligning myself squarely with the America-haters at DefenseNews.

“For over a year now, there has not been a day in which Iraq did not witness sectarian killings where the victims were either Shiite, Sunni or Kurds,” said Ghassan Attiyah, chairman of the Baghdad-based Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy. “I’m not talking here about random shooting. I am talking about targeting people individually on the roads and killing them for being from one group or another.”

In the article, Qassem Jaafar, a Doha, Qatar-based Middle East security analyst, listed the symptoms of a civil war:
* A weak central government with incompetent security apparatus.
* Spread of sectarian and ethnic killings.
* Existence of armed sectarian and ethnic militias.
* High threat perception among the sectarian and ethnic groups of the country.
* Insistence of each group on its demands.
* Foreign interference and support to feuding groups.
All of these elements are present now in Iraq, and the constitution process didn’t help matters.
Trumpeted by Khalilzad as a “national compact,” the constitution is instead a greater source of division, and privately the Americans are barely stomaching it. The problem is not so much the content as is the process. It’s not a _bad_ document, as written, and the contradictions within — with the exception of federalism — can probably all be finessed. But the process of drafting it, which largely excluded the Sunnis, deepened distrust among the various groups. The Sunnis, who didn’t participate in January elections and who have themselves to blame for not having legitimately elected leaders to sit on the panel, distrust the Shi’ites and Kurds as making a power grab. The Shi’ites and Kurds, however, never trusted the Sunnis who _did_ show up to help draft the charter, saying they weren’t elected so who knows who they represent. (Both fair enough points, I suppose, but not very helpful ones for bridging divides.)

“If the constitution is not amended to meet Sunni demands and goes as-is to the referendum, then moderate Sunni figures would lose ground to the radical forces and an all-out civil war will spread to each corner of the country,” Attiyah said.
[UPDATE: It was amended slightly, but whether it will be enough to assuage Sunnis remains to be seen. The hard core rejectionists obviously will never vote for it.]
Jaafar agreed. “The U.S. is facing a serious dilemma in Iraq, where its Shiite and Kurdish allies have gone out on their own pushing for their own agendas that do not seem to meet with Washington’s vision of a future Iraq,” he said.
“The Shiites, for example, have been pushing for an Iranian-style Islamic republic, which would not suit U.S. interests,” while “the Kurdish secessionist drive is growing stronger every day, which is getting Turkey and other neighboring states more worried.”

The question is what is Washington going to do? They’re in a no-win situation, Jaafar says, neither able to withdraw nor able to maintain Iraq’s unity and establish a democratic Iraq as a model for neighboring countries. Attiyah believes the U.S. might choose to sacrifice Iraq’s unity for its own goals.

“I believe some U.S. officials have started entertaining the idea of dividing Iraq on ethnic and sectarian lines to ensure stability and facilitate their exit after establishing some military bases in the oil-rich Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq,” Attiyah said. “In this case, Washington would blame the Sunnis and other neighboring states like Iran and Syria for the breakup of the country.”

A dismembered Iraq with various militias fighting over the corpse on top of 20 percent of the world’s oil. It’s a nightmare scenario that looks more more likely by the day, and the current civil war is just a smolder compared to the inferno to come.

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