Out of Control in Iraq

  • Share
  • Read Later
While Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pursues the logic of security plans and national reconciliation, a different and deadly logic prevails on the streets of Baghdad. A rapid back-and-forth of Sunni-Shi'ite violence this weekend was an unusually vivid illustration of the cycle of sectarian massacre and counter-massacre that has accelerated in Iraq since the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in February.

In possible reaction to a bombing that killed two people near a Shi'ite mosque Saturday night, masked men rolled into a Sunni neighborhood Sunday morning. They dragged people from their cars or off the sidewalk, checked their IDs, and murdered anyone who appeared to be a Sunni. More than 40 bodies were taken to hospitals or found lying in the streets of the western Baghdad neighborhood of Jihad. While the mass murder of civilians here is nothing new, the daytime invasion of a Sunni neighborhood by Shi'ite militiamen is the most brazen attack in recent memory.

Later on Sunday two car bombs killed at least 17 near a Shi'ite mosque in northern Baghdad. Monday morning more bombs killed at least seven in the Shi'ite slum Sadr City.

Monday's attack in Sadr City may indicate that Sunni insurgents are retaliating against Moqtada al Sadr, a Shi'ite cleric and politician, and his Mehdi Army militia. Maliki, like his predecessor, has pledged to control or disarm militias affiliated with Shi'ite political parties, including the Mehdi Army.

But many Shi'ites are skeptical of the government's ability to protect them, and many Shi'ite politicians draw much of their influence from the strength of the armed groups which support them. Even if the government is willing to disarm these militias it remains to be seen if it is able.

Lost amidst the killing was an announcement by Iraq's neighbors, gathered in Tehran, that they support the national reconciliation plan touted by Maliki, which includes negotiating with some insurgent groups and the release of a number of prisoners.

Sunni insurgent groups, and Sunni politicians with no ties to the insurgency, have said the violence will continue unless the Shi'ite militias are reined in. Some of this may be a disingenuous justification for the Sunni insurgent violence that has rocked Iraq since the summer of 2003.

As Sunday's killings demonstrate, however, even Sunnis with no insurgent ties have reason to be afraid. Some members of the Iraqi police openly display their affiliation with Sadr, and elements within the Interior Ministry have been implicated in the kidnapping and killing of Sunnis.

Whether this weekend's events represent an escalation of the violence or has simply thrown the ongoing carnage into relief remains to be seen.