Civil War in Iraq?

The dilemma is that US ultimately will not be able to serve both communities. It cannot make everybody happy. And it’s going to lose one of them along the way in order to satisfy the demands of the other party.

Vali Nasr on Open Source

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Today’s Washington Post reports that the sectarian conflagration in Iraq following last week’s golden dome bombing has killed over 1,300 souls. New bombings today keep the country wavering on the edge of civil war.

The Askariya shrine in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, was one of the most important Shiite religious sites in Iraq, and whoever orchestrated the bombing must have wanted to incite Sunni/Shiite violence. But will it prove to be a kind of tipping point? John Burns warned us about a possible Iraqi civil war on our show in early September last year, so the question now is: what’s different, if anything, about the current situation?

So far, the U.S. military has largely stayed out of the fray, and it seems clear that Iraqi security forces aren’t up to the task of restoring order. A temporary daytime curfew in and around Baghdad also failed to stem the violence. Shiite clerics have been calling for militias to protect holy sites, and Sunnis temporarily pulled out of negotiations to form a new Iraqi government. Politicial and religious leaders from both sides have also spoken out against America’s involvement in Iraq. But despite the bloodshed and fractured leadership, one Iraqi blogger writes:

It does not feel like civil war because Sunnis and Shia have been showing solidarity these last few days in a big way. I don’t mean the clerics or the religious zealots or the politicians- but the average person. Our neighborhood is mixed and Sunnis and Shia alike have been outraged with the attacks on mosques and shrines.

Riverbend, Baghdad Burning, Volatile Days…

Who might have set off the Samarra bombs? Iraqi Sunnis? If so, were they acting alone or with foreign support? If not, who did it and why? To what extent are rifts within Islam (as opposed to, say, American involvement or tribal conflicts) responsible for the violence in Iraq? If civil war really does start in Iraq, what does this do to Shiite/Sunni tensions across the entire Middle East?

As always, weigh in with comments and questions of your own.

Vali Nasr

Professor, National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School

Author, forthcoming The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future

Vahal Abdulrahman

Senior researcher, The Iraq Memory Foundation

Blogger, The Iraqi Vote and Dear Baghdad

Robert Worth

Reporter, The New York Times, in Baghdad

Jane Arraf

Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

On leave from CNN’s Baghdad bureau

Related Content