Apparently most Shiite religious and political leaders are working hard to dampen attacks on Sunnis by radical Shiites, in an effort to reduce sectarian strife and avert the threat of civil war. While some radical Shiites, and even foreign analysts, believe that a civil war would actually solidify Shiite control of Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Sistani and other moderate Shiite leaders seem to fear that open sectarian conflict would only prompt large scale intervention?both covertly and overtly?by foreign Sunni interests to support their co-religionists, which might also prompt the largely Shia Iranians to intervene in support of their co-religionists, and perhaps even the Turks, concerned about the threat of Kurdish autonomy.
While most Western analysts apparently put the odds of a civil war breaking out in the near future at about 2:1, the level of sectarian violence has fallen in the past week or so from the very severe outbreak that occurred after the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra. This seems to have been in response to calls for calm. Despite this, though at times it's difficult to determine the motivation for an attack, in some areas incidents of sectarian violence continue. Before the Samarra mosque attack, Coalition intel folks were giving 1:1 odds on the possibility of a civil war in Iraq. Now they're saying it's closer 3:1. But this would not be your normal civil war. The Sunni Arabs are greatly outnumbered, both in terms of population (there are four times as many Shia Arabs and Kurds), and weapons (the Sunni Arabs have no airpower, or heavy weapons like artillery). The great hope of the Sunni Arabs is interference from neighboring Sunni Arab countries. This would have to get past American troops, and considering the quality of neighboring Sunni Arab armies (Syria, Saudi Arabia), this won't happen. On the Shia side, there is Iran, which could intervene for the Shia Arabs. American troops would also block this, as would Kurds and a lot of Iraqi Shia Arabs. In practical terms, what Iraqi Sunni Arabs have most to worry about is steady pressure on them to leave the country. Over ten percent of the Iraqi Sunni Arabs have already fled the country, and many Kurds and Shia Arabs consider that a good start and one of the best things Sunni Arabs have ever done for Iraq.
The violence has shifted away from American troops, who are suffering 60 percent fewer casualties this month than in the past year. and more towards Iraqi security forces and civilians. Part of this is because there are simply more Iraqi police and soldiers patrolling the streets and policing the neighborhoods. Where there are about two American advisors for every hundred Iraqi security troops, these Americans are there to advise, not fight. And the Iraqis are doing the fighting, and taking the casualties. American troops are still making raids and patrols, but there has also been a sharp decline in terrorist attacks. Some six months of sweeps and battles in western Iraq has shut down many of the Sunni terrorist sanctuaries. Indeed, many al Qaeda terrorists have fled western Iraq for towns and villages on the Iranian border. Iranians don't like to advertise the fact, but they do provide support to al Qaeda, despite al Qaeda's attacks on Shias (for being heretics.) Iran would also like to see a civil war (ethnic cleansing of Sunni Arabs) in Iraq. If that were to happen, Shia Arabs would be 75 percent of the Iraqi population, and likely to side with Iran on many issues.
March 12, 2006: Three bombs went off in the Shia section of Baghdad, killing at least 40 and wounding over a hundred. This neighborhood is called Sadr City, and is the stronghold of radical, pro-Iran Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr and his private army. Sadr is one warlord who has shown great enthusiasm for making war on the Iraqi Sunni Arabs. These bombs appear to be encouraging this.
March 11, 2006: The police are getting a lot more tips from Sunni Arabs about the location of the terrorists, their weapons stockpiles and where the bomb workshops are. There is a growing fear in the Sunni Arab population that if the terrorism doesn't stop, the Kurds and Shia Arabs will turn on the Sunni Arab minority with great violence. While many Sunni Arabs still believe they should be running the country, they can also see, and count, the growing number of government troops and police on the streets. Like the population as a whole, over 80 percent of these security forces are Kurds or Shia Arabs. But the Sunni Arab terrorists are still operating, although in much reduced numbers. The terrorists believe they are on a mission from God and are willing to die for their cause. Many more of them are doing that. Along those lines, the government has resumed executions by hanging 13 Sunni Arabs for terrorist acts.
March 10, 2006: One reason many Iraqi politicians want American troops out of the country, is because that would make foreign auditors more vulnerable to coercion. Under the protection of U.S. troops, there have been several audits of how aid to Iraq, and Iraq's own oil revenue are being spent. All of these investigations have uncovered widespread theft of public money by senior government officials. Sadly, this is nothing new. In the years before the 2003 invasion, corruption was up among Saddam's inner circle. Corruption is an ancient custom in the region, but at least it is now widely recognized as a source of bad government and economic backwardness. Saddam, for most of his reign, has stopped much of the customary corruption, but that was so he and his family could steal much of the oil revenue for themselves.
Political leaders are still deadlocked over who should hold key positions in the new government. What's at stake are choice positions for stealing the most money. Few Iraqis like to talk about this, but it's what happens, and is happening.