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Is Iraq on the Brink of Sunni vs. Kurd Civil War?


Update I: The Associated Press is now reporting the death toll from yesterday's bombings could reach as high as 500. It appears that the Iraqis have just had their own 9/11.

Yesterday saw the deadliest series of coordinated attacks in the war to date as reported by the Associated Press:

The death toll in suicide bombings in northern Iraq has risen to at least 250, a Kurdish minister said Wednesday, making it the war's deadliest attack on a single area.

Zayan Othman, the health minister of the nearby autonomous Kurdish region, said the casualty toll had risen to at least 250 killed and 350 wounded as bodies were pulled from the rubble. That surpassed the previous deadliest attack of the war when 215 people were killed by mortar fire and five car bombs in Baghdad's Shiite Muslim enclave of Sadr City on Nov. 23.

This attack was most likely carried by Saudi Sunni suicide bombers supported by indigenous Iraqi Sunni militant groups. The victims were members of the Yezidi faith who are mostly ethnic Kurds, and are considered by some Muslims to be infidels and devil worshipers. The attacks occurred in an area that we were about to hand over to the control of the Iraqi government:

Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, said last month that he proposed reducing American troop levels in Ninevah and predicted the province would shift to Iraqi government control as early as this month. It was unclear whether that projection would hold after Tuesday's staggering death tolls.

Extremists also brought down a key bridge that connects Baghdad with the north and the oil ministry was attacked by 50 insurgents who kidnapped five officials.

This attack could be the opening round of a new front in the Iraq War with the Sunnis fighting against the Kurds for control of key areas of northern Iraq. The question of the fate of the oil city of Kirkuk is causing increased friction as the promised Nov. 17 referendum on whether the city will join the Kurdistan region approaches

The enmity and animosity between Iraq's Sunnis and Kurds is deeply entrenched in the psyche of both groups. Fresh in the memory of Iraq's Kurds are the years of repression under Saddam and his attempts to "Arabize" the region by resettling Iraqi Arabs in cities like Mosul and Kirkuk. Sunnis resent Kurdish attempts to push a decentralized form of government on Iraq with the ultimate aim of achieving independence for the Kurdish region. Ironically, the Yezidis are largely opposed to an independent Kurdish state, but that may not matter much to the Saudi and Iraqi Sunnis determined to push all Kurds out of the area and establish a strict Sunni fundamentalist regime.

Neoconservatives who have lately been chortling that we are near to "victory" in Iraq remain blissfully ignorant of the dynamics and complexities of the myriad of ethnic, religious, tribal and clan loyalties and groupings in Iraq that will make any successful nationbuilding task in that country an extraordinarily difficult and extremely protracted exercise costing billions of dollars, thousands more lives of US troops and at least another decade of occupation. One general suggests it will require two decades.

Even then, there would certainly not be any guarantee of success. We may find after 20 more years and 20,000 more of our heroes sacrificed that Iraq is no closer to stability than it is now. By that time, our protracted occupation of Iraq would likely have stimulated tens or even hundreds of thousands of Saudis and other Arabs to join the jihad against the Americans. The longer we stay the more difficult it will be to eventually withdraw. We have already lost enormous amounts of prestige in the world and have written the textbook for how insurgent groups can resist an occupation by an overwhelmingly superior military force. Every IED that takes the lives of more of our heroes gives another boost to the jihad that bin Laden and his Saudi backers are trying to expand.

Attacks like yesterday's demonstrate the foolishness of those who continue to persist with the idea that an occupation force of only 150,000 troops can restore order and bring stability to a nation of 26 million people. These people are ignorant both of long-established military doctrine and the inherent limitations of our overwhelming technological superiority. Placing a smaller force than is required into the boiling cauldron of Iraq is tantamount to signing the execution warrants of one hundred of our heroes every month as long as this ill-conceived, poorly executed and ambiguous mission continues. When will the neocons admit they were wrong and stop sending our troops to die in order to cover up their mistakes?

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Comments (5)

Lee Ward:

Thank you for staying on top of this story, Larkin. It's sure as hell not being reported on the red side of the blogosphere... They're too busy calling the Rutgers basketball players HOs again.

It's classic whack-a-mole -- just as we all were saying last December. You move into Baghdad and secure it, and the insurgency relocates operations elsewhere -- you move the forces out to the hotspots, and the insurgents will move back into Baghdad.

I am so sick of the Republican bungling...

One thing you failed to mention is that this story is being spun as a "genocide". Now, instead of this being an attack on the Yazidi by the Sunnis, the ignorant sect of our country is going to believe we need to stay and "fight the genocide".

We need to pay attention to how they are spinning these stories into propaganda and debunk the lies ASAP. Or else they'll keep on working.

Lee Ward:

Jen does a good job of elaborating on her position here. -Lee


I'm immensely grateful there is a population there in the Sunni desert willing and able to form a buffer zone. They will be paid to do so, and earn their pay.


No, desperately, cynically, stupidly wrong. The Kurds and the Shia in Iraq, who live over the oil, will share some of the revenue with the tribes, to keep the Syrians and the Wahabbi off their back.

It's easy, really. Try it some time.


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Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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