Patrick Markey has a Reuters Analysis piece today that deals with something I’ve alluded to in the past – that Iraq is headed for another eruptive episode in its ongoing civil war and it is a tossup whether the ignition point will be Kurds vs Baghdad, Kurds vs Sunnis or Sunnis vs Baghdad/Shiites. Markey has a detailed look at the latter as protests, bombings and armed confrontations build on a sense of marginalization, with Iraqi leader Nour al-Maliki using de-Baathification laws, accusations against Sunni leaders and Shiite fear to boldter his rule.
Already protests are becoming volatile. Iraqi troops shot five people in clashes in Falluja on Friday, illustrating the room for miscalculation with sectarian hardliners and Islamist insurgents trying to steer unrest into crisis.
ust outside Ramadi, Sunni men sleep in tents and pray along a blockaded highway, wrapping themselves in old three-star Iraqi national flags, chanting slogans and waving migwars, the wooden mace that Iraqis used to fight the British in the 1920s.
Defiant banners hung on tents call out: “No to Maliki’s Justice” and “I will not leave until I get dignity”.
In fiery speeches from clerics and tribal leaders, talk of reforms mixes with calls to topple the Shi’ite-led government and the more radical demand to split away an autonomous Sunni region in Anbar province along Iraq’s western flank.
“This is just the culmination of years of injustice against us,” said Munim al-Mindeel, a farmer sitting outside a tent decorated with anti-government banners. “Of course this was bound to happen. All pressure brings explosions in the end.”
… The Iraqi Islamic Party, part of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been a prime mover in a drive to create a Sunni entity along the border with Syria, by force if needed, senior Sunni sources say.
…Al Qaeda’s local wing, Islamic State of Iraq, is also regrouping in the deserts of Anbar, and sending some fighters to join Syria’s rebels, Iraqi security officials acknowledge.
While moderates called for calm after Friday’s deadly clashes, in Falluja, small groups of protesters waved the black jihadist banner of al Qaeda. The group had claimed a suicide bombing that killed a top Falluja lawmaker days earlier.
Then there’s the civil war just across the border in Syria.
After any Syrian collapse, Iraqi Shi’ite officials see Islamist fighters turning their weapons back on Baghdad. Their worst case scenario is a Sunni population in revolt against Baghdad and becoming a magnet for jihadists.
“Everyone is asking where are we heading, no one knows,” said one influential Shi’ite leader. “Our biggest fear is that the regime in Syria collapses, then an Iraqi Sunni region will be announced next day, and fighting will erupt.”
The most effective rebel force in Syria is the Al-Nusra Front, designated a terror group by the U.S. and strongly affiliated with Al Qaeda. One of the reasons the Front is so effective is that it had a cadre of fighters who’d learned their craft in Iraq. This has been a chapter from the book of unintended consequences – another chapter being Mali.