Iraq: the Story of Violence

Who’s causing the security problem

The “insurgency” is made up of left-over Saddam supporters, known as Baathists, and other Sunnis who are bent on attacking the US presence. There’s no apparent insurgent leader. While the insurgents used to be the main source of violence, they’re increasingly becoming a smaller part of the picture.

Al Qaeda and related terrorists wax and wane in their importance. The Iraq Study Group says that they’re the least of our worries in Iraq. Most are home grown but foreign fighters number around 1,300. In addition to wanting the US out of Iraq, they also want to stir up trouble between Sunnis and Shiites.

Shiite militias, many of whom operate with a nod from the government, have filled the “security vacuum,” protecting Shia and skirmishing with Sunnis (or sending in death squads to kill alleged Sunni insurgents). To make matters worse, Shiite militias – particularly the Mahdi Army of Sadr and SCIRI’s Badr Brigade – have their own power struggle going on, occasionally battling it out with each other.

Crime. Taking advantage of the chaos, criminals add to the fray with kidnapping and robberies.

The big sectarian picture. What started out as a war between the US and Sunni insurgents back in 2003 has pretty much now become a civil war between Sunni and Shia. All of the actors above play a part in the cycle of violence and counter-attack/retribution, with average Iraqis having to choose sides to protect themselves. Iraqis aren’t protecting themselves just by arming themselves – 1.8 million have left the country and another 1.6 million have moved, presumably to places where they are in the ethnic majority. The resulting “ethic cleansing” may keep Sunni and Shia neighbors from getting in each other’s faces, but it also adds to the growing division between Sunni and Shia, making the country more ripe for all out civil war.

The US forces

The combined US and coalition forces number about 160,000 military personnel. In Baghdad, they’re mostly engaged in “clear, hold and build” missions – “clearing” areas of insurgents and militias, handing those areas over to the Iraq army to “hold” while quick reconstruction projects are “built.” Most agree we’re good at the “clearing” part, but “hold and build” is still beyond our reach, with insurgents and militia usually moving back in as soon as US troops are gone. (Only 15,000 US troops are in Baghdad.)

The Iraq forces - part solution and part problem

A part of our plan has always been to build Iraqi security forces who can hold their own without US back up. There’s progress but still a lot of problems.

The 140,000 strong Iraqi army is considered the most professional security force and the cause for greatest hope, but even so, they have their problems: lack of leadership; lack of funding for equipment; low readiness levels (that is, soldiers taking off frequently to bring money to their families); and lack of logistics and support. Also, the Iraq Study Group questions the loyalty of soldiers who may be asked to take action against their ethnic group or deploy to another part of the country.

The 190,000 strong Iraqi police (made up of 135,000 local police, 25,000 national police and 28,000 border guards) may be more part of the problem than part of the solution. At best incompetent and at worst corrupt and an extension of the Shiite militias, Iraqi police seem to be stirring up more sectarian violence than they are stemming.

Another 145,000 make up the Facilities Protection Service – armed units that protect individual ministries and which share the problems of the police.

next > governing

Posted January 16, 2007

Did we miss something, let some slant slip in, lose a link - or do you just have something to say? Drop a line below! In the spirit of open dialogue, cJ asks you keep it civil, keep it real and keep it focused on the message, not the messenger. See our policy page for more on what that all means.

Posted In