Sectarian violence in the wake of this week’s attack on the Shiite Golden Mosque in Samarra have raised fears that an Iraqi civil war is imminent. Civil war would destroy the chances of the newly elected central government and create even more instability across the region.
Internal political rivalries, a stubborn, unbowed insurgency, and allegations of Shiite death squad activity all are challenging Washington's ability to influence events in Iraq. Added to those problems, says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is a global media environment "extremely hostile to the West."
As Iraq’s new government begins to take shape, the country’s leaders will be hard-pressed to form a national-unity government that can upgrade its security forces and hold off insurgents without falling prey to the country’s internal rivalries.
Iraq’s ruling Shiite bloc picked Ibrahim al-Jaafari to stay on as prime minister, casting doubts on the ability of Iraqi leaders to form a national-unity government. A moderate Islamist, Jaafari has been criticized for his lack of charisma and leadership skills.
Will Iraq's various factions be able to overcome their sectarian differences to build a new government? Looking ahead, as Iraq's political parties vie for cabinet positions, there is some concern that Shiites—who won most of the votes in December's parliamentary elections—may exclude Sunnis from the more powerful government posts.
Official results indicate Shiite parties dominated the December 15 parliamentary election, though they fell short of an absolute majority. Experts say the stage is now set for a coalition government in which Kurdish politicians will hold the balance of power.
Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s interim president, was selected by the two main Kurdish parties to contest for the post again, even as some voices call for the mainly ceremonial post to go to a Sunni.
Whatever else it is, 2006 is an election year in the United States, and that fact will bear directly on the war in Iraq. Sustaining a difficult military mission gets even more difficult as U.S. lawmakers near their scheduled date with the electorate in November 2006.
Authors: Stephen Biddle, Jeffrey A. Friedman, and Jacob Shapiro International Security
Examining the decline of violence in Iraq at the end of 2007, Stephen Biddle, Jeffrey A. Friedman, and Jacob Shapiro argue, "A synergistic interaction between the surge and the [Sunni] Awakening was required for violence to drop as quickly and widely as it did: both were necessary; neither was sufficient."
Max Boot says that at the moment, Iraq is an uneasy mixture of good and bad, volatile and stable, healthy and diseased—a strange witches' brew that could blow up or, just possibly, turn into an elixir for the entire region.
Max Boot states that an American drawdown in both Iraq and Afghanistan makes continued war—and with it the possibility of a catastrophic American defeat—more likely by emboldening our enemies and disheartening our friends.
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