For months there has been growing talk about the outbreak of civil war in Iraq. Concerns and warnings have been mounting since the outbreak of the Sunni demonstrations on Dec. 12, 2012. Concerns grew with the withdrawal of US troops at the end of 2011, not to mention arrest warrants that were issued against former Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi during the same period.
It can be said that the year 2012 was dedicated to consolidating calls for civil wars, not only by those calling for it who have been fomenting sectarian violence, but also by those who rejected it, as they have been fueling speculation about its possible outbreak. They have been intimidating people and urging them to elect certain political lists. They may have been also seeking to make political gains amid a raging political crisis that is still ongoing.
The pertinent question in Iraq today is: “Is Iraq on the verge of a new civil war?”
To answer this question, one ought to study certain factors. Most importantly, it should be noted that following the civil war in Iraq that took place between 2006 and 2008, people realized that the use of weapons would not solve anything and that the results of the war did not come to the advantage of those advocating it, but to the advantage of those who rejected it.
Undoubtedly, the presence of US forces at the time had contributed to quelling the civil war. Militarily, at the beginning of 2006, the US administration took a few strategic steps, such as increasing the number of troops, opening the doors of cooperation with Sunni tribes, supporting the Iraqi government to launch the Battle of Basra Operation in the city of Basra to drive out the Mahdi Army militia out of the city.
It could be said that the void left by the US troops’ withdrawal after 2012 was not felt on the ground and battlefield, as the American army was less present between 2009 and 2011, after signing the withdrawal agreements. However, the American administration had a strong presence when it took up the role of mediator, and by imposing solutions on the conflicting parties in the domestic area. This is seen as one of the most important factors that resulted in a relatively stable security and political consensus.
What were the changes on the economic, political, social, or security level that occurred towards the end of the civil war in 2008, which led to the outbreak of a new sectarian conflict today?
On the ground, the lives of Iraqis have not changed and there have not been any major events that could have fueled expectations about a new war, even at the security level.
Acts of violence and terrorist attacks have been recurrent throughout these years. In the first half of 2012, however, they escalated and have further intensified during the first months of 2013.
The most prominent variable, however, was the outbreak of armed conflict in Syria, which transformed into a sectarian hotbed and a battlefield that involved nearly all major powers in the world. This increased speculation that Iraq is likely to turn into a new Syria, whose situation has been already akin to that of Iraq in 2006.
One cannot assume that external factors alone could lead to a full-scale sectarian war in Iraq. However, it is certain that some internal parties have interests — whether religious, tribal or political — and which are linked to foreign agendas. They are ready to embark on the path of civil war.
Moreover, forming a Sunni province is not a new idea. However, there have been new parties advocating the establishment of this province, who are ready to resort to bloody confrontation for this goal. The Shiite parties, on the other hand, have failed to contain the crisis, insisting on reading the events in their political framework, ignoring social, historic and religious indications, as well as regional conflicts. Thus, there has been a sense of marginalization and exclusion among Sunni Iraqis in their own country.
It is true that there have been threats of new civil war in Iraq, but Iraq is still far from it and has been struggling to remain distanced.
The cycle of violence in Iraq might be incomplete until now, and perhaps the Iraqi political forces have not matured yet and have not reached a mechanism that guarantees their ability for dialogue and resolving crises. However, the Iraqi street is not ready for such a costly war today. It already has similar models to the war's tragedies and losses. The Iraqi people are not willing to make sacrifices simply for the whims of adventurous warmongers.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi is an Iraqi writer specializing in defense of democracy. He has extensive experience in documenting testimony and archiving documentaries associated with repressive practices. His book Humanitarian Concerns was selected in 2000 by the European Union as the best book written by a refugee.