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WHAT WE THINK
U.S. pours troops back into Baghdad in a new show of force
How the U.S. is tearing Iraq apart

September 22, 2006 | Page 3

WITH HORROR stories of sectarian violence in Iraq mounting, the Bush administration is claiming that the rising death toll is the latest reason to "stay the course" and prevent full-scale civil war. Yet it is the U.S. occupation itself that set in motion the dynamics of sectarian killing.

Virtually all of these sectarian attacks take place against civilians--bombs in markets, mosques and other public places, as well as kidnappings and killings.

But this violence comprised only 10 percent of attacks in Iraq in July, according to the U.S. military. The rest are insurgent attacks on U.S. forces, and their sidekicks in the puppet Iraqi military. A U.S. military study issued last month reported that the number of daily attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops doubled between January and July.

Nevertheless, the sectarian killings dominate the headlines and account for much of the rising death toll. Each morning, dozens of bodies are recovered around Baghdad, many showing signs of torture and execution.

This violence is the direct result of the U.S. invasion and occupation. The U.S. manipulated the aspirations of Iraq's Shiite majority--some 60 percent of the population, and long oppressed under Saddam Hussein--by bolstering Shiite Muslim parties in order to try to isolate the predominately Sunni Muslim and nationalist insurgency that took hold in 2004.

The result has been a slow-motion ethnic cleansing within religiously and ethnically mixed Baghdad and the specter of a full-scale civil war between Sunnis and Shiites--and, in the north, the informal secession of the Kurdish minority, also oppressed under the old regime.

The U.S. has responded by pouring troops back onto the streets of Baghdad and, via their puppets in the Iraqi government, building a 60-mile trench around Baghdad in an attempt to restore order.

The scheme will inevitably fail. The scale of the killings is so great precisely because Iraqi forces are infiltrated by sectarian militias. The most important of the militias operates inside Iraq's Interior Ministry, run by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a group historically aligned with Iran, but also one of the main collaborators with the U.S. occupation.

SCIRI's spreading power led the U.S. to try to curb the party's influence by forcing Iraqi Shiite parties to accept a "national unity" government following last December's elections, a deal that involved some small collaborationist Sunni parties and assorted U.S. stooges. At the same time, the U.S. forced out Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for his ties to militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, backing Nuri al-Maliki as al-Jaafari's replacement.

But a key SCIRI official still runs the show in the Interior Ministry. And SCIRI now wants to turn Iraq into a loose federation that would create a SCIRI-run, Iran-allied Shiite quasi-state in the south of Iraq, an entity that would control much of the country's oil wealth.

Prime Minister Maliki himself recently turned up in Iran, hugging Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who continues to defy the U.S. over Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment program.

While the Bush administration has heartburn over proposed Iran-Iraq collaboration over oil exploration, the U.S. will likely tolerate Maliki for now while it settles accounts with Sadr. In fact, the U.S. military brass is using U.S. troop deployments in Baghdad not to stop sectarian violence, but to confront Sadr's Mahdi Army.

This shift will make it that much more difficult for the U.S. to contain the insurgency in the Sunni heartland of Anbar Province, where, an anonymous U.S. officer admitted to the New York Times, "We haven't been defeated militarily, but we have been defeated politically--and that's where wars are won and lost."

SCIRI's militia, operating alongside Iraqi troops under the command of U.S. officers, clashed with Sadr's Mahdi Army August 28 in the southern city of Diwaniya. U.S.-controlled Iraqi forces raided Sadr's offices again September 14.

The reason for this U.S. tilt to SCIRI: Sadr's forces are increasingly challenging SCIRI for political influence among Shiite Muslims. "It is widely thought in Iraq that when new provincial elections are held, and they are already overdue, the Sadrists may sweep to power in the southern provinces," wrote Juan Cole, an expert on Shiite Islam.

Where SCIRI could benefit from a federal or partitioned Iraq by dominating the South, Sadr, with his base in the Baghdad slums, would lose out. He's therefore positioned himself as an Iraqi nationalist as well as an Islamist and populist.

As Cole put it, "SCIRI represents the great merchants, landowners and clerics of the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala, who have dollar signs in their eyes at the prospect of the billions of dollars that the Iranian pilgrimage trade will bring in. The Sadrists represent the little people, who wonder where their next meal is coming from and who suffer from lack of fuel, electricity and services. SCIRI represents the Shiites who can afford their own generators."

Cole's description hints at the intense class conflict beneath the surface in Iraq--which is exactly why the U.S. sought to channel class struggle along sectarian, religious and ethnic lines.

The longer U.S. troops remain in Iraq, the greater the chance that sectarian civil war will overwhelm Iraq--which is why the occupation must end now.

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