Iraq has been clearly shoved to the side in terms of media coverage of the Middle East, what with the Syrian Civil War, massive public unrest in Turkey, and the implosion of Egypt (also Iran elected a new president!) hogging the spotlight. Unfortunately, Iraq seems to be quietly spiraling out of control as well. Al Jazeera is reporting that at least 25 Iraqis have been killed in two days of violence that seems to be between Sunni insurgents, or would-be insurgents, and Sunni militias who allied with the US and the Iraqi government back in 2006-7 during the “surge.”
You remember The Surge, right? After the 2006 elections, when the Republicans lost control of Congress largely because Iraq was in or ramping up toward a full-blown civil war between its Sunni and Shi’i populations, the Bush administration decided that more American troops should be
tossed into a meat-grinder sent to Iraq to try to stabilize the situation. Sure enough, violence did eventually start to decline late in 2007 and into 2008, though how much of that was due to the extra US troops and how much to the fact that Sunni and Shi’i militias had already done all the neighborhood-level ethnic cleansing they were going to do, and how much to our 2005 program to bribe gently encourage Sunni militias to stop fighting against the Iraqi government and turn on the foreign/al-Qaeda-affiliated Sunni jihadists who had previously been their allies, remains unclear. But the violence did decline, and Iraq has more or less held together for some time now.
Only it doesn’t seem to be holding together so nicely over the last few months. Almost 200 Iraqis have been killed in violent attacks in July, just a week in, part of a total of somewhere around 2400 deaths so far this year. After the monthly death toll seemed to be declining at the end of last year, it seems to have picked up again, with 622 killed in June and these fairly staggering numbers in just the first week of July. The cause seems to be sectarian, coming in the wake of months of protests in the predominantly Sunni Anbar Province over what is perceived to be discrimination against Iraq’s Sunnis on the part of her Shi’i-dominated government. While the violence at this point seems to be between sectarian Sunni fighters and those perceived to have betrayed the Sunni cause by siding with the government, there are concerns that this is simply the precursor to a new Sunni uprising against the government, and a new round of sectarian violence between Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’i populations.
While all the oxygen is being sucked out of the room by Egypt, and before that Syria and Turkey, what’s happening in Iraq matters a great deal in terms of regional stability. Iraq shares a long border with Syria, and much of that long border happens to run between the Sunni-dominated parts of both countries. If Syria’s Sunni tribes are rebelling against Syria’s Shi’i government, and Iraq’s Sunni tribes start doing the same thing, the potential for collaboration is huge and exponentially increases the chances of a region-wide sectarian war.