Revenge attacks threaten Iraq’s new government

A new spasm of sectarian violence shakes Iraq

What happened

A new spasm of sectarian violence shook Iraq this week, heightening concerns that Sunni Muslims will reject the new, Shiite-dominated government and launch an all-out civil war. Following a monthlong campaign of car bombings that slaughtered more than 400 Iraqis, authorities found dozens of corpses of Sunnis in and around Baghdad, many of them shot execution-style. A top aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's leading Shiite religious figure, and an influential Sunni cleric were assassinated hours apart.

Angry Sunni Arabs accused government security forces of targeting them in retaliation for insurgent car bombings and for abuses committed under Saddam Hussein, a Sunni. 'œThe mass graves are coming back,' said Dhia Hadithi, a Sunni leader. In a surprise visit to Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Iraq's new prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to ease tensions by giving Sunnis a greater role in drafting Iraq's new constitution. 'œYou defeat insurgencies not just militarily,' Rice said. 'œYou defeat them by having an alternative that is strong.'

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What the editorials said

Shiite revenge attacks are 'œa nightmare threatening to fracture the nation,' said the Los Angeles Times. Al-Jaafari will have to act fast to prevent Iraqi society from disintegrating into chaos. His only option is to follow Rice's advice, which has been echoed by al-Sistani, and give the Sunnis a real stake in the constitution and the country's political process.

It's time to consider the 'œworst-case scenario,' said the Baltimore Sun. Iraq's Shiites, Sunnis, and ethnic Kurds are so divided 'œover issues of religious law and autonomy' that constitutional talks this summer could easily 'œdissolve in recriminations.' If that happens, all sides could unleash their 'œwell-armed militias' on one another, with the U.S.'s 140,000 troops caught in the crossfire. Rather than choose sides in such a conflict, the U.S. military may be better off 'œfiguring out how best to cuts its losses.'

What the columnists said

The election of Iraq's new government was supposed bring peace, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune, but 'œsomeone forgot to tell the insurgents.' The two weeks since the new Cabinet was installed have been the bloodiest since the U.S. invaded, with roughly 70 attacks a day. The January election rekindled old rivalries, and U.S. military offensives—such as the recent effort to root out terrorists along the Syrian border—just produce 'œcollateral damage that alienates people' and drives them into the insurgent camp. Face it: 'œWe are spawning terrorists faster than we can kill them.'

The terrorists are still a small minority, said Ralph Peters in the New York Post. Most of them are Saddam loyalists and foreign insurgents from Saudi Arabia, and they couldn't care less about the Iraqi people. In fact, they are slaughtering innocent civilians on purpose, with a relentless string of car bombings and assassinations, to create the impression that Iraq is in chaos. 'œThis isn't jihad. It's the mass murder of Muslims.' Their senseless brutality is slowly turning Iraq and the Arab world against them. 'œEven Al-Jazeera has toned down its pro-terror propaganda.'

What a strange insurgency this is, said James Bennet in The New York Times. The rebels are clearly divided into three camps—foreign jihadis, remnants of Saddam's Baath Party trying to resurrect the old regime, and angry Sunnis fighting Shiite domination. All they seem to have in common is a nihilistic anger; there's no spokesman, no attempt to win over the population, no overarching political philosophy. If their goal is to drive the Americans out, why are they now targeting nearly all their attacks at civilians? 'œNo one really knows what the insurgents are up to.' Our lack of understanding should be 'œhumbling'; this is a fight unlike any other in history, with no predictable outcome.

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