Americans, whatever their position on the decision to invade Iraq 10 years ago, had hoped that when the controversial war was over that peace would prevail, but judging by recent events something akin to a civil war is tearing the country apart.
Sectarian warfare cost an estimated 1,000 Iraqis their lives last month alone, making July one of the worst months in years. So far in 2013, more than 4,000 Iraqis have been killed by acts of violence. Almost every day there are reports of multiple bombings taking multiple lives, and it is always Muslim against Muslim, Shia against Sunni.
This is not the outcome the United States had in mind when it invaded Iraq, captured the despised Saddam Hussein, saw him executed, and drew up the plans for an Iraqi democracy. Washington didn’t take into account — or perhaps didn’t give enough credence to — the deep, long-standing religious differences among Iraq’s Muslim population.
On Saturday, all over Iraq, as people celebrated Eid al-Fitr (the holiday that annually marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan) bombs took more than 60 lives, officials said. Washington immediately condemned the bombings, describing the attackers as “enemies of Islam.”
They may be, but these attacks represent a continuation of a bloody pattern that has developed over many months. The United Nations reports that 1,057 Iraqis were killed and 2,326 more were wounded in attacks in July. Those are the highest monthly casualty figures since 2008.
“We did not rise against the Shia,” one Sunni told a British newspaper, The Guardian. “We have lived with them for centuries. We rose against the government which puts our men in prison unfairly and abuses our human rights. That should stop. We will either live in dignity or die in dignity.”
Hussein was a Sunni but considered himself a secularist; there was ample evidence he was cruel to anyone he considered a foe. The Sunnis, long a minority in Iraq, now believe that the Shiites, who felt powerless during Hussein’s rule, are taking liberties with their newfound political advantage and thus inviting the bombings.
In Iraq, Sunnis view Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki as an American-installed traitor, not as the fair ruler of their country. The Sunnis had held power since the days of the Ottoman Empire, which ended after World War I. Today, they are more separated than ever from the Shia.
There is almost no hope for an early declaration of victory in the global war on terror, and the plight of the Iraqi people is grim evidence that even an infusion of a Western-style democracy offers no promise of security. It turns out that, quite often, religious affiliations are more important than political theories.