By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, Aug. 22, 2006 – Iraq is experiencing some localized sectarian strife, but it's not embroiled in a full-blown civil war as reported by some news media, a senior coalition officer said here today. "In my judgment, we are not in a situation of civil war," said British Royal Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Fry, deputy commander of Multinational Force Iraq and the senior British military representative in Iraq. He spoke to Pentagon reporters via a satellite connection from his Baghdad headquarters.
Fry acknowledged a "very intense sectarian conflict" in Iraq and said violence is mostly occurring in an area that includes Baghdad and its environs and reaches 40 miles or so north to Baqubah. He said a collapse of central government and large-scale population migrations are hallmarks of civil wars. So Iraq is not in a civil war because the Iraqi government is intact and functioning, Fry said. Also, there's no mass movement of Iraqis milling about the land or leaving the country, he added.
Iraq's elected leaders are in control and are busily addressing pressing national issues, he said. Most of Iraq is stable, Fry pointed out, noting 14 of the country's 18 provinces experience little or no violence. He also cited the Iraqi police takeover of security duties in Muthanna province at the end of July as another positive step. Japanese military engineers that had worked in that province have been sent home.
Fry said he gives credit to the Iraqi government for its efforts to unify the country's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish citizens. He praised Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's reconciliation policy that reaches out to all elements of Iraqi society, regardless of sectarian background. Yet, insurgent attacks on religious shrines, such as the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra, have stoked animosity between Iraq's Shiite and Sunni citizens, causing the current sectarian violence.
A majority of Iraq's citizens are Shiite, and they were persecuted for years by Saddam Hussein's pro-Sunni regime. Al Qaeda, the likely culprit of the Samarra bombing, has been transparent in its desire to start a Shiite-vs.-Sunni civil war -- at first to fend off elections, and then, having failed in that aim, to bring down Iraq's democratically elected government.
Other forces also would like to incite violence between Iraq's Shiite and Sunni population. Fry called out the Shiite Iranian government for stirring up trouble in Iraq. He said Iran is sending money, weapons and personnel into Iraq to assist pro-Shiite insurgents. "I think that we can see a very clear Iranian role in stoking up violence inside Iraq," Fry said, citing continuing anti-Iraqi government rhetoric voiced by senior Iranian officials. Some anti-terrorist military operations in Iraq are aimed at interdicting Iranian-sourced weaponry and training cadre, he said.
Fry said statements from Maliki and other senior Iraqi officials, who have vigorously denounced Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs, encourage him. Such outspokenness by Iraqi officials demonstrates Iranians aren't pulling the strings of a "puppet" Iraqi government, he said. The future of Iraq won't be settled by military force alone, Fry said. U.S., British and other coalition forces are providing stability until the new Iraqi government and its security forces achieve traction.
After violence in Iraq subsides, there will "need to be a certain process of settlement as people find their level in political terms and economic terms, and indeed, in terms of just the social and cultural accommodation of living together," Fry said. That process is already under way, the British general said. "And, I think the government is making every attempt that it possibly can to accelerate that process," he added. "Our function here is to provide the framework to permit that to happen."