Defying U.S. Efforts, Guerrillas in Iraq Refocus and Strengthen
In light of a recent surge of insurgent terrorist attacks, kidnappings, and assassinations, all with pronounced sectarian targeting contours, and the resultant sectarian tension, Iraq may be at a pivotal stage in its national cohesion, renaissance, democratization, and overall security. The strategic intent of these insurgent attacks is seemingly centered on stoking sectarian civil war between Iraq?s Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish communities. This suggests a shrewd strategic tact on the part of insurgents’ effort to fragment Iraq?s government and society via civil war and to exploit the subsequent chaotic environment to seize greater power, granting them traction on their particular insurgent agendas. In conducting attacks targeting sectarian groups, the insurgents hope to exploit and manipulate deeply rooted individual and communal mindsets, dynamics, and perceptions of intra- and inter-group trust, security, and threat that are etched along identity delineations and characteristics. The attacks seek to rend hard-won and fragile inter-sectarian trust and cooperation within the government and society and to menace each ethno-religious group with the threat of the ?outside? other, provoking a survivalist impulse to retreat into the perceived security, sanctuary, and trust of the particular groups. In this way, the dynamics of sectarian civil war are set in motion, as groups increasingly adopt an insularly, mutually suspicious, and besieged mindset perception of the rival groups. Should continued attacks along sectarian lines prove too much to bear for each community or its cooperation in governance and society be perceived as not worth the price?in both cases either in sectarian communal security terms or political terms?the ethno-religious communities may begin the cascading retreat into ethno-religious sanctuary and with it a decent into sectarian conflict. This prospect is particularly dangerous to Iraq?s national security and counter-insurgency efforts if the Sunni community, perceiving itself as being targeted at the hands of the Shia-Kurd-dominated government and its security forces, abandons its involvement in the government and turns to support the largely Sunni insurgency, fragmenting Iraq into a de facto civil war. Further, recent calls for the Iraqi government to utilize sectarian militias in counter-insurgency operations (WAR Report) in light of the perceived inability of the government security forces to put down the insurgency presents a Faustian option for the government. Though militias may, in the short-term, operate more effectively against the insurgency, their use is likely to exacerbate ethno-religious sectarian fragmentation and potential conflict by underpinning sectarian rancor with the actual agencies of sectarian violence. This conflict may empower potentially rogue militant actors who would not easily disband if and when the insurgency was put down. Thus, the current trends in insurgent attacks and the attendant building sectarianism in Iraq seem to portend civil war. To stave off these dynamics, it remains of critical import that the Iraqi government labor tirelessly to fully invest the ethno-religious communities, in particular the Sunni community, into the crucible of Iraq?s governance and societal structures in order to cultivate a transcendent civic nationalist identity and societal commitment to the nation?s interests over sectarian identities and interests.