Civil War is Unlikely in Iraq Despite a Surge in Violence

Posted by on Feb 05, 2014 | Leave a Comment

This year’s Ramadan has seen a spike of violence in Iraq that has reached numbers that are the highest since the height of the sectarian strife from 2006 to early 2008. These attacks and their subsequent mass casualties bolster the image and perceived operational capabilities of al Qaeda in Iraq, who often execute, or at least claim, some of the most spectacular attacks within the country. This is only part of the story, however, and Iraq has demonstrated resilience to this ongoing violence in not allowing it to undo the delicate balance the major ethnic and sectarian stakeholders maintain. As of now, there are no indicators that would suggest that this current violence will plunge Iraq into full-fledged civil war.

Iraq is enormously complex when it comes to its structure. To put it simply, there is a Shia dominated center and south, a Sunni dominated west and a Kurdish dominated north. A majority of the violence occurring happens along the fault lines where these territories abut one another such as Baghdad, Tikrit and Mosul. It is in these seams that al Qaeda in Iraq has been able to hide, plan and execute its regular waves of coordinated insurgent-style attacks. Their competency was most recently demonstrated on the July 21, where a complex attack was able to free several hundred prisoners from Abu Ghraib prison.

It would be a mistake however, to think that al Qaeda in Iraq is the dominant actor. They are a relatively small insurgent group who are excellent at grabbing headlines and have tactical competency, but are just one group among many. One of their main strategic goals is trying to reignite the sectarian strife within Iraq on the level of the Syrian conflict raging next door. While Iraq on its surface looks ripe for this type of rending, it actually has several arrestors keeping it together.

First, Iraq has had lots of violence consistently ever since the 2011 U.S. pullout and it is not exclusive to al Qaeda and its spectacular attacks. There is an entire spectrum of militants, militias and organized crime groups working for a whole host of interests that have kept monthly casualties in the hundreds for the last year and a half. Despite this, Iraq has shown a remarkable capacity to continue to function.

Second, these attacks have been successfully creating horrific civilian casualties, thus grabbing media attention and bringing into question the security forces’ effectiveness. These attacks have largely been executed against the plentiful soft targets available throughout any country, but they have not been able to consistently disable critical infrastructure such as oil, whose revenues are one of the main bonding elements of Iraq. So while the Iraq security forces cannot prevent every attack, they have shown the ability to safe guard key components of it.Lastly, Iraq’s major sectarian and ethnic groups have been able to maintain enough cohesiveness and control of their various security, militant, militia and tribal forces in order to maintain the overall security balance. For example, the much derided Iraqi army has shown no signs of fracturing or suffering desertions despite the constant absorption of casualties. Additionally, the Shia militias have avoided full-scale retaliation on Sunni targets that could drag the entirety of the Sunni tribal system into all-out conflict.

Iraq is in the grip of its worst violence in years, but it is unlikely to go the way of Syria in the near term. In some ways, it is the ongoing resource-consuming fight in Syria that is also constraining violence in Iraq as a majority of all available logistics and attention within the region are flowing next door. This violence is straining Iraq, but it does not appear to be breaking the balance between the major groups. So for the immediate future we are likely to see more of the same low to mid-grade insurgent attacks while the balance of sectarian and ethnic power will remain.

Read more: Civil War is Unlikely in Iraq Despite a Surge in Violence | Stratfor
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Civil War is Unlikely in Iraq Despite a Surge in Violence is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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