Today I want to use my space to introduce you to Chris McGurk, a smart young Army veteran who served in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Chris got out of the Army just a couple weeks ago, and since then he's been volunteering here at the IAVA offices in New York. The recent discussion of whether or not Iraq has descended into a civil war inspired Chris to write the following piece for the IAVA Blog, and I wanted to share it with HuffingtonPost readers as well. Enjoy. -- Paul
It has been quite some time since I have contributed my thoughts and opinions on the never ending news cycle that is Iraq as I've been busy getting out of the Army and preparing myself for the next chapter in my life. I decided to end my self-imposed hiatus to lend my opinion to the one question that I cannot believe is still being asked: is Iraq on the verge of a civil war?
I feel like I am living in a twisted version of the movie Groundhog Day. I sometimes have to ask myself if people are serious when they ask this question What do you call it when the citizens of a nation are hell bent on killing one another over religious, ideological differences and old tribal feuds? I call it CIVIL WAR. The idea that people still believe that Iraq is not steeped in a civil war is ludicrous. When entire neighborhoods are wiped from the map, when car bombs kill's dozens of women and children, when mosques are firebombed and people are killed openly in the street while returning home from buying bread, what would you call it?
The world community has to stop kidding itself and the spin doctors need not try to pull the wool over our eyes anymore. I am baffled that we idly sat by and allowed the cancer that has spread like wildfire through the heart of Iraq grow unchecked. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki seems to be trying to please all the people all the time. His global power rises from the backing of the United States government, but his local power in Iraq comes from the backing of Shia Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. In April 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority had issued an arrest warrant for Muqtada al-Sadr, and as American and Iraqi forces prepared to go after al-Sadr the warrant was rescinded. In October 2006, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made a public appearance with Muqtada al-Sadr sending a powerful political sign to the world. As recently as this week, al-Maliki has said that his country's problems are "politically based," and that the politicians are the ones who can put an end to the violence. I say that the one responsible is the prime minister himself, he has just been too afraid to challenge the militias and the one man who has the ability, in my opinion, to put an end to the internal genocide: al-Sadr himself.
The full brunt of blame cannot be placed on the Iraqi government alone. The U.S. needs to be more proactive in putting an end to the killings. I feel the U.S. has been too afraid to go after Muqtada al-Sadr. I was deployed to Iraq from August 2005 to August 2006 and the first few months my unit was in country, we patrolled Al-Shulla, a sector just northwest of Baghdad proper. Inside Al-Shulla was one of the Mahdi militia's headquarters. I felt then and still feel now that as we kept the peace in sector, we were also allowing al-Sadr's army to gain in strength and plan future operations, even though at times we had intelligence that would be reason enough to raid the compound. It makes me sick that it is no secret that Prime Minister Maliki is a puppet of al-Sadr and that the U.S. administration for whatever reason, and in its infinite wisdom, is too afraid to take the necessary steps to help the Iraqi "government" rid itself of the self-serving, self-righteous al-Sadr. Instead, curfews are imposed which have no lasting affect to quell sectarian violence, instead they allow for the insurgents to refit and regroup.
I have to wonder why both the Iraqi and U.S. governments are not taking serious steps to end the cycle of violence. Is there something to gain from endless rotations of U.S. forces? When is enough, enough? How much longer are we going to play referee? I say we need to remove Prime Minister Maliki from power and help empower a legitimate government that is not influenced by a radical cleric. I hope the world community stops asking, "Is Iraq on the verge of a civil war?" We need to stop pretending that Iraq is on the verge and realize it really is in the grip of an all out civil war and truly help the Iraqi people help themselves. If you ask me, Muqtada al-Sadr is the lynch pin to ending the violence in Iraq, remove him and you have a viable chance for peace. Until that time comes, Iraq will be mired in civil war.