Iraq's Sectarian and Ethnic Violence and Its Evolving Insurgency
April 2, 2007
The insurgency in Iraq has become a “war after the war” that threatens to divide the country and create a full-scale civil conflict. It has triggered a mix of sectarian and ethnic violence that dominates the struggle to reshape Iraq as a modern state, which has emerged as a growing threat to the Gulf region, and which has become linked to the broader struggle between Sunni and Shi’ite Islamist extremism, and moderation and reform, throughout the Islamic world.
Since its inception in the spring of 2003, the nature of the fighting in Iraq has evolved from a struggle between Coalition forces and former regime loyalists to a much more diffuse mix of conflicts, involving a number of Sunni groups, Shi’ite militias, and foreign jihadists. The insurgency is now dominated by Neo-Salafi Sunni extremists, seeking religious and ideological goals that extend far beyond Iraq.
In the process, however, the insurgency has created complex patterns of conflict that have become a broad struggle for sectarian and ethnic control of political and economic space. Open violence has become steadily more serious, but other forms of violence and intimidation now dominate. Sectarian and ethnic “cleansing” are dividing the country at every level, creating major refugee problems, and leading to the forced relocation of a significant amount of the population.
Shi’ite, Sunni, and Kurdish factions increasingly organize to provide local security while seeking to push other factions out of areas where they have the majority. These problems have been compounded by de facto exclusion of many ex-Ba’ath members and professionals that form the secular and nationalist core of the country, and the slow purging of other nationalists who do not take a sectarian and ethnic side from Ministries and professions.