Will Iraqis Be Able To End The Violence?

Will the violence that has plagued Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime subside now that power has been transferred to an interim Iraqi government?Competing interests in Iraq have contributed to the rampant instability.

Will the violence that has plagued Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime subside now that power has been transferred to an interim Iraqi government?

Competing interests in Iraq have contributed to the rampant instability. Some groups or leaders seek to instill chaos, while others seek political power. Iraq's Governing Council failed to fill the political vacuum left after the fall of the Ba'ath regime, and it remains to be seen whether the new interim government will have better success. In the meantime, a kind of ad hoc "rule" has resulted. Iraqi tribal leaders dole out their own "justice," while others seek to establish some kind of unified government.  The police hold little to no sway over the population, and the absence of the rule of law is apparent.  In the midst of all of this, militants attack and terrorize the Iraqi people.

Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi told the German weekly "Focus" in an interview published on June 21 that he expected militant attacks to end with the transfer of power. What was most worrying about his statement - and  he  is  not  the  only  Iraqi official to have made such  predictions - was that it failed to acknowledge the agendas of militant groups operating in Iraq.

 There are more than thirty armed groups at the moment, and while their affiliations (secular and Islamist) and agendas (anti-coalition and anti-establishment) converge and diverge at times, one thing is clear: a majority of these groups will simply not cease their attacks now that power has been transferred to an Iraqi authority.

One element of militancy in Iraq is supported by Saddam loyalists. While the number of Iraqis that would actually support a return of the former regime to power is limited, most insurgents are mere thugs  bent on wreaking havoc. Many have joined up with Islamist groups, such as Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army. Their affiliation is not only based on the common goal of driving coalition forces from Iraq: they also seek to benefit from the chaos present in the country.  These and other Saddam loyalists stand accused of acting as paid kidnappers and assassins, as well as common criminals - many  of them were released in a general amnesty granted by the Ba'ath regime in October 2002

In addition to the never-ending violence perpetuated by anti-coalition militants, or those targeting average citizens, Iraq is rife with political turmoil on other levels. Inter-Shiite rivalries continue to ebb and flow, and sectarian violence is on the rise in Kirkuk. In the south, Karim Mahmoud, known as the "Lord of the Marshes" for his leading role in the Iraqi Shiite resistance to the Saddam regime in the marsh areas, allegedly ordered the killing of a local police chief for not doing enough to prevent attacks against British forces. Similarly, in a potentially dangerous development, an imam in Fallujah stands accused of ordering the killings in mid-June of six Shiites in the city. In addition, opposition armed militias, though ordered to disband nearly one year ago, have been reluctant to do so. As one analyst put it, there is no incentive to turn in weapons when a group expects it will need them in the future.               

                                                                                                  

Kathleen Ridolfo is the Iraq Regional Analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (www.rferl.org). A version of this piece appeared in The Daily Star