Current Events in Iraq
The root cause of the ongoing violence and civil unrest in Iraq are the social, political, and territorial tensions between the country's Shiite and Sunni Muslims. In terms of religious philosophy, the two sects hold different beliefs regarding who is the legitimate successor to the Prophet Mohammad.
Although Sunnis make up approximately 90 percent of the world's Muslims, Shiites hold the majority in Iraq. As a Sunni, the former dictator Saddam Hussein ensured that Sunni Muslims in Iraq held political and social dominance. Following the collapse of the Hussein regime, the majority Shiite population has engaged in the process of forming a new government, while Sunnis have generally avoided any involvement.
The situation is further complicated by terrorist groups and militia leaders, most notably al-Qaeda and the powerful Shia Islam cleric Moktada Al-Sadr. Sadr controls the Mahdi Army militia, a group of anti-American guerillas that numbers approximately 200,000. Recent reports have suggested that spin-offs of this group have also entered into the conflict. The use of concealed roadside bombs and snipers has proven particularly deadly to U.S. and coalition forces in the region.
As of late 2006, the situation in Iraq appeared bleak. Despite some progress on the political front, the insurgency continued to strike coalition forces, Iraqi police, and rival factions. Predictions of an all-out civil war pitting ethnic and religious groups against each other did not come true, though many commentators believe that such an outcome remains a distinct possibility.
For critics, the "staying the course" alternative proposed by the Bush Administration represented one of the worst possible strategies. Even those who were not against the invasion have faulted U.S. actions and accused the Bush administration of failing to reconsider ineffective policies. The U.S. administration under President Barack Obama set a timetable that saw all US combat units out by August 31, 2010 and the remainder by the end of 2011.
The continued violence, combined with the ineffectual pace and quality of rebuilding, has attracted strong criticism. The cost of the war has also been an issue, costing hundreds of billions of dollars every year from 2003 to 2009.
As to the cost of life for the American soldiers, over 4,425 have been killed and more than 20,000 wounded; the coalition forces have also sustained notable casualty numbers. A new controversial report has estimated Iraqi deaths since the 2003 invasion at over 650,000. Many analysts have begun to refer to the ongoing Sunni-Shia conflict in Iraq as a civil war.
Suicide bombings have become a daily occurrence and the civilian population on each side of the divide continues to be targeted by death squads. Even some members of the Iraqi parliament have been involved in masterminding various murders, bombings and other attacks. Mohammad al-Daini, a sitting member of the Iraqi parliament, was indicted on February 2009 for a number of horrible attacks and a failed plot against the Iraqi parliament.
Almost six years after the invasion of Iraq, the end may be in sight for American troops. President Obama's pull-out timetable should bring an end to this war. Meanwhile, public disapproval regarding the war in Iraq continues to remains strong.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has made it clear that he is moving his country away from its primary relationship with the United States and seeking new relationships with other Western nations and Arab States. For Mr. Maliki, the goal has been to move his country from war to peaceful governance. There are signs of progress on this front. The January 31, 2009 Iraqi midterm elections saw a relatively peaceful electoral process in which Mr. Maliki's Dawa Party was the resounding victor - though it failed to receive sufficient votes to rule without any coalitions.
While these peaceful elections are a relative victory in the making of a more democratic Iraq, the spirit of such elections has yet to reach the distant Iraqi provinces and its various ethnic and religious groups. It is among these places and groups where much progress still remains to be accomplished. The traditional divisions between Sunnis and Shiites as well as the tension between Iraq's Kurdish population in the north and other Arabs in the region continues to simmer and may be the root of future instabilities and conflicts.