“Iraqi civil war has already begun, U.S. troops say.”

By Tom Lasseter

Rumsfeld20hat2 "BAGHDAD, Iraq – While American politicians and generals in Washington debate the possibility of civil war in Iraq, U.S. officers and enlisted men who patrol Baghdad daily say it has already begun.

Army troops in and around Baghdad interviewed in the last week cite a long list of evidence that the center of the nation is coming undone: Villages have been abandoned by Sunni and Shiite Muslims; Sunni insurgents have killed thousands of Shiites in car bombings and assassinations; Shiite militia death squads have tortured and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Sunnis; and when night falls, neighborhoods become open battlegrounds.

"There’s one street that’s the dividing line. They shoot mortars across the line and abduct people back and forth," said 1st Lt. Brian Johnson, a 4th Infantry Division platoon leader from Houston, describing the nightly battleground that pits Sunni gunmen from the Ghazaliyah neighborhood against Shiite gunmen from the Shula district.


This requires no comment.

Pat Lang


As he spoke, the sights and sounds of battle grew: first, the rat-a-tat-tat of fire from AK-47 assault rifles, then the heavier bursts of PKC machine guns, and finally the booms of mortar rounds crisscrossing the night sky and crashing down onto houses and roads.

The bodies of captured Sunni and Shiite fighters will turn up in the morning, dropped in canals and left on the side of the road.

"We’ve seen some that have been executed on site, with bullet holes in the ground; the rest were tortured and executed somewhere else and dumped,"

Johnson said.

The recent assertion by U.S. soldiers here that Iraq is in a civil war is a stunning indication that American efforts to bring peace and democracy to Iraq are failing, more than three years after the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Some Iraqi troops, too, share that assessment.

"This is a civil war," said a senior adviser to the commander of the Iraqi Army’s 6th Division, which oversees much of Baghdad.

"The problem between Sunnis and Shiites is a religious one, and it gets worse every time they attack each other’s mosques," said the adviser, who gave only his rank and first name, Col. Ahmed, because of security concerns.

"Iraq is now caught in hell."

U.S. hopes for victory in Iraq hinge principally on two factors: Iraqi security forces becoming more competent and Iraqi political leaders persuading armed groups to lay down their weapons.

But neither seems to be happening. The violence has increased as Iraqi troops have been added, and feuding among the political leadership is intense. American soldiers, particularly the rank and file who go out on daily patrols, say they see no end to the bloodshed. Higher ranking officers concede that the developments are threatening to move beyond their grasp.

"There’s no plan – we are constantly reacting," said a senior American military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I have absolutely no idea what we’re going to do."

The issue of whether Iraq has descended into civil war has been a hot-button topic even before U.S. troops entered Iraq in 2003, when some opponents of the war raised the likelihood that Iraq would fragment along sectarian lines if Saddam’s oppressive regime was removed. Bush administration officials consistently rejected such speculation as unlikely to come to fruition.

On Thursday, however, two top American generals told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraq could slip into civil war, though both stopped well short of saying that one had begun.

Political sensitivity has made some officers here hesitant to use the words "civil war," but they aren’t shy about describing the situation that they and their men have found on their patrols.

"I hate to use the word `purify,’ because it sounds very bad, but they are trying to force Shiites into Shiite areas and Sunnis into Sunni areas," said Lt. Col. Craig Osborne, who commands a 4th Infantry Division battalion on the western edge of Baghdad, a hotspot of sectarian violence.

Osborne, 39, of Decatur, Ill., compared Iraq to Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed in an orgy of inter-tribal violence in 1994.

"That was without doubt a civil war – the same thing is happening here.

"But it’s not called a civil war – there’s such a negative connotation to that word and it suggests failure," he said.

On the other side of Baghdad, Shiites from the eastern slum of Sadr City and Sunnis from the nearby neighborhood of Adhamiyah regularly launch incursions into each other’s areas, setting off car bombs and dragging victims into torture chambers.

"The sectarian violence flip-flops back and forth," said Lt. Col. Paul Finken, who commands a 101st Airborne Division task force that works with Iraqi soldiers in the area. "We find bodies all the time – bound, tortured, shot."

The idea that U.S. forces have been unable to prevent the nation from sliding into sectarian chaos troubles many American military officials in Iraq.

Lt. Col. Chris Pease, 48, the deputy commander for the 101st Airborne’s brigade in eastern Baghdad, was asked whether he thought that Iraq’s civil war had begun.

"Civil war," he said, and then paused for several moments.

"You’ve got to understand," said Pease, of Milton-Freewater, Ore., "you know, the United States Army and most of the people in the United States Army, the Marine Corps and the Air Force and the Navy have never really lost at anything."

Pease paused again.

"Whether it is there or not, I don’t know," he said.

Pressed for what term he would use to describe the security situation in Iraq, Pease said: "Right now I would say that it’s more of a Kosovo, ethnic-cleansing type thing – not ethnic cleansing, it is a sectarian fight

– they are bombing; they are threatening to get them off the land."

A human rights report released last month by the United Nations mission in Baghdad said 2,669 civilians were killed across Iraq during May, and 3,149 were killed in June. In total, 14,338 civilians were killed from January to June of this year, and 150,000 civilians were forced out of their homes, the report said.

Pointing to a map, 1st Lt. Robert Murray, last week highlighted a small Shiite village of 25 homes that was abandoned after a flurry of death threats came to town on small pieces of paper.

"The letters tell them if they don’t leave in 48 hours, they’ll kill their entire families," said Murray, 29, of Franklin, Mass. "It’s happening a lot right now. There have been a lot of murders recently; between that and the kidnappings, they’re making good on their threats. … They need to learn to live together. I’d like to see it happen, but I don’t know if it’s possible."

Riding in a Humvee later that day, Capt. Jared Rudacille, Murray’s commander in the 4th Infantry Division, noted the market of a town he was passing through. The stalls were all vacant. The nearby homes were empty. There wasn’t a single civilian car on the road.

"Between 1,500 and 2,000 people have moved out," said Rudacille, 29, of York, Pa. "I now see only 15 or 20 people out during the day."

The following evening, 1st Lt. Corbett Baxter was showing a reporter the area, to the west of where Rudacille was, that he patrols.

"Half of my entire northern sector cleared out in a week, about 2,000 people," said Baxter, 25, of Fort Hood, Texas.

Staff Sgt. Wesley Ramon had a similar assessment while on patrol between the Sunni town of Abu Ghraib and Shula, a Shiite stronghold. The main bridge leading out of Shula was badly damaged recently by four bombs placed underneath it. Military officials think the bombers were Sunnis trying to stanch the flow of Shiite militia gunmen coming out of Shula to kill Sunnis.

"It’s to the point of being irreconcilable; you know, we’ve found a lot of bodies, entire villages have been cleared out, we get reports of entire markets being gunned down – and if that’s not a marker of a civil war, I don’t know what is," said Ramon, 33, of San Antonio, Texas.

Driving back to his base, Johnson watched a long line of trucks and cars go by, packed with families fleeing their homes with everything they could

carry: mattresses, clothes, furniture, and, in the back of some trucks, bricks to build another home.

"Every morning that we head back to the patrol base, this is all we see,"

Johnson said. "These are probably people who got threatened last night."

In Taji, an area north of Baghdad, where the roads between Sunni and Shiite villages have become killing fields, many soldiers said they saw little chance that things would get better.

"I don’t think there’s any winning here. Victory for us is withdrawing,"

said Sgt. James Ellis, 25, of Chicago. "In this part of the world they have been fighting for 3,000 years, and we’re not going to fix it in three.""

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24 Responses to “Iraqi civil war has already begun, U.S. troops say.”

  1. McGee says:

    Apropros of civil war here’s the latest from Baghdad Burning, a blog by an Iraqi woman in Baghdad:
    Summer of Goodbyes…
    Residents of Baghdad are systematically being pushed out of the city. Some families are waking up to find a Klashnikov bullet and a letter in an envelope with the words “Leave your area or else.” The culprits behind these attacks and threats are Sadr’s followers- Mahdi Army. It’s general knowledge, although no one dares say it out loud. In the last month we’ve had two different families staying with us in our house, after having to leave their neighborhoods due to death threats and attacks. It’s not just Sunnis- it’s Shia, Arabs, Kurds- most of the middle-class areas are being targeted by militias.
    Other areas are being overrun by armed Islamists. The Americans have absolutely no control in these areas. Or maybe they simply don’t want to control the areas because when there’s a clash between Sadr’s militia and another militia in a residential neighborhood, they surround the area and watch things happen.
    Since the beginning of July, the men in our area have been patrolling the streets. Some of them patrol the rooftops and others sit quietly by the homemade road blocks we have on the major roads leading into the area. You cannot in any way rely on Americans or the government. You can only hope your family and friends will remain alive- not safe, not secure- just alive. That’s good enough.
    For me, June marked the first month I don’t dare leave the house without a hijab, or headscarf. I don’t wear a hijab usually, but it’s no longer possible to drive around Baghdad without one. It’s just not a good idea. (Take note that when I say ‘drive’ I actually mean ‘sit in the back seat of the car’- I haven’t driven for the longest time.) Going around bare-headed in a car or in the street also puts the family members with you in danger. You risk hearing something you don’t want to hear and then the father or the brother or cousin or uncle can’t just sit by and let it happen. I haven’t driven for the longest time. If you’re a female, you risk being attacked.
    The whole piece is well worth reading:

  2. McClatchy owns a bunch of city newspapers, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune. They recently bought Knight Ridder. I couldn’t find the piece on the Strib’s website, but with the link below you may be able to locate the paper it’s in with some effort.

  3. Green Zone Cafe says:

    I’m back here now, but friends say indirect fire to the Green Zone is way up.

  4. Matthew says:

    Simple question: What are our troops doing there besides defending civilian contractors? They clearly are not defending Iraqis. On the positve note, Halliburton painted one school today.

  5. Robert says:

    How is this Administration going to portray this? They have so consistently misled this country on the situation in Iraq that it may be hard to explain how they blew this one, in even less time than it took for Vietnam. Your thoughts?

  6. Robert says:

    In regards to my previos comment, I didn’t mean to sound flip or cavalier about the situation. Its just that after listening to the arrogance and viciousness with which they attacked anyone who questioned their competence to run this war, this is a sad ending, for our military, and the people of Iraq. I have a great love for my country, and am just, uhm heartbroken, over what has occurred. These people (PNAC) should be in jail for what they have done.

  7. W. Patrick Lang says:

    What sort of fire and how much? pl

  8. jmack says:

    its all maddness

  9. Green Zone Cafe says:

    122mm rockets and mortars of varying calibers, landing all over the place nightly.
    I’ve seen it wax and wane, starting in October 03, a few rounds a night, to a lot in early-mid 04, down to almost nothing last year, only a about ten rounds total in 7 months, a couple when I was there in March, now several rounds a night in the last few nights.

  10. zanzibar says:

    “I don’t think there’s any winning here. Victory for us is withdrawing,”
    Well I think Sgt. Ellis has it right.
    I may not have the correct picture, but I believe the Sunni insurgents were determined to provoke a civil war. They worked it for a couple years. Now its there. With the Shia in the majority and in control of the government how will the Sunni fare in this unfolding sectarian war?
    The “failed” state of Iraq, a direct outcome of our neocon project will add to the expansion of violence and instability in the Middle East now further inflamed by the Israel-Hizbullah war. Unfortunately we can’t do much to dampen the fires. Hopefully the Arabs and Persians and Israelis will sort it out. I am not very optimistic about a sanguine outcome. I feel for the misery of the innocent civilian populations caught in the middle.

  11. jonst says:

    Summer reading for anyone interested. I will read but have not yet so I have no comment on it.

  12. jonst says:

    Here is a link to summary of the paper I linked to in my previous post. So people can see what its about. At least from one perspective anyway. Sorry I did not put this in before.

  13. ali says:

    “During my numerous visits to Iraq and in discussion with former colleagues in the Army, one thing is clear: the UK has failed in its strategic objectives of achieving peace and stability in Iraq. The policy of handing over the provinces we control must continue and be accelerated so that we can bring our Forces home as soon as possible. Only then can we address our main effort in Afghanistan with adequate force “packaging”.”
    Col Tim Collins

  14. Matthew says:

    Aside from its immorality, here’s my problem with the Neo-Con ME project: it is self-defeating. First, it assumes that a healthy nationalistic Arab democracy would want to be an American client state. Second, it assumes that the aforementioned democracies wouldn’t be even more forceful advocates for the Palestinians. (And, as you know, many Neo-Cons view the ME through the Israeli prism.) Many Neo-Cons talk out of both of sides of their mouthes on this issue, i.e., they claim the Arabs have done nothing for the Palestinians and then claim that Arab regimes use the Israel-Palestine conflict as cover for their own democratic failings. Well, if you fix the latter, you will get more of the former.

  15. John Howley says:

    Our soldiers are stuck in Iraq. Can’t go up to the 300,000 necessary to police the entire country for political reasons…and because we no longer have the troops. Can’t reduce the number of troops because we need to defend Green Zone and supply lines.
    Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney are merely hoping things don’t go downhill too fast before the Novemeber election.
    Last week, Pace warned Congress of impending disaster so that no one can claim later that he didn’t speak up.
    The military’s mission is to avoid total collapse so that Republicans can retain control of both houses of Congress and no one will be held accountable.
    They are playing political poker with other people’s money and other people’s kids…

  16. Jerry Thompson says:

    The decision to put our embassy in the International (“Green”) Zone is likely to turn out to be another HUGE mistake. We’re not going to be able to just “go away” as the security situation deteriorates. Whether you call it “civil war” or call it “Iraqi politics”, it will be chaotic and violent and we cannot be the arbiter of it. We need to “morph” ourselves into a very different role, with a political, reconstruction and humanitarian focus, draw back our military forces and stop believing ourselves to be the “arbiter” of Iraq. To do that, we need some tactical distance. Kurdistan is not the answer — that will turn into another kind of strategic political ambush. The Airport (?), Victory (?), maybe — but, an embassy in the IZ is not likely to be survivable or effective or give us the flexibility we are going to need.

  17. W. Patrick Lang says:

    The danger is that we end with an embassy complex isolated in the midst of a hostile city. pl

  18. John Howley says:

    Kurds make a move…from the FT:
    Iraqi Kurds publish draft oil law
    August 8 2006 03:00
    Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region yesterday published a draft version of a law giving itself the right to control petroleum operations in its own territory and the disputed province of Kirkuk.
    A memorandum attached to the draft provided by the Kurdish regional government said a final version would be presented to the Kurdish parliament in September, and that it had also prepared a draft of a petroleum law for the entire country.

  19. Mo says:

    I am confused by one thing. Before the invasion, we (those that opposed the war) were screaming 2 things : 1- There were no WMDs 2-You cannot save a country by attacking it. You cannot save an abused child from and abusive father by killing the childs mother. The child will only hate you more than he hates his father.
    Now I know this administration is arrogant, self gratifying and woefully narrow minded. But if it was obvious to us, mere mortals, not surrounded by the best advisors money can buy, one would have to believe that the Bush administration also must have known this and that with the limited troop numbers the arms were going to be brought into Iraq by the truckload.
    Therefore, is it logical to at least suspect, that this outcome, of chaos, civil war and a break up of what would have been a very powerful nation is an intended outcome?

  20. W. Patrick Lang says:

    You are making the classic ME mistake of thinking that because these dummies should be wise and well advised, they are.
    Not so, DORKS. pl

  21. Mo says:

    I have had the scary feeling of late that I was wrong to believe that what was said to the world by those in power was propaganda and that behind closed doors they knew otherwise. It is dawning on me that they actually believe what they are saying.
    If that is true, the implications are very grave and hopefully the setbacks they are suffering of late will stall their plans long enough to see them out of office.
    However, I still wonder if it is a coincidence that a divided, chaotic Iraq is exactly what would suit the Neo-con plan the most.

  22. zanzibar says:

    I too thought like you did that there was a grand strategy behind some of the perplexing decisions by GWB and the Cheney led neocons.
    The primary reason that I felt the Iraqi invasion was wrong was because Iraq posed no real let alone existential threat to the US. Saddam’s military was completely degraded after GW I and with the no-fly zones was contained.
    So when they ordered our troops into Iraq despite worldwide opposition I thought it was for narrow reasons like increasing their wealth and paying off their cronies and campaign contributors. But more I see of them I have come to the same conclusion that PL did a while ago that they do this to promote their “ideology”. And what is astounding is that they are very good at the domestic politics and propaganda front but fail in the governance and execution of policy aspects.
    I am afraid we will have to live with the fallout of this period of “insanity” for many generations.

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