They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you. Bush - Joint News Conference with Blair - 28 July '06

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

US sidelined in Iraq's sectarian war

Asia Times

The United States has been reduced to the role of passive bystander as a new stage of sectarian civil war has begun in Iraq, marked by military units with heavy weaponry carrying out mass killings.

Last week's bloody massacre in Mahmoudiya illustrated both the new level of sectarian violence and the US role as passive observer, even as the administration of President George W Bush acknowledges that the primary problem in Iraq is sectarian violence, not the Sunni insurgency.

"Sectarian violence has now become the significant challenge to Iraq's future," US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 13.

However, the unwillingness of the US military to intervene against

sectarian attacks on civilians casts a new light on the primary argument by administration and other opponents of a timetable for withdrawal - that the presence of US occupation forces is the only thing preventing an even higher level of sectarian civil war and chaos.

In the past, sectarian militias have carried out massacres by rounding up individuals in Sunni or Shi'ite neighborhoods and executing them. But the massacre of Shi'ites by Sunni gunmen in Mahmoudiya on July 17, in which as many as 58 people were killed and 90 wounded, was a military attack on civilians by Sunnis using heavy machine-guns mounted on pickup trucks and rocket-propelled grenades.

The attackers were apparently a new Sunni militia group calling themselves "Supporters of the Sunni People", but many of the troops wore Iraqi security uniforms. The group that took responsibility said the attack was in revenge for the slaughter of at least 40 Sunni civilians by masked Shi'ite gunmen in Baghdad, which went on for several hours on July 9.

Neither the Iraqi security forces nor a battalion of the US 101st Airborne Division stationed near Mahmoudiya did anything to stop the massacre or to pursue the killers, though the US troops were close enough to hear the detonations and gunfire, according to a story by Bassem Mroue of the Associated Press, and the attack lasted for 30 minutes, as reported by the Washington Post's Ellen Knickmeyer. Read more