If Iraq wasn’t on the brink of civil war before last month’s bombing of the previously gold-domed Askariya Mosque in Samarra, which is sacred to Shi’ite Muslims, it certainly is now. The attack turned what was a low-intensity sectarian conflict hot, with media reports saying that Baghdad’s central morgue alone recorded 1,300 Iraqis dead in four days of reprisal killings after the attack. That increased violence between Arab Sunnis and Shi’ites has persisted, and fears are growing that civil war could draw Iraq’s neighbors further into the conflict, or even spark a wider war. That fear was recently expressed by US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, who warned that if US troops pulled out, a regional conflict could result. Religious extremists could triumph, he said, and use Iraq as a base for expansion, while Persian Gulf oil supplies could be disrupted. Khalilzad is hardly a disinterested party, so his motives bear scrutiny. But his belated observation that the United States had opened a Pandora’s box in Iraq echoed the concerns of those who wanted the Ba’athist lid kept on to begin with. With the lid nearly off, the incipient civil war is capsizing the failing Iraq project, […]

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