I am currently in Mykonos, after having spent a few days at a conference organized by New York University’s Center on Law and Security focusing on the legal frameworks through which governments pursue and handle would-be terrorists. One of the conference participants was Nir Rosen, a colleague of mine at the New America Foundation.
Rosen has just published this powerful op-ed in the Washington Post.
Every morning the streets of Baghdad are littered with dozens of bodies, bruised, torn, mutilated, executed only because they are Sunni or because they are Shiite. Power drills are an especially popular torture device.
I have spent nearly two of the three years since Baghdad fell in Iraq. On my last trip, a few weeks back, I flew out of the city overcome with fatalism. Over the course of six weeks, I worked with three different drivers; at various times each had to take a day off because a neighbor or relative had been killed. One morning 14 bodies were found, all with ID cards in their front pockets, all called Omar. Omar is a Sunni name. In Baghdad these days, nobody is more insecure than men called Omar. On another day a group of bodies was found with hands folded on their abdomens, right hand over left, the way Sunnis pray. It was a message. These days many Sunnis are obtaining false papers with neutral names. Sunni militias are retaliating, stopping buses and demanding the jinsiya, or ID cards, of all passengers. Individuals belonging to Shiite tribes are executed.
Under the reign of Saddam Hussein, dissidents called Iraq “the republic of fear” and hoped it would end when Hussein was toppled. But the war, it turns out, has spread the fear democratically. Now the terror is not merely from the regime, or from U.S. troops, but from everybody, everywhere.
The meeting was strictly off the record, but one thing Nir Rosen stated at the meeting he has allowed on the record. During his presentation, Rosen stated that “the U.S. military has just become another militia in Iraq.” He argued that Iraq is on the verge of genuine sectarian meltdown and that the Sunni population fears being wiped out by Shiites. This, in turn, may draw Sunni brethren from Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt in to prevent the sectarian cleansing of Baghdad and other cities.
Rosen is rethinking his position that America needs to get out of Iraq. He stated that had America withdrawn from Iraq a year ago, its departure might have forestalled the civil war that he believes is now underway. I think he is tilting towards the view now that America missed its window of opportunity to link its departure to a more stable outcome in Iraq — and that now the question is what will America’s departure do or not do.
If pushed, Nir Rosen believes that if America withdraws, the cork will blow off. The Shiite will attempt to wipe Iraq clean of Sunnis — and neighboring nation Sunnis will pour into Iraq, possibly creating a major regional conflagration that can’t be easily contained.
— Steve Clemons