Iraqi Political Process Stuck in Neutral
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now, inside Iraq, there's been a dramatic jump in U.S. Military fatalities. More Americans were killed in the first two weeks of April then in all of the month before.
The Bush administration was hoping that last year's elections would at least start Iraq on a path to peace by now. But four months after those elections, the winners still have not agreed on a government. Sectarian violence is on the rise. And to try to make sense of what's taking place in Iraq, we've contacted NPR's Ann Garrels, who was in Baghdad before the war, during the U.S. invasion, and many times since. Ann, good morning.
ANN GARRELS reporting:
INSKEEP: Some basics here first. Reviewing this: Ibrahim al-Jaafari was selected as a prime minister some time ago, but the decision seems not to be final and there's still discussion over whether to replace him. Why has it taken so long to settle on this?
GARRELS: Well, bluntly put, this is a fight for power. And it's not just between the Kurds, the Sunni Arabs, and the Shiites--but between the Shiites themselves. Now, this is going to be the first permanent four-year government since the U.S. invaded and the stakes are really high.
The effect of the political vacuum, just fuels the violence, more and more. I mean, frankly, one gets the sense in Baghdad, that it's a complete free-for-all with no security for anyone. Sunnis drive through Shiite neighborhoods killing shopkeepers. Sunnis, meanwhile, are being killed. Their bodies are found each day, often in groups, with the suspicion that Shiite-led security forces are taking part in the killings.
And, increasingly, you're now seeing, instances of kidnappings--in broad daylight, of dozens of people at a time--for both political and economic gain. Often, the armed men wear police uniforms. The interior ministry denies these are police, but they seem to be moving around pretty freely.
And, as I say, the violence isn't just between, you know, the Sunnis, the Kurds, and the Shiites--but between the Shiites themselves. And we're seeing, down in the south, a dramatic escalation in assassination. And we got a note from our stringer in Basrah today, and he, you know, he watched two armed cars pull up to him. He thought he was going to be killed, but they ended up targeting the man next to him. And armed men got out, shot the man, and then, apparently fearing no one, just drove off.
INSKEEP: Mmm. Such a thin line between life and death right now in Iraq. Does anybody have a thought about how to break out of this cycle?
GARRELS: No. I mean, apart from hoping that you can get a government of national unity. But, U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's repeated demands that the Shiite political parties reign in their militias; that there be a government of national unity; has actually made the Shiites really angry. They're caught between fighting among themselves, and trying to maintain the unity of their alliance.
And the Shiites now believe that Khalilzad's push for a government of national unity, is a deliberate attempt to undermine their newly-won Shiite power. They compare U.S. pressure now, to the betrayal of the Shiites in '91, when the U.S. didn't back the Shiites when they rose up against Saddam Hussein. And, meanwhile, there's been this, sort of, turnaround where the Sunni Arabs are increasingly seeing the U.S. as their protectors against the Shiites.
INSKEEP: A lot of people have been asking if Iraq is in a civil war, but what you're describing sounds--well, maybe not better, but murkier.
GARRELS: Well, more and more people are saying that it is a civil war. We heard Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak say it. Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has said if the definition of civil war is fighting each other, then Iraq is in a civil war. And a senior Iraqi official, Major General Hussein Kamal, this week, said Iraq's been in an undeclared civil war for a year.
The problem is, there's a reluctance to label it as such, because this could cement a situation which some hope can still be stopped. And the danger of saying that Iraq is in a civil war, is that a civil war in Iraq won't stay a purely Iraqi affair, but will likely draw in Sunni, and Shia, and the entire region.
INSKEEP: Okay. Anne, thanks very much.
GARRELS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anne Garrels, in the United States this morning, reporting for us, often, from Baghdad and across Iraq. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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