ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Iraqi insurgents are earning millions of dollars from illegal activities like oil smuggling and kidnapping. That's according to a classified government document reported by the New York Times this morning. The report comes just ahead of President Bush's meeting this week with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They'll discuss plans for turning over more security responsibility to Iraqi troops.
October was the deadliest month for Iraqi civilians since the U.S. invasion in 2003. According to a new U.N. report, more than 3,700 civilians died last month, an average of 120 people a day. That's a shocking number, and how they were killed is also disturbing.
The report attributes a majority of the deaths to kidnappings and execution-style murders. The perpetrators are often death squads working in collusion with Iraqi police. I spoke with Joost Hilterman, director of the Middle East Project for the International Crisis Group to find out what's driving the increase in violence.
Mr. JOOST HILTERMAN (International Crisis Group): It's a combination of things. First of all, we have to understand that there has been a total collapse of the state. Therefore, there is no law or order.
Secondly, there are a number of groups either seeking to protect their communities or to advance the interests of their communities or of themselves. There are a number of private actors involved in violence, in order to make gain for their own group, whether insurgent group, whether militia, or to advance the interests of their community, which may be a religiously defined community or a tribally defined community or an ethically defined community.
SEABROOK: From our point of view here in the United States, Mr. Hilterman, it is difficult to understand this kind of violence perpetrated by small militias, small organizations, because we sort of hear more about U.S. troops that are killed. We hear more about car bombings, this kind of thing. And then suddenly, it seems just recently, in the past six weeks or so, we've heard more and more mass kidnappings. Is there a point to this? Is it ethnic cleansing? Is it a message sent to U.S. troops? Is it meant to intimidate the Iraqi government, or is it sort of a mix of these things?
Mr. HILTERMAN: Well, it's certainly a mix of things. We're facing a failed state situation here in Iraq, and the various actors are motivated by different things. You see, and we have seen now for the last two years concerted attacks by a certain group of insurgents, mostly externally driven or externally supplied, to attack Shiites for being Shiites, for being non-believers in this particular group of Sunni Muslims. This is not a majority view of Sunni Muslims, but this particular group holds that Shiites are not really Muslims, but they're non-believers.
And since a year ago, the government of Iraq, which then came under control of Shiite Islamist parties, has started to take revenge. Now, the idea of vendetta is very strong in a society like Iraq, and so you get a lot of revenge killings.
SEABROOK: I wonder what you'd think of the term sectarian violence.
Mr. HILTERMAN: No, I wouldn't use the term sectarian violence to describe what's going on in Iraq. I would say that among the many forms of conflict that exist there, a sectarian conflict is one of them. But there are also issues at the neighborhood level, and there are issues involving crime gangs, that they will attack anyone indiscriminately. And so we haven't even seen, really, the ethnic conflict yet, which may well burst out in the future, maybe having Arabs on one side and Kurds on the other.
SEABROOK: Later this week, President Bush meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to talk over turning over more responsibility from U.S. forces to Iraqi security. Is this feasible at this time with this level of anarchy and violence in Iraq?
Mr. HILTERMAN: There are no viable Iraqi security forces in any great numbers that can receive further responsibility at this stage. At the same time, American forces also are not capable of stemming the violence. I think we need to really seriously look at a political solution that can only be brought about by members of the international community; for example, the permanent members of the Security Council, along with the neighboring states, including, very importantly, Syria and Iran.
If you do not try that, there is nothing you can do with military force alone to suppress the violence that we are seeing and that is escalating now in Iraq.
SEABROOK: Joost Hilterman is the director of the Middle East Project for the International Crisis Group. He joined us from Amman, Jordan. Thank you very much.
Mr. HILTERMAN: My pleasure.
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