On a day when the U.S. military claimed Iraqi insurgents were losing the battle — “the former regime elements we have been combating have been brought to their knees,” said Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno — senior Pentagon officials fear Iraq could be headed for civil war.
Four Iraqi women were gunned down in Fallujah on Thursday as they drove to their cleaning jobs at a U.S. military base. Also in Fallujah, two Iraqi policemen were killed in a drive-by shooting at a police roadblock.
Military officials fear as Iraq attempts to form a new government, competing ethnic and religious factions will try to shoot their way into power.
“To establish their place in the future government…. And I think that’s why a lot of these attacks, why these attacks are occurring,” said Odierno.
Concerns were heightened earlier this week when tens of thousands of Shiites demonstrated for early elections in Iraq — which would likely put the majority Shiites in control.
The long-simmering hatreds among the Shiites in the south, the Sunnis in central Iraq and the Kurds in the north make Iraq a potential powder keg.
“They all mistrust each other, and until they are convinced there’s going to be some stronger authority that will treat them all fairly, the natural thing is to fall back on your own ethnic group and your own militia,” said military analyst Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. “If there were not an iron hand of either a Saddam Hussein-like figure or the U.S. military, you would have to expect civil war. It wouldn’t just be a possibility, it would be a probability.”
In fact a CIA report to the White House this week warned of the potential for increased violence between ethnic and religious groups in Iraq.
The CIA also warned Iraqis may not be ready to run the government or provide their own security once the United States turns over control of the country to a new Iraqi governing body.
But there’s a more immediate threat. U.S. military officials say foreign fighters, backed by al-Qaida, are regrouping to launch a new series of attacks.
All this means large numbers of American forces will likely remain in Iraq for years. One senior Pentagon official warns, without U.S. troops, Iraq would explode.