One question: who will be the Sunni Rhett Butler?
Whereas once politicians were not willing to utter the term for fear of dignifying it, it is no longer taboo. “I do not want to say civil war, but we are going the Lebanese route, and we know where that led,” says Sabah Kadhim, an adviser to the Interior Ministry who spent years in exile before returning to Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s overthrow. “We are going to end up with certain areas that are controlled by certain warlords … It’s Sunni versus Shiite, that is the issue that is really in the ascendancy right now, and that wasn’t the case right after the elections.”
In Madaen and other mixed Sunni-Shiite towns on the rivers south of Baghdad, rival groups have been carrying out revenge attacks since before the January polls, police said. This month more than 50 bodies have been pulled from the Tigris River. In the poor Shiite district of Shuala in western Baghdad, there has been a series of car bombings and killings, apparently related to tensions with Sunni militants in the neighboring district of Abu Ghraib, one of Iraq’s most violent. Similar violence has hit towns north of Baghdad, such as Baquba, where Sunni and Shiite mosques have been bombed.
Several Sunni-led military units operating under the Interior Ministry’s banner and created with the support of US forces, are leading the battle against the insurgency. But if, as widely expected, a Shiite takes over the Interior Ministry when a new government is named, those units could be purged — a course that US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned against during a visit to Iraq this month.
The Sunni-led units could be replaced by soldiers from the Badr Organization, a militia loyal to the main Shiite party. Interior Ministry officials fear the Sunni commanders, with their well-armed and trained men, could then break away to set up rival militias. “Both sides are sharpening their knives. They are saying, ‘we’ve got to protect our own people’. It is not a good situation,” said Kadhim at the Interior Ministry