Iraq’s Return to Civil War

It’s time to accept one truth: Iraq’s civil war is back.

Iraq’s been ignored for some time since international troops left. In some ways, rightly so. A massive civil war broke out in Syria, protests are ongoing around the Middle East, and a massive proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is hurting the entire region. But a conflict that’s been simmering in Iraq for years is erupting into a full-blown civil war. Again.

Iraq’s civil war broke out in 2006 and was a mix of sectarian conflict and political battles. The mishandling of Iraq by the international community resulted in Sunni death squads and well-equipped Shiite militias engaging in intense fighting that spiked the already-high death toll of the war. It only ended thanks to the “surge,” which was really international forces backing, arming, and funding the Shiite side and helping it win the civil war. A makeshift peace was put in place, and all sides went back to lick their wounds and deal with major international pressure.

But now it’s back. Outside of political unrest, mass violence across the country has left scores dead. In April through June, more than 2,500 people died, in a mix of shootings and bombings that heavily targeted Shiite areas. More than 330 have died in July. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of a large militia, called out the central government and accused it of spreading the violence. The problem is that a peace solution seems unreachable. There isn’t even a large international presence to recreate the flawed “surge” tactics of 2007.

And what of its leaders? The country remains politically divided. Earlier this year, parliament passed a law to prevent Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki from running for a third term. Kurdistan and the national government are at odds over oil deals. Iraq’s government can’t even stop Iran from using its airspace to funnel weapons to Syria. It’s ineffectual, and since it’s being blamed for the violence, it is even harder for to work for a nonviolent solution.

To end the civil war last time it took foreign forces taking sides. That only resulted in a tenuous peace of five years. The civil war, and the tensions at its root, will not be resolved until a political solution can be reached. And with Iraq’s leadership, that will be hard to achieve.