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Iraq: Is Civil War on the Horizon?

The violence following last week’s bombing of al-Askariya shrine in Samarra has prompted renewed speculation about civil war in Iraq. Earlier this week the Brussels-based International Crisis Group released a report saying that efforts to hold Iraq together are on the “verge of collapse.”

Iraqi journalist Laith Kubbah is a former spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Kubbah explained there is a network outside the government that is determined to destabilize Iraq. And the most worrying element about this group, which he believes is associated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and al-Qaida in Iraq, is that so far the Iraqi government has failed to destroy them.

Kurdish journalist Hiwa Osman also believes that al-Qaida is responsible for spearheading the Iraqi insurgency and it was the primary force behind last week’s bombing of the Shi’a shrine in Samarra. He said the enemies of Iraq are trying hard to spark a civil war amongst the Shi’a, the Kurds, and the Sunnis.

Another destabilizing factor, some analysts say, is the ambiguous role played by neighboring Iran. Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy, who is a columnist with the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, said Iran has always been problematic for the Arab world. The Arab world is largely Sunni Muslim, whereas Iran is Shi’a. And since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, its Sunni minority has been replaced by the Shi’a majority. Mona Eltahawy noted that many people in the Arab world are “still smarting” over the fact that the Sunni minority in Iraq has lost its influence, and they feel that - by invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein - the United States has “basically handed Iraq over to Iran on a silver platter.” She explained, for example, that Saudi Arabia and Iran have been rivals since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But Babak Yektafar, who publishes a weekly magazine for Persian-speaking people in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and the Iranian diaspora, questioned whether Tehran views civil war in Iraq as benefiting its long-term interests. He said some people, including the clerical establishment, see a silver lining in the current situation in Iraq because it encourages Iran’s influence, and it “keeps the United States in check with Iraq and Afghanistan.” However, having chaos in a country next door will not be beneficial to Tehran in the long run. Mona Eltahawy agreed that it is in no government’s enlightened self-interest for Iraq to be torn apart by civil strife.

The toll from Iraq’s surge in violence is now estimated to exceed 1,300 lives. Laith Kubbah said Iraq is in a “race against time.” He noted that al-Qaida and the remnants of Saddam’s regime are absolutely determined to stop the political process, while some of Iraq’s leaders seem to lack the “political maturity” to set aside their “squabbles over power.”

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.