civil war there. Even the Shiite general of army there consults the Americans on everything he does. We appeal once again UN to take charge in Iraq to stop bloodshed caused by foreign troops as well as to keep Iraq unity.
Sectarian Rifts Foretell Pitfalls of Iraqi Troops’ Taking Control
BAQUBA, Iraq — It did not take long for Col. Brian D. Jones to begin to have doubts about the new Iraqi commander.
The commander, Brig. Gen. Shakir Hulail Hussein al-Kaabi, was chosen this summer by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad to lead the Iraqi Army’s Fifth Division in Diyala Province. Within weeks, General Shakir went to Colonel Jones with a roster of people he wanted to arrest.
On the list were the names of nearly every Sunni Arab sheik and political leader whom American officers had identified as crucial allies in their quest to persuade Sunnis to embrace the political process and turn against the powerful Sunni insurgent groups here.
“Where’s the evidence?” Colonel Jones demanded of General Shakir. “Where’s the proof? What makes us suspect these guys? None of that stuff exists.”
To that, Colonel Jones recalled, the Iraqi commander replied simply, “I got this from Baghdad.”
The incident was one of many that alarmed Colonel Jones, who just completed a yearlong tour as commander of American forces in Diyala. In the end, he said, he concluded that the Iraqi general’s real ambition was to destroy the Sunni political movement here — possibly on orders from Baghdad.
“I believe this is a larger plan to make Diyala a Shia province, rather than a Sunni province,” he said.
Diyala is known as “little Iraq,” because of its volatile mix of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. With its lush groves of date palms and abundant oil reserves, it is emerging as a crucial strategic territory in the sectarian struggle now gripping the country.
Long a stronghold of the insurgency — Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, was killed in a house only miles from here — Diyala is now teeming with Shiite militiamen who have rushed in from Baghdad in recent months to protect the Shiite population from attacks. Once considered by American officials to be relatively pacified, it has become a cauldron of violence carried out by insurgents and militias, intensified by sectarian-influenced security forces.
As pressures for a phased United States withdrawal build, the experiences of American commanders over the past year in Diyala provide a window on the possible consequences of ceding authority to the Iraqi Army.
And with the civilian homicide rate in Diyala now running at about 10 killings a day, according to United States officials, compared with 4 a day in April, the commanders’ experiences form a cautionary tale.
In July, the United States turned over “lead responsibility” for security in Diyala to the Iraqi Fifth Army Division. But within months, facing heavy violence and evidence of sectarian activities by the Iraqi Army, American commanders shelved plans to turn over full operational control of the Fifth Division to the Iraqi government on Oct. 1. “Recent operations conducted by the Fifth Iraqi Army seem to be focused strictly on the Sunnis,” said Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, division commander for northern Iraq.
American commanders are now hoping for a spring transfer of control, General Mixon said, adding that they are conducting a wide-ranging investigation into allegations of death squad involvement and other activities by the Fifth Division under General Shakir. The Iraqi general denies treating Sunnis unfairly and says he has no knowledge of death squads in Diyala. “We don’t favor one side,” he said.
General Mixon said: “He’s either failing to supervise closely enough to know what’s going on, or he’s directly involved in it. One or the other. There can’t be any in between.”
A Contagion of Violence
Much of Baquba, a provincial capital of 400,000, is now dusty and lifeless, with boarded-up stores and charred wrecks of cars and trucks strewn about.
“Baquba is a dead city, controlled by Al Qaeda,” said Sameerah Shibli, a Diyala journalist. “They stop all life.”
Security has sharply deteriorated in this province of 1.4 million people in the past year, for reasons that go well beyond the sphere of General Shakir. The sectarian violence that exploded in Baghdad, after the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February, has spread like a contagion to other regions.
Shiite death squads in Baghdad have forced many Sunnis to flee to Baquba, 35 miles to the north, where some have joined the insurgency and have begun attacking Shiites.