For years, sectarian fighting in the “Triangle of Death,” the cluster of towns surrounding southern Baghdad, was so intense that hundreds died every day. Sunnis and Shiites, embroiled in a civil war, were killing each other and U.S. and Iraqi forces, summary executions were carried out on the street, and bounties were offered for anyone who killed police, National Guardsmen, and Shiite pilgrims.
As of last year, however, bloodshed in the Triangle had plummeted by as much as 89 per cent, according to the U.S. military. That was thanks in part to new counterinsurgency techniques, but the violence also diminished because Sunni insurgents who had been working with al-Qaeda turned against the terrorist organization. Plus, warring factions have simply “exhausted themselves,” adds the University of British Columbia’s Michael Byers, an expert in global politics. The region has become one of the safest in the country, a showcase for what the U.S. hopes to achieve in Iraq.
Yet new challenges have cropped up. Survivors of the war, many of them women, are now struggling to feed their families, while their husbands, often former supporters of the Saddam Hussein regime, have been detained or left jobless, says Byers. Although the Shiite-led al-Maliki government has promised amnesty to Sunni fighters who renounce al-Qaeda, it remains highly suspicious of them. The underlying tensions that caused violence to spike have not been resolved, and Sunnis may return to violence if they cannot find employment. “This is not a happy society,” says Byers. “We are now seeing the very deep consequences of not planning for the post-invasion phase.”
Across Iraq, the war has laid waste to infrastructure, put ethnic tensions at a boil, and left behind a scarred, displaced civilian population. “Ending conflict,” Byers adds, “is not the only goal.”