Iraq is on the brink of civil war once again. Car bombings, assassinations and widespread killing are becoming an epidemic. In May alone, 614 people were killed and 1,550 were wounded. The numbers escalated steeply in July when 1,057 were killed and 2,326 were wounded. The killings have been indiscriminate -- reaching coffee shops, wedding parties, funeral ceremonies, mosques, sporting events and markets. Many residents of Baghdad chose not to celebrate Eid religious festivities (marking the end of Ramadan) outside of their homes in fear of a rumor that al-Qaeda was preparing to attack Baghdad with 100 car bombs.
Two sources have caused the return of sectarian strife that have reached levels unseen since 2006: Government dysfunction, and the all-out civil war in neighboring Syria. The government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and sharing power with Shiites, Sunnis and Kurdish parties is not working. These groups are fighting with each other because of their different agendas and ideologies. Endless squabbling and mundane internal discord have ultimately given terrorist groups the upper hand and more than enough time to reassemble and attack targets anywhere at any given moment. The Syrian civil war, on the other hand, is energizing the Sunni-Arab resistance to Mr. al Maliki's government under assumption that it does not address political or economic equalities between the Iraqis and to end the collective punishment against them for the crimes of the Baathist regime.
Therefore, the Sunni provinces have once again become a safe heaven for al-Qaeda groups who wish to launch attacks against Shiites.
The daily coordinated bomb attacks that ripple through Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad and elsewhere by Sunni extremists and the ongoing civil war in Syria can result in two scenarios -- none of which would please the United States: It's either civil war or a partition plan for Iraq. Civil war could reduce the United States' influence on the Shiites' region, which extends from the north of Baghdad down to Bahrain, where the majority are Shiites and thus could easily interrupt oil flow from the region. And, a civil war in Iraq with Bashar Al-Assad of Syria in power would add another change for the United States in the "Shiite Crescent," which includes Iran, Iraq, Syria, and further west to South Lebanon. The crescent will divide the Middle East countries to anti-American to pro-American -- a situation that reminds us of Europe before the collapse of the Soviet Union. In this case the U.S. has to keep military presence in some of the pro-United States countries to protect its interest and thus add a new burden on the government budget, which is already suffering from chronic deficit. And with the fall of Mr. Al-Assad's government at the hand of Islamist extremists, a civil war in Iraq will convert to a regional war that includes Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait, and Jordan.
Neither a partition plan nor civil war will do any good to the United States and its security. The reality is that Iraq is far from a melting pot despite its diversity. The new politicians are working hard to divide Iraq based on ethnicity and religion simply to get re-elected. In the last national election the Shiites elected Shiite representatives, while the Sunnis elected Sunnis, and the Kurds elected Kurds to represent them in parliament. Thus, partitioning Iraq means the creation of three states relying on outsiders to survive. A Shiite state certainly will rely on Iran to fight the Arab Sunni state that will get aid from Saudi Arabia, while Kurdistan will have to fight its own battle with Iran and Turkey.
When the U.S. Army marched into Baghdad, there was a promise made to the Iraqis -- to become a better state, a shining example of democratic capitalism, and an economic development hub of the Middle East. The opposite of that has happened. Tens of thousands have been killed or injured and three million children have been made orphans. The U.S. can save Iraq and save its reputation around the world. It needs to bring the civil war in Syria to a peaceful end. It needs to restrain the corrupt Iraqi politicians. It needs to prevent Iraq's neighbors from interfering. It needs to revive the strategic agreement that Iraq and the United States signed in December 2011. The U.S. needs to act now on Iraq. Otherwise, the increasing number of extremists in Iraq will soon become even more of a security problem inside the U.S.
Khalil is a professor of business and economics at Fairmont State University.