TOPICS > Nation

Days of Clashes Raise Specter of Iraqi Civil War

February 24, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Borzou, thanks for joining us again. How successful was today’s daytime curfew in diffusing a lot of the anger and the violence that we have seen for the last two days?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, as far as diffusing the anger and confusion and heightened emotional state of Iraq, I don’t think it did much for that. But it absolutely helped stench some of the violence. It was basically like putting the country into a state of coma and not allowing people to get into their cars and go into other neighborhoods.

That was a big problem the past couple days with armed people marauding around to places where they would take exact revenge or what they thought was revenge on other members of other communities. In that sense, it was successful.

However, Friday prayer sermons were delivered and in many cases were quite fiery with clerics mixing their calls for peace and stability and urging their followers not to fight or engage in sectarian violence with blame, you know, accusations against other communities, so at the same time a de-escalation of violence, but a possible escalation of rhetoric.

MARGARET WARNER: Secretary of State Rice suggested today that U.S. officials think it was Zarqawi, the al-Qaida leader, who was behind this. What is the thinking among people you are talking to there about who sparked this — who was responsible for the initial attack, that devastating attack on the mosque in Samarra that triggered all of this?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: I mean, I would just like to look at it kind of scientifically. I mean, the attack showed some expertise. It was conducted really, really quick by people who seemed to know what they were doing.

They went in, kicked out the guards, set explosives in a way that very efficiently sheered off the top of the mosque, the gold dome, without causing that much other damage. And they didn’t bring a car in or do a car bomb.

It wasn’t a suicide. It bears the signature of someone who knows what they are doing. And the only people who know what they are doing like that are former members of Saddam Hussein’s security apparatus, maybe working with Islamic extremists.

The pattern that we’ve seen with Islamic extremists is that they usually use car bombs.

MARGARET WARNER: I gather you were part of this conference call that took place today with the American ambassador. From what he said and from what other people you’ve talked to, how concerned are American officials there that this really could spiral into an all-out civil war?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: I think Americans are very concerned here. The agendas and meetings and calendars of the U.S. officials here in Baghdad are packed with meeting after meeting after meeting trying to get the different groups to talk.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was just like an hour ago on Iraqi state television delivering a 35-minute interview and talking about the need for avoiding any kind of sectarian strife. They’ve been very active; they’ve been very concerned. They’ve been very worried, actually, that the country is on the brink of some new level of violence.

MARGARET WARNER: And in political terms, who do you think is exerting the greatest influence now? Is it the government, is it the other political figures, or is it the clerics?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Yeah, absolutely, it seems that the clergy both Sunni and Shiite have really emerged as the dominant figures in this whole crisis. The politicians, they’re — do make statements and they are on TV making sort of pro forma condemnations. But really at this point it is the clerics who can stop or start a civil war. They’re the ones who can order their flock out into the streets.

No one is really listening to the politicians unless they do what they did today, which is to flood the streets with military hardware and put the country in an unsustainable state of suspended animation.

MARGARET WARNER: And so where are things going from here? First of all politically, I mean have the Sunnis agreed to come back and resume talks on forming the new government? What are the clerics saying about the violence?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, the Sunnis have not returned to the bargaining table at this point — not en masse. They are talking with Kurds and with secular Iraqis which they’ve been, you know, they’ve been talking to them all along.

But they have not resumed negotiations with the Shiite parties and that’s the main point of contention at this point. They accused the Shiites of escalating the situation by calling for demonstrations and by, you know, basically not doing enough to protect their sites and their personnel. Shiites control the government.

And the Shiites on the other hand, they say that Sunnis are so aggrieved by what happened to them and these reprisals that they haven’t done enough and they haven’t shown enough sensitivity with regard to the damage of the golden dome mosque of Samarra.

MARGARET WARNER: And so finally how long is this curfew expected to last, the daytime curfew?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, at least until 4:00 P.M. tomorrow. Who knows how long it will last, whether it will continue into the next day, whether they will renew it. I think that will depend on how much violence and violent activity takes place tomorrow. I think that’s what it was today too, they were trying to see what would happen.

And then they saw some of the numbers, you know, at least 27 bodies scattered around the city that turned up, sporadic gun fights and a few mortar rounds that were aimed at other religious sites. There was a mosque that was — a Sunni mosque that was attacked a little while ago. So they probably took a look at those facts and decided you know what, we have got to do this one more day.

MARGARET WARNER: Borzou Daragahi, thank you so much.

BORZOU DARAGAHI: It has been a pleasure. Thank you.