According to the lunar calendar, this month marks the 14th year since a terrorist attack targeted the Imam Al Askari shrine. The frequently visited and respected mosque by both Shia and Sunni muslims, is the burial place of the Muslim saints Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-Askari. These shrines are revered by the Shia muslims in particular. The Askari attack marked a turning point in the Iraqi conflict since the American occupation, it was the catalyst for plunging the country into a cycle of sectarian violence. When analyzing such events and their sources one must not overlook the factors that gave rise to the atmosphere that made the Askari bombing possible. Insurmountable evidence leaked over the years demonstrates that one must analyse these attacks in the context of the US led occupation of Iraq.
The US led occupation made sure that the seeds of terrorism and sectarianism were sown at every level of Iraqi society.
Sectarianism at the highest level and old networks
After the invasion a new electoral law was drafted that divided political representation on the lines of ethno-sectarian groups. Thus, with the “muhasasa” sectarianism was officially enforced, even at the highest level of governing.
Thousands of extremists crossed the porous Iraqi borders when American client states neighboring Iraq opened their prison cells. States such as Jordan and Saudi-Arabia provided material and financial support to these networks. This demonstrated that at the operational level, the occupation forces relied on the same networks of extremists that served as pro-American proxy forces in the battle against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the cold war in the 1980s.
Radicalization camps: creating a supporter base for the old networks
Radicalization was facilitated when hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men were taken prisoner, tortured at the beginning of the occupation and later set free without any form of trial. Until this day painful images are conjured when the name Abu Ghraib is mentioned. In these prisons the occupation divided the Shia and Sunni prisoners in different blocks. From the inside the prisons were run by extremists who could freely spread extremist sectarian ideologies without any intervention . One of the prisoners involved in this radicalization process was Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. He was later freed and his role in these terrorist networks became increasingly important. Thousands of men left these prisons radicalized and were absorbed into extremist groups like Al Qaeda.
False Flag terror attacks.
The US-led coalition did not only terrorize the Iraqi population in their conventional military uniforms. Besides creating the conditions conducive to terrorism and indirectly providing material and financial support to terrorist groups, the occupation forces engaged in false flag terror attacks.
On 19th of September 2005 two undercover soldiers from a SAS unit (British special forces) dressed in Arab garments and headdresses opened fire on Iraqi security officers after being ordered to stop. At least one Iraqi security officer died during the shootout. Later on, explosives were found in the car they were travelling in. The two soldiers were detained in an Iraqi prison. Fearing the potential public outcry, the British army raided the prison and freed the two soldiers. During this raid, members of Iraqi security forces and civilians from the surrounding area that rushed to their aid were killed.
When analyzing the context of terrorism in Iraq these events cannot be left out. Irrespective of whether the terrorist attack on the Imam al Askari shrine was a false flag attack or an attack by proxy, it was the US led occupation that played the most fundamental role in making sectarianism and terror a reality in Iraq. Adopting the reductive narrative of an endemic Sunni-Shia civil war amounts to absolving the occupation forces of guilt and does not provide any answer to questions relating to the origins of terror and sectarianism in Iraq.